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Alaska and Yukon Headlines

Nunavut coroner to launch inquiry into suicides

Mon, 2014-01-20 14:49
Nunavut coroner to launch inquiry into suicides Record-high suicide rates show the shortcomings of past prevention efforts. Nunavut residents say more mental health assistance is needed, especially for young people vulnerable to depression.January 20, 2014

Alaska pummels other states in fiscal solvency study, but there's an asterisk

Mon, 2014-01-20 14:35
Alaska pummels other states in fiscal solvency study, but there's an asterisk For now, Alaska continues to post strong economic numbers. An earlier review of state finances completed by Commonwealth North was also upbeat for Alaska, showing the state currently controls $76 billion in net assets. But in 2013, the state had its first deficit in years.  January 20, 2014

Man jailed for chase, possessing stolen property

Mon, 2014-01-20 14:11
A man already facing potentially stiff punishment for attempting to murder two peace officers in 2011 had more time added to his name Friday afternoon

Project closing in on lock on investment target

Mon, 2014-01-20 14:09
The keyless padlock developed in Whitehorse is on track to raise the $165,000 target established on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform.

Yukon Energy boss to retire by year’s end

Mon, 2014-01-20 14:08
Yukon Energy president David Morrison plans to retire by the end of the year.

After running free for nearly two years, Freedom the dog is back living with humans

Mon, 2014-01-20 14:03
After running free for nearly two years, Freedom the dog is back living with humans The husky Freedom -- who spent 19 months running wild in and around Soldotna -- is back living with humans and fellow dogs at a Kasilof kennel.January 20, 2014

Food drop kicks off Quest festivities

Mon, 2014-01-20 13:38
With the 31st edition of the Yukon Quest on the horizon, mushers kicked things into high gear on Saturday.

Koltun suffers early losses at nationals

Mon, 2014-01-20 13:33
Team Koltun, a pre-tournament favourite at the 2014 M&M Meat Shops Canadian Junior Curling Championships in Liverpool, N.S., is struggling to find its winning form

Panel Will Target Tongass Plan Rewrite, Timber Transition

Mon, 2014-01-20 12:21

The Forest Service is setting up an advisory board to help rewrite the Tongass National Forest’s management plan. It’s somewhat similar to another panel that shut down last year without completing its work.

Tongass managers have a couple big jobs ahead of them.

A dog explores part of the Tongass National Forest’s Treadwell Ditch Trail on Douglas Island, part of Juneau. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News.

They’re reviewing and updating the land-management plan for the 17-million-acre forest. They’re also working on a roadmap for a transition from old-growth to young-growth timber harvests.

So, the agency has decided to recruit 15 people for an advisory committee.

Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole says they’ll take about a year developing proposals for the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and the chief of the Forest Service.

“What we’re really trying to do is find folks who have experience working in collaborative groups, knowledge regarding Southeast Alaska issues and willingness to work closely together (and) come up with a solution,” Cole says.

They’ll include representatives of the industry, state and federal agencies, environmental groups and tribal organizations.

That sounds a lot like the Tongass Futures Roundtable, a larger group with a somewhat similar mission. It began around seven years ago and shut down last spring after some timber and environmental groups quit.

Cole says it broke ground that should ease the way for the advisory panel.

“We had never had all of the interests in Southeast Alaska sit down in the same year together. So it was a fairly lengthy process, probably three of the six years it was around, it took to get people to physically be able to sit in a room, have a conversation and listen to diverse opinions,” Cole says.

“Collaboration is the watchword,” says former Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, who moderated the group and tried to keep it moving forward.

“Even though the roundtable did not perhaps achieve a lot of what it had initially set out to do, it created I think a climate of discussion between parties who needed to be talking to each other but historically did not,” he says.

Roundtable organizers hoped to develop a comprise to ongoing Tongass timber battles. But Cole says it did more than meet.

“There was a bridge timber proposal that was put together by Tongass Futures that got us out of a number of heavily-litigated projects and provided timber along the way to keep the current industry alive,” he says.

The Southeast Conference, a regional development organization, was part of the roundtable. But it joined the exodus of timber and state government representatives that led to its dissolution.

The conference last year proposed its own Tongass management plan. Leaders hope to advance that as part of the advisory group’s discussions.

“I’m excited about it. I guess I should say I’m ready for another round, because you just can’t stop trying,” says Shelly Wright, conference executive director.

She says the new panel has a better chance of succeeding.

“The roundtable really was not (an) official advisory group, so I think it may be a little bit different. The undersecretary has actually said this is for his information, so I think that’s going to give it a little more weight, so to speak,” she says.

Those interested in joining the Tongass Advisory Committee need to apply by February 27th. Details are here.

Cole says the Forest Service will chose members using its own standards.

“They’ll work among themselves to see if they can come up with a consensus-based recommendation that the Forest Service will take under advisement to further along the transition or the forest-plan modification,” he says.

But he doesn’t expect to make absolutely everybody involved in these issues happy.

“In fact there’s a number of federal advisory committees that have been established that never came to fruition. So there’s still a possibility that we can’t get a recommendation out of this group. And if not, we’ll proceed on.

He says the panel’s work will not delay the review of the land-management plan. That’s expected to be completed in 2016.

Anchorage Starts Reading Early

Mon, 2014-01-20 12:00

Youth Services Coordinator Elizabeth Nicolai.

Click to listen to the full audio story:
early literacy final

Elizabeth Nicolai is the Youth Services Coordinator for the Loussac Library, and right now she’s reading a dinosaur book to a group of very small children.

Recently the library expanded their second floor to include what they call the Play and Learn center. “You see tons of books right at child level, you can see parents and kids reading together, which is so much fun,” Nicolai says.

But the learning center involves much more than reading. Inside of what looks like a massive fort of books there are toys, inspirational messages, and interactive art work on the walls. Nicolai says this is because early literacy is complex.

“The first job a child has is playing. When a child plays they’re exploring the social roles, the fine and gross motor skills they’ll need their entire life and they’re learning verbal language and interactive cues. So while it looks like just tables, benches and a bunch of toys, everything is really carefully selected to help children develop early literacy skills and early learning skills for the rest of their life,” Nicolai says.

The emphasis at the Loussac is still books though. After all, this is a library. Nicolai says reading at an early age is more important than most people realize, and that the library wants to do its part to combat low preschool enrollment and poor high school graduation rates in Alaska.

“Far too often people aren’t aware of where their child should be, or how to prepare their child. So when they come into kindergarten, unless they’ve been in a head start program or preschool they’re faced with educational norms that they may not be prepared for,” Nicolai says.

And Nicolai says the simplest thing you can do is read to your child. As much as possible.

Loussac’s “Play and Learn” center.

“Studies have shown that if your child is exposed to 500-1000 books before they reach kindergarten; it’s the same educational advantage as growing up in a house with two parents with masters degrees. Now obviously, most people can’t afford 500-1000 books. And you don’t have to! That’s why we have a library,” Nicolai says.

Now, you might be thinking ‘I could just download that many books for little to no cost on my iPad or Kindle, especially over five years right?’ Nicolai says you could, but letting your child use an e-reader can be a slippery slope.

“It looks like a solid light to you, but the American Pediatric Association says it’s a pulsing light, and we don’t know what that does to developing brains. Children develop all of their brain connections in those first three years of life,” Nicolai says.

It turns out, when small children use a tablet device they generally focus more on the screen and less on the person reading, limiting interaction; another important early literacy skill. She isn’t anti e-reader though, and says you can even check out digital books through the Loussac.

In addition to the new Play and Learn center, the Loussac has also expanded it’s ready to read resource center, which is a space on the 4th floor filled with stacks and stacks of plastic totes.

“We have hundreds of these tubs. As you can see it’s about 5,000 square feet of space dedicated to storing early literacy materials,” Nicolai says.

These totes are shipped out all across the state, and are treated much like a single library book. You check one out, you return it, you get another one. I ask Nicolai to pop one open.

“Its got tons of board books and paper backs, and it always comes with resources for adults. When we send out bags and resources for kids it’s always fun for us to send out something for the adult in their lives,” Nicolai says.

Things like activity ideas, and tools to assess your child’s literacy progress. Nicolai encourages those who don’t have access to libraries to utilize the ready to read totes, but for those close-by Alaskans, she says an adventure to the Loussac is pretty hard to beat.

“I heard someone describe Loussac as Anchorage’s living room, and I love that description. We want to be a place for the community to gather, and learn, and explore, and discover together.”

Southeast Commercial Halibut Catch Increased For 2014

Mon, 2014-01-20 11:52

Southeast Alaska’s commercial halibut catch limit is going up.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission concluded its annual meeting Friday in Seattle and approved catch limits for Alaska, British Columbia, and the West Coast of the U.S.

The combined commercial and charter catch for Southeast’s Area 2C will be 4.16 million pounds. That includes a commercial catch limit of 3,318,720 pounds, that’s an increase of about 11 percent from last year. Southeast is the only area that will see an increased catch from 2013.

The commission also approved a catch sharing plan recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and implemented by federal fishery managers for Southeast and the central Gulf. That’s a first. The catch sharing plan allocates pounds to the charter fleet and replaces the old system of a guideline harvest level for charter anglers. It’ll also allow annual purchases of commercial quota by the charter fleet.

That plan will mean a limit of over 761,000 pounds to the Southeast charter fleet for 2014. As a result, charter clients will have a one-fish daily bag limit in Southeast with what’s called a “reverse slot limit.” Charter anglers in the Panhandle can keep a fish up to 44 inches, or 76 inches and longer, but not anything between those lengths.

Coast-wide the commissioners did not go with the roughly 30 percent catch reduction as presented by staff in December. The so-called “blue line” numbers, presented to the commission by staff, applies long-standing harvest percentages to the estimated legal-sized halibut for each regulatory area. Instead the commission approved a larger coastwide catch limit of over 27 and a half million pounds.

U.S. Commissioner Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, called it the toughest halibut commission meeting he’s attended.

“We’re in a trying position with the resource, the halibut resource not rebuilding as rapidly as we’d like it to,” Balsiger said. “We have some issues with that. I think it is important to note, and we went over this earlier but, the decision table which contains the blue line, the entire table contains recommendations from the staff on how to set the catch limits.”

“Where we operate in that decision table is really a reflection of the conservative nature of the various halibut commissioners, because they’re all valid positions it just depends on how much risk is deemed appropriate, how much conservatism has to be cranked into those tables.”

The commercial catch in area 3A, the central gulf, will see a big cut this year, about 33 percent, down to 7.3 million pounds. And the charter fleet’s limit in the gulf was set at 1.7 million pounds. Charter clients there will have a two fish daily bag limit with a 29 inch limit on a second fish.

The commercial and sport catch in British Columbia will see a small reduction, but not the 29 percent cut initially considered in the “blue line” number presented by IPHC staff.

The commission approved a season start date of March 8 and fishing will be open through Nov. 7.

Project Aims to Turn Homer Into Tidal Energy Testing Site

Mon, 2014-01-20 11:36

Work is continuing on Homer’s Tidal Energy Incubator Project. Those involved, which includes scientists from around the state and University of Alaska engineering students, are trying to find out if they can turn tides into electricity sold on the market. They’ve been studying the tides near Homer’s Deep Water Dock.

Some of the equipment that’s been installed at Homer’s Deepwater Dock. Photo courtesy of the Tidal Energy Incubator Project.

“And the question is, why Kachemak Bay,” said State Representative Paul Seaton. “Well, we have strong tidal currents in here. Not the strongest in the world, but… they fit that realm where there’s docks all around the state that have the kind of tidal velocity that we have. So, if we can develop technology that works here, it will work in numerous places.”

And that’s the project in a nutshell. Seaton told the Homer City Council during its Monday night meeting that the hope is to turn Homer into a testing site for the technology and attract hi-tech industries.

Kris Holderied is a physical oceanographer with NOAA. She said the tidal conditions around the deep water dock could translate into a sort of cookie-cutter approach for other areas around the state and beyond.

“This provides the place to be able to test technology or to create things that we don’t even know about yet. We can’t even imagine yet. We’ve got the right place to do that for applications to a lot of places around the state and on the west coast and the northeast,” she said.

Seaton said the existing infrastructure in and around Homer also helps make this location attractive to researchers or companies.

Holderied said the existing data about Kachemak Bay concerning the shape of the bottom, the currents and the habitat also is a draw.

“So if you want to come and you want to develop something, you already have all this information,” she said.

Photo courtesy of the Tidal Energy Incubator Project.

She said the education component is key, too. After the Homer City Council appropriated a $100,000 reimbursable grant for the project, the city basically “hired” a group of UAA students and their professor to create a 35 percent design for the project. This will be used as part of the requirements for their engineering degrees. They were in Homer early last year to tour the dock and give a presentation at City Hall.

“This whole concept of bringing bright, excited minds to this challenge and creating something that does not exist now, you saw it when those students were in this room,” Holderied said.

Seaton said the group has enough information at this point to start seeking out developers to help gauge interest in the project. That includes the ability to show how fish interact with the devices.

“One of the biggest problems that we’re going to have, and you can’t do it in the Upper Inlet and you can’t do it in these muddy rivers, is see how whatever device is tapping the energy interacts with salmon,” he said.

He said without that information there’s no way to move forward with the project.

AK Beat: Fairbanks crime spree ends, charges include theft of bathroom sink

Mon, 2014-01-20 08:56
AK Beat: Fairbanks crime spree ends, charges include theft of bathroom sink A Fairbanks crime spree has ended with the apprehension of Jerad Zabriskie, who is now charged with some 17 felonies.January 20, 2014

Sherlock: The Sign of Three

Mon, 2014-01-20 08:00

Sherlock faces his biggest challenge of all – delivering a Best Man’s speech on John’s wedding day. But all isn’t quite as it seems. Mortal danger stalks the reception – and someone might not make it to the happy couple’s first dance. Sherlock must thank the bridesmaids, solve the case and stop a killer.

  • Sunday. January 26. 9:00 pm.

RurAL CAP paying elders stipend to pass on wisdom to schoolchildren

Sun, 2014-01-19 21:17
RurAL CAP paying elders stipend to pass on wisdom to schoolchildren The Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc. has taken over management of the Alaska Elder Mentor Program, a popular and long-lived program that connects Alaska Native elders with children in schools. January 19, 2014

Recipe: White bean soup with kale and rosemary

Sun, 2014-01-19 21:14
Recipe: White bean soup with kale and rosemary Losing the battle against your list of New Year's resolutions to live a healthier life? A great way to start is by eating better, and there's not much better way than this simple, light and clean bean-and-kale soup.January 19, 2014

Photos: Kale and bean soup

Sun, 2014-01-19 21:13
Photos: Kale and bean soup

This is a very lean and clean soup, but you can always amp up flavor by sautéing the vegetables first in a little bit of olive oil.

January 19, 2014

Christmas Islanders find new life through the help of Alaskans

Sun, 2014-01-19 20:51
Christmas Islanders find new life through the help of Alaskans An unlikely group helped Christmas Islander Robei Rutio gain her life back: Alaska fly fishermen.January 19, 2014

Photos: Christmas Islanders in Anchorage

Sun, 2014-01-19 20:48
Photos: Christmas Islanders in Anchorage

With the help of a few Alaskans, a woman from Christmas Island in the South Pacific is able to do much more than walk now.

January 19, 2014

Public shut out of secretive capital budgeting process that spends billions of public dollars in Juneau

Sun, 2014-01-19 20:46
Public shut out of secretive capital budgeting process that spends billions of public dollars in Juneau Ever heard of CAPSIS? You're not supposed to. It's a password-protected system in which legislators and others in the know submit and review capital spending requests.   January 19, 2014