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Alaska and Yukon Headlines

Students Compete For Spot In National Geography Bee

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:26

Students from across the state competed in the 26th annual Alaska State Geographic Bee last week in hopes of winning a spot in this year’s national competition in Washington D.C. 101 students vied for the spot.

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Media watchers react to Alaska Dispatch's purchase of the Anchorage Daily News

Tue, 2014-04-08 17:00
Media watchers react to Alaska Dispatch's purchase of the Anchorage Daily News When an upstart online news operation acquires the larger local newspaper, it sets off an array of reactions -- optimism, hesitancy, promise, fear of pitfalls.April 8, 2014

New outdoor sport complex in the works

Tue, 2014-04-08 13:51
An outdoor sport complex featuring soccer fields and an eight-lane rubberized track is being planned for the Yukon capital.

Long-running building dispute returns to court

Tue, 2014-04-08 13:48
The future of a disputed Copper Ridge-area apartment property that has pitted a suburban community against its developer continues to hang in limbo.

Discriminatory clauses to be removed from act

Tue, 2014-04-08 13:45
The Yukon government will bring forward amendments to the Vital Statistics Act to remove any discrimination against same-sex parents.

WMHA season concludes

Tue, 2014-04-08 12:33
The local minor hockey season concluded this weekend with one final clash between the city’s top teams.

Sealaska Spring Dividends Reflect Zero Corporate Earnings

Mon, 2014-04-07 23:48

Sealaska Corp. does not appear to be making much – if any – money. The regional Native corporation’s spring distribution to shareholders, which is basically a dividend, includes no corporate revenues.

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That’s according to an April 3 statement to shareholders.

Sealaska distributes payments to its almost 21,600 shareholders twice a year. In recent years, they’ve ranged from about $400 to around $1,100.

The money usually comes from three sources. The largest is a pool of all 12 regional Native corporations’ resource earnings. Another is Sealaska’s permanent fund. The third is profits from the corporation’s businesses.

“Usually there are. This year there isn’t any operating revenue included in the formula,” says Chris McNeil Jr., president and CEO of the Juneau-headquartered corporation.

That can mean little or no revenues are available for distribution. McNeil won’t say why Sealaska has no revenues to contribute. But he says the information will be in the corporation’s annual report, due out in May.

Read last year’s annual report

“I can’t really provide any details on it until we publish. And we’ve done that traditionally to make sure there is no miscommunication about what is being transmitted to shareholders,” he says.

“Sealaska is so opaque. They don’t really share much about their finances,” says Brad Fluetsch, a shareholder who runs a Facebook page highly critical of Sealaska. He’s also founder and managing director of Juneau-based Fortress Investment Management LLC.

He says even the annual reports lack detail. Earnings and losses are reported in sectors, so the reader often can’t tell which individual businesses are making or losing cash.

Still, Fluetsch says Sealaska’s board was honest when it approved a distribution without corporate revenues.

“I’ll give them kudos for that because that did take some effort on their part. Now what they need to do is hire a management team that can make that zero go away and actually turn it into a positive number,” he says.

McNeil says the biggest contributor to the pooled resource earnings is the owner of Northwest Alaska’s Red Dog Mine.

“At this point, NANA is the principal distributor. But cumulatively, Arctic Slope has distributed more revenue than any other corporation,” McNeil says.

Sealaska was a major contributor before its timber subsidiary starting running out of trees.

McNeil is retiring this summer and the search for a replacement is underway.

This spring distribution totals about $12 million. It gives most shareholders $721 per 100 shares. Other shareholder classes receive only $57 per 100 shares. Most shareholders own 100 shares, though it varies because of gifting or inheritance.

Finland: Saimaa Canal reopens

Mon, 2014-04-07 21:39
Finland: Saimaa Canal reopens Unusually thin ice would have allowed for an earlier seasonal opening of the Finland-to-Russia canal, but renovation work precluded that option. April 7, 2014

Wind turbine nightmare at remote Alaska refuge may cost millions

Mon, 2014-04-07 21:00
Wind turbine nightmare at remote Alaska refuge may cost millions An alternative energy project receiving $3.4 million in federal economic stimulus funds is in shambles.  Bird-friendly wind turbines that were to power the offices of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Western Alaska are sitting in a pile on the ground.April 7, 2014

Alaska's capital megaprojects don’t add up

Mon, 2014-04-07 20:42
Alaska's capital megaprojects don’t add up OPINION: It’s clear that Alaska doesn't have enough money for all of its pie-in-the-sky megaprojects. We Alaskans need to ask why our legislators are spending millions on projects that won't be happening.April 7, 2014

Alaska governor's office will sue feds for Cold Bay-King Cove road

Mon, 2014-04-07 20:38
Alaska governor's office will sue feds for Cold Bay-King Cove road State officials announced Monday that they will sue the federal government for permission to build a long-sought road through part of the Izembek National Widlife Refuge.April 7, 2014

Genetic studies of polar bears' past raises questions about their future

Mon, 2014-04-07 20:32
Genetic studies of polar bears' past raises questions about their future Alaska's polar, brown and black bears are the descendants of common ancestors that first began to split off into different species more than a million years ago, says a new study. Another study suggests one isolated population of brown bears may be more related to polar bears than to other brown bears.April 7, 2014

Homer teenage sexual assault trial faces delays due to Apple phones

Mon, 2014-04-07 20:11
Homer teenage sexual assault trial faces delays due to Apple phones The case of two Homer men and one teenage boy accused of sexually assaulting a boy at a party in 2012 is running into delays, as the prosecution and defense are still waiting for technology giant Apple to turn over possible evidence from cellphones.April 7, 2014

Plan to offer tax credit funds to Alaska private schools emerges

Mon, 2014-04-07 19:51
Plan to offer tax credit funds to Alaska private schools emerges Gov. Sean Parnell's House Bill 178 allows the state to pay some private school costs by offering businesses credits on their corporate income taxes, mining licenses or fish taxes. Some critics are challenging both the wisdom and legality of the proposal, and calling it "voucher-lite."April 7, 2014

Officer's testimony triggers bid by defense to toss out Kodiak murder case

Mon, 2014-04-07 19:38
Officer's testimony triggers bid by defense to toss out Kodiak murder case Base Commanding Officer Peter VanNess, a military chaplain and two other officials approached Nicola Belisle after the fatal shootings. She uttered two words: “Jim Wells.” She said the alleged murderer’s name before VanNess even told her what happened on the base.April 7, 2014

Rio Tinto pulls out of Pebble Partnership, gifting its stake to Alaska organizations

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:54
Rio Tinto pulls out of Pebble Partnership, gifting its stake to Alaska organizations The Pebble Partnership's minority shareholder Rio Tinto gifted its stake in the agreement to two Alaska charities Monday, effectively cutting ties with the controversial mine proposal.April 7, 2014

Rio Tinto Gives Up On Pebble Mine

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:10

Mining Giant Rio Tinto announced Monday it will divest its holdings with Northern Dynasty, the sole owner of the Pebble mine prospect in Bristol Bay. Rio Tinto held 19 percent of Northern Dynasty’s publicly traded shares. But the company is not selling those shares. Instead, it will split them evenly between two charitable organizations.

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Researchers Seek Glimpse Into Lives Of Earliest Unangan Population

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:09

The southeast flank and summit of Mt. Carlisle volcano. (Courtesy Kirsten Nicolaysen, Whitman College)

The Islands of the Four Mountains are at the center of the Aleutians — geographically, and in folklore passed down from prehistoric times. But we don’t know much about the people who lived there.

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An upcoming expedition to the site may change that. KUCB’s Annie Ropeik caught up with the researchers in Unalaska as they prepared for their trip — and for what it could reveal about the earliest Unangan people.

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The current story goes like this: the Unangan people came across the land bridge from Siberia and started making a loop. They moved down through the Alaska Interior and along the coast. Nine-thousand years ago, they got to the Eastern Aleutians and started working their way up the chain.

“Nine-thousand years ago, this was just a blasted landscape,” Jeff Dickrell, a historian based in Unalaska, said. “There was no grass, there was no dirt – it was just volcanic ash.”

That’s exactly what they would have seen on the Islands of the Four Mountains, in the center of the chain. The islands are mostly just – volcanoes.

But for whatever reason, some Unangans decided to put down roots there and build house pits. Past researchers have found those ruins, but they don’t know much else about the settlers. It’s a mystery that University of Kansas archaeologist Dixie West will try to unravel this summer.

Islands of the Four Mountains in the central Aleutian Islands, Alaska. (Image courtesy Dave Schneider & AVO/USGS)

“We’re going to be going out to look at different settlements – prehistoric villages,” West said. “We want to know how prehistoric humans adapted to the changes in the climate, and also, what were their strategies for living in an area which had the potential for massive volcanic explosions?”

West and her research team will look for genetic evidence in peat bogs on the islands to tell them who lived there and when. They’ll also search for artifacts like stone tools, and carbon date them.

Their expert on that is Virginia Hatfield, also of the University of Kansas. She says she hopes the house pits they find on the four volcanoes – Cleveland, Herbert, Tana, and Carlisle – will be in good enough shape to study.

“Since no excavation has occurred, we really don’t know,” West said. “We’re real interested in the one on Carlisle, since it has multiple layers of ash deposits and prehistoric occupation. And that’ll give us an idea of how people lived through time.”

They know at least one group of prehistoric Unangan lived on the islands – and they think more might have moved in as recently as a thousand years ago. Even if it hasn’t always been inhabited, it’s clearly an important place to the Unangans. In oral histories, the islands are described like the Garden of Eden – a place where life began.

Jeff Dickrell, the local historian, says all the reasons that the IFM are uninhabited today, were what attracted prehistoric Unangans. Each islands is made up almost entirely of its volcano, with no bays or salmon streams. And between them, changing tides create a rapids.

(Google Maps screenshot)

“That’s why I think the origination story comes from there, because that’s where the energy is,” Dickrell said. “That’s where all the sea mammals are going to be, where all the fish are going to be.”

“They don’t like the quiet backs of bays, they like the energy places, the points, passes, and that is the place.”

But some Unangan in the Eastern Aleutians take the story one step further. They say their people literally came from the Islands of the Four Mountains – which would mean they moved against the east-to-west tide of migration that we understand today.

This summer, the research team will be looking for evidence on the islands that might match up with the oral histories. It would be a big find.

But Dickrell says this expedition is going to change our understanding no matter what happens.

“In the entire history of archaeology, there’s probably been 20 digs in the Aleutians – almost none, relatively,” Dickrell said. “So the amount of information is so little, that every new site changes the story.”

Whether it’s adding onto the one we already have, or rewriting it altogether.

Izembek Road Issue May Be Headed To Court

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:09

Over the last year, residents of King Cove have been ramping up their campaign to build what they say is a life-saving road through the Izembek wildlife refuge.

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The issue has made national news. Alaska’s lawmakers have taken up the fight in the state legislature and in Congress. And now, the issue may be headed for court.

“Before the state can legally file suit against the federal government, it has to give notice to the affected agency,” Kent Sullivan, an assistant attorney general for the Alaska Department of Law, said. “That’s what the state’s done with this recent filing against the secretary of the interior and the department of homeland security.”

The notice says after the 180-day waiting period, the State of Alaska may sue to set up a right-of-way through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

The federal government would still own the land, but King Cove residents would have the right to pass through it. Sullivan says the state would probably take that a step further, and argue that villagers should have the right to build a road through the refuge as well.

Della Trumble is a spokeswoman for King Cove’s tribal council and village corporation. She says residents have been crisscrossing the refuge for generations.

“It has to do with hunting, fishing, and trapping that the people have done for many, many – technically thousands – of years,” Trumble said. ”They walked basically back and through there.”

Trumble says she’s glad the state’s considering legal action – even if it takes a while to resolve. Alaska’s filed similar claims against the federal government in the past. Some of them have gone on for up to 15 years.

Study Investigates Potential Impacts Of Road Development On Western Arctic Caribou Herd

Mon, 2014-04-07 18:08

In March, a group of researchers announced the results of a multi-year study assessing the impacts to caribou habitat of a potential service road from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District.

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Their research is one of the first wildlife biology studies looking at whether a road through a stretch of the Interior would disrupt the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, which is vital to subsistence users across Western Alaska.

Kyle Joly is with the National Park Service, which, along with the Wilderness Society and U.S. Geological Survey, conducted the study. He says the results showed minimal effects from a road on the areas where caribou spend their winters.

“We do not expect that impacts to winter range will be great from this one road,” he said.

But Joly is quick to caution that the results are one small glimpse of the full picture.

“You know this is just the first phase of the project, and the authors of the paper and other researchers are working on other aspects to look at how the road might impact other aspects of caribou ecology,” Joly said. “More than likely this will be just be the first one in a long suite of studies.”

The study looked at a swath of land starting by Bettles, and moving westward towards the community of Ambler in the Northwest Arctic Borough. That’s the path proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority as part of a Roads to Resources project.

Joly and his research partners spent four years monitoring where caribou spend their time, and cataloging the environmental factors that led the animals to pick those spots. The researchers mapped three potential routes the industrial road could go, then checked how big of a disturbance each one would be to the conditions caribou seem to like.

Joly says the results showed just 1.5-8.5 percent of the favorable range would be upset by the road. But he’s cautious about what that means for development.

“Well what shouldn’t be read into it is that there’s no impact to the caribou or the Western Arctic herd,” Joly said. “What we did is look at just one aspect of caribou ecology, which is winter range—just for this singular road”

Many of the ecological effects on caribou, Joly says, wouldn’t register until after a road were built, and can’t yet be studied.

“So we did not look at any potential impacts to migration, any potential impacts of increased harvest that might come from a road, and we also didn’t look at any potential development that might be facilitated by this road,” Joly said.

The caribou habitat study is set to be published in the journal Arctic later this year.

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