On Tuesday researchers wrapped up a month-long cruise through the unusually warm waters of the Bering Sea. They’re investigating how the second year of a warming pattern is affecting the ecosystem, including the nation’s largest fishery, pollock.Download AudioSorting a catch from the trawl net. Researchers hold walleye pollock over brown jellyfish.(Alex Andrews/NOAA/ABL)Onboard the research vessel Oscar Dyson, a dozen scientists have been trading 12-hour shifts as the ship traced a grid over the eastern Bering Sea Shelf from Unimak Island up to about 60 degrees north.Janet Duffy-Anderson is a research biologist with NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Centers. Her co-lead on the Bering Sea project is Phyllis Stabeno, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.Stabeno explains at each stop, the ship’s researchers take both physicial measurements — temperature, salinity, nutrients – and biological samples.“So you pull in your last net, fish and everything comes in and you begin sorting them… But the ship now is moving to the next station, takes about 2-3 hours to get to the next station…So everybody is MADLY running all their samples so they can be ready to do this again.”The goal of this daily hustle is to study the effects of an unusual phenomenon in the Bering Sea: last year the waters warmed dramatically after a 7-year cold spell.Deploying the fishing net (Alex Andrews/NOAA/ABL)This sudden warming bodes ill for some species, including walleye pollock. Duffy-Anderson says the last time there was an extended warm spell…“…was between 2001 and 2006, and for the pollock during that period, it was a very poor recruitment period for pollock.”The poor pollock return, she says, is due to a deficiency in the fish’s food source… During warm years the plankton, or copepods, that pollock eat are not fatty and nutritious as plankton during cold years.“And what we see is the fishes that eat that prey base are also in worse condition in warm years than in cold years. They’re not getting this high-fat diet. They’re getting kinda more like a potato chip diet, I guess.”Duffy-Anderson says this skimpy warm-weather diet results in skinny pollock that have a hard time surviving the following winter.In contrast, pollock during a cold spell are eating fat-rich plankton…“…and so by the end of the summer they’re short and fat and they can make it through the winter much more successfully than the long-skinny guys in warm years.”Duffy-Anderson says the warm years cause another disturbing trend: an increase in cannibalism among pollock.“In the warm years, when the nutrient base is poor, they go after each other. A drop in pollock survival may be the biggest economic impact of this new warm spell… but these scientists say the changes go much deeper than a single species.”Stabeno says historically, Bering Sea temperatures would fluctuate randomly from year to year – a warm year, followed by a cold, followed by a medium year, and so on.But over the last fifteen years, those brief highs and lows have stretched out into five, six or even seven-year periods… Stabeno says this could signal a big change in the region’s climate patterns.“Has the Bering Sea shifted from this high year-to-year variability to a more stanza – where you have groups of warm and groups of cold, which would have profound impacts on the ecosystem if it happens. And we don’t know if it is… Is this a random occurrence? Statistically, it’s looking less and less like it.”With the warm mass of Pacific water known as the Blob and El Nino in the forecast, continued warm conditions are expected.The Oscar Dyson completed its Bering Sea cruise and returned to Dutch Harbor Tuesday. Duffy-Anderson and Stabeno say a “snapshot” of data will be provided to NOAA fisheries managers and the North Pacific Management Council within a month.A more thorough analysis of the data will be released in about a year.The milky turquoise water caused by coccolithophores with the ship stern in the foreground (Peter Proctor/UW/PMEL)
BP is cutting some 4,000 jobs in exploration and production over the next two years amid sharp drops in the price of crude. The company says some of those job losses will be in Alaska, but didn’t give specifics.Download AudioThe cost-cutting announced today comes as the price of oil dropped to a 12-year low near $31 a barrel. Part of the decline is due to concern over a drop in demand in China, which is depressing commodity prices worldwide.Gov. Bill Walker responded to the cuts today, saying in part, the announcement is concerning but “further emphasizes the need to pursue additional resource development opportunities in Alaska, including the 1002 section of ANWR and the Alaska LNG project.”
Lisbet Norris is a third generation musher of Siberian Huskies, like her nine-year-old lead dog Nils. Photo: Zachariah Hughes.In competitive mushing, not all sled dogs are created equal.Download AudioAs a breed, Alaskan Huskies dominate the top spots in high profile races. But Siberian Huskies have a long and storied tradition in Alaska, stretching back to the Seward Peninsula gold rush and the roots of the Iditarod serum run to Nome.A family in Willow runs a renowned kennel for the breed, and one of the youngest members is keeping the Siberian tradition alive as she prepares for her third Iditarod run.On a recent weekend, 27-year-old Lisbet Norris showed off her immaculate dog lot. Pointing out the wide spectrum of sizes among specimen, she picked up a genial nine-year-old named Nils that has run with her team twice all the way to Nome.“What’s interesting is that the standard for Siberian Huskies is that it’s relatively loose. So Nils here is, like, I dunno, maybe 45 pounds,” Norris said with a groan, heaving him to her chest like a kettlebell.The Norris family’s lineage in Alaska is interwoven with the history of the Siberian breed itself.“I’m a third generation dog musher. My family’s kennel is called Alaskan Kennels, and we’re the oldest Siberian Husky kennel in the world.”That claim, and the name of the breed itself, can be tricky. Siberians are actually an American breed: Their forebears were imported from the Anadyr River region of the Russian Far East across the Bering Strait for the All-Alaska Sweepstakes sled-dog race by the sport’s grandfathers like Victor Anderson and Leonhard Seppala.“All Siberians can trace their lineage back to those dogs,” Norris explained. “It’s like 13 generations back–it’s very direct.”Alaskan Kennel’s Siberian Huskies are versetile enough athletes to run in short sprint races, as well as long-distance endurance races. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.After the Serum Run and the end of the gold boom, many of those who mushed on the Seward Peninsula moved back to the East Coast.“They took their dogs with them, and so the registry was established in the ’30s, and that’s kinda when the breed started.”Norris’s grandparents met on the edge of the same era. In the 1940s, her grandfather was living in Anchorage when someone mailed him a magazine showing a dark-haired beauty in a parka on the cover. Inside was an article about a young woman who ran dogs in Lake Placid, New York, getting ready to follow her mushing dreams to Alaska.“Grandpa read the article and he immediately wrote, offering his help for when she arrived,” Norris said through a wide smile. “When she came to Alaska she kept her dogs at his place and it wasn’t too long after that that they got married and started the kennel in Anchorage.”Norris’s parents still mush. In fact, her dad competes in the Fur Rondy sprint races with dogs from the same breeding pool as the younger Norris’s long-hauling Iditarod squad.That versatility is one of the breed’s strong suits, along with their physical traits.“Everything about them is efficient and suited for travel in cold weather.”That includes their thick double coats, small ears, tiny blood vessels, and tough paws. Unlike their lean Alaskan counter-parts, Siberians can fare fine running and resting without jackets or extra gear in an Arctic environment. During training, Norris says she doesn’t need to boot them until it gets below zero degrees.But there are drawbacks. Siberians have the disparaging nickname “slowberians” in some corners of the racing scene, and Norris is one of just a few mushers to use them in prestigious long-distance competitions. The highest finish for a Siberian team in recent Iditarods was 30th, by Mike Ellis, in 2013.“There’s this stereotype of them being very slow, heavy dogs.”That, according to Norris, is a misconception–one that sometimes comes from people mistaking Siberians for larger, heavier Malamutes.But most of the first-place Iditarod finishers in the last two decades have championed the scientific rigor that goes into their breeding programs, fusing the best traits for long-distance racing into hybrid lines. Whether or not that science bears demonstrable results, the notion of a concentrating on pure-bred lines can seem quaint. It’s also a limiting factor: The breeding pool is smaller, with significantly less polished stock to chose from in building out racing teams and kennels.Norri’s lead dog Ripp bounces in his harness at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod in Anchorage in 2015. Photo: Zachariah Hughes.Norris is frequently questioned about whether it’s feasible to aspire to the sport’s upper echelons if she remains true to the breed.“I get asked a lot by people, ‘Well if you ever wanted to be competitive would you switch to Alaskans?’” She posed, before answering, “No. I love the breed, I adore these dogs. And I enjoy challenging myself and learning the limits of my team and doing the best with what we have.”Her devotion to Siberians seems less tied to pushing the boundaries of the sport than realizing the full abilities of the breed.Norris bent down to show-off the malting top-coat of a bright-eyed Husky named Ripp. She offered a familiar comparison of her own abilities measured against the four-legged athletes on her team.“I know that I am, without a doubt, the weak link.”
Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprnListen nowAlaska delegates criticize Trump’s remarks on Gold Star familiesLiz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageAlaska’s congressman and both U.S. senators are among the Republican lawmakers criticizing remarks Donald Trump made about the family of Captain Humayun Khan, a Muslim-American Army officer killed in Iraq.Walker sacks industry advocate from Marijuana Control BoardZachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageOne of the state’s key regulators on commercial cannabis has been unexpectedly ousted by the governor.Marijuana Control Board Chair under fire for initiative to ban commercial pot on PeninsulaJenny Neyman, KBBI – HomerThe chair of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Board is gathering signatures to have Kenai Peninsula Borough vote on outlawing commercial cannabis operations in areas of the borough outside cities. That isn’t sitting well with members of cannabis industry on the peninsula.Military’s $4B moving program keeps climbing — and no one is sure whyZachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageEvery year, the US military moves hundreds of thousands of service members and their families all across the globe. And it isn’t cheap. In 2014, the Department of Defense spent more than $4.3 billion on moving costs — and a federal report found those costs are shooting up much faster than inflation. Officials don’t know where all that money is going. And they’re not even tracking enough data to start making reforms.To prevent Fairbanks flooding, Moose Creek Dam starts regulating the Chena River againDan Bross, KUAC – FairbanksThe Chena River Flood control project was built by the Army Corps of Engineers after the devastating 1967 flood in Fairbanks. The project’s main features, a dam and connected spillway, protect the community during heavy rains and reports the facility has gotten heavy use in recent weeks.Warm water Blob survives as El Niño diesMatt Miller, KTOO – JuneauIt’s being called a marine heat wave. The combination of the strongest El Niño in recent history and the warm water anomaly known as the Blob generated the greatest amount of warm ocean water that has ever been recorded, possibly affecting marine life up and down the West Coast.Small dam on slough helps Big Delta man protect his home along Tanana RiverTim Ellis, KUAC – FairbanksBig Delta resident Tom Gorman said a small dam he built earlier this year to protect his home from the meandering Tanana River held steady over the past couple of weeks as the river rose to near-flood level, due to recent rains. Gorman now hopes the river falls quickly enough to allow him to finish work on the dam before snow flies.
The acclaimed Whistler, BC, film festival started this week, featuring Canadian first-run Oscar-buzz films like Ms. Sloan and La La Land. Although the pictures feature Hollywood luminaries Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, those stars could be upstaged by the subjects of another film – one creating a lot of controversy in the mushing world.Listen NowFern Levitt’s documentary, Sled Dogs, has tripped the social media trigger among sled-dog kennel owners and animal rights activists.One Canadian kennel owner threatened the festival with a lawsuit if it shows the film, while Vancouver’s humane society urged the festival to show it.None of that bothers Whistler Film Festival program director Paul Gratton.“I find it pretty amazing that people are trying to stop a public screening of a film that hasn’t been seen,” Gratton laughed.Gratton said the controversy is sparked by the film’s trailer, which sensationalizes certain aspects of the film — some of the footage in the film and the trailer were shot in Alaska during the Iditarod.Gratton said he thinks people should give the movie a chance.“It’s not like I was getting death threats or anything crazy like that, but people were very upset over a movie that they hadn’t seen, because the world premiere is happening here,” Gratton said. “And, I understand that a two minute trailer that the producer supplied to us, is, by it’s very nature, designed to sell tickets. And I don’t think it represents the film. My personal feeling is that if it had been a mindless, hysterical, hatchet job against the industry, I wouldn’t have shown it.”The film is tentatively scheduled to air on Canadian national television next year. Gratton said, in Whistler, it is showing in a 200 seat theater for it’s premiere. He said he’ll be available to discuss the film with the audience after it airs Saturday night at 9:30 BC time.
Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprnListen NowOil and gas companies scoop up North Slope leases on state and federal landsElizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – AnchorageState and federal oil and gas lease sales held Wednesday in Anchorage saw an unexpected surge of interest in the North Slope.Environmentalists ready for ANWR fight, with vets in their campLiz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – Washington D.C.Alaska’s congressional delegation sees a chance to finally open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The environmental lobby is ready for the fight. And they’ve got some new, patriotic allies on their side: military veterans.State to audit the Alaska Gasline Development CorporationRashah McChesney, Alaska’s Energy Desk – JuneauThe state corporation charged with taking over the massive Alaska LNG project is going to have its finances scrutinized. The legislators who called for the investigation say they want to know what the corporation has done with the $600 million given to it by the state over the last several years.Restaurant chains to pay $835K in unpaid overtime, damagesAnne Hillman, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageTwo Alaska restaurant chains have to pay employees about $835,000 in overtime pay and damages to 159 employees. The state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development investigated Taco King and Gallo’s Mexican Restaurants after receiving several complaints by employees since 2007 and a number of anonymous calls.Successes and shortcomings in Anchorage’s homelessness strategy Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageAs the year comes to a close, Anchorage officials are taking stock of the city’s problems with homelessness. Several aggressive measures to connect people with housing and social services are succeeding, but the coordinated effort is showcasing just how much work is left to do. A Wednesday meeting of the city’s committee on homelessness put on display where the city’s programs are succeeding, and where critical gaps remain.ACLU sues Kenai Peninsula Borough over religious invocation policyShahla Farzan, KBBI – HomerThe American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska (ACLU) is following through with its threat to sue the Kenai Peninsula Borough over its invocation policy.University of Alaska Southeast to house all UA education collegesQuinton Chandler, KTOO – JuneauThe University of Alaska is bringing its three colleges of education under one roof at the University of Alaska Southeast.Guitar maker opts for more sustainable Sitka spruceElizabeth Jenkins, Alaska’s Energy Desk – JuneauA little piece of Alaska has helped create some of the music industry’s biggest hits. Sitka spruce is a prized “tonewood” used to make guitars and violins. But one guitar company is pushing back and asking the feds and music insiders to reconsider clear cut logging in the Tongass National Forest.
The state’s largest newspaper is filing for bankruptcy protection, and may soon have new owners. The Alaska Dispatch News announced a deal this weekend that could turn the paper over to a publishing group made up of lifelong Alaskans.Listen nowIn an article on its front page Sunday, the Dispatch reported its owner, Alice Rogoff, is stepping down, with new owners taking control immediately. That group is made up of siblings from Fairbanks lead by businessman Ryan Binkley, along with Jason Evans, originally of Nome. Evans currently owns three small Alaska papers: the Arctic Sounder, Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman and Homer Tribune.In a statement that ran along-side the news article in ADN’s Sunday edition, the new owners say they are committed to keeping up the paper’s robust coverage of Anchorage and the state.The deal is not yet final. Evans wrote an email to staff at his papers Monday saying the new arrangement could fall apart “due to uncertainty of the the bankruptcy process.” Evans added that it’s the Binkley family that is seeking to “buy the paper out of bankruptcy,” and his main contribution is advice. That includes pushing the paper to hire Jerry Grilly, a former publisher of the Anchorage Daily News and Denver Post, whom Evans describes as a “newspaper turnaround expert.”The ADN is facing multiple lawsuits over allegations of unpaid bills and breached contracts. On Friday, telecom firm GCI filed a complaint seeking to recoup nearly $3 million and evict ADN from the warehouse space that houses the paper’s printing press. In a statement published by the Dispatch, Rogoff said it’s a “bittersweet moment” to be “handing off stewardship” of the paper. Adding that financial realities can’t be wished away.Rogoff bought the paper for $34 million in 2014.Neither Rogoff nor the new owners offered any information on the fate of the Dispatch’s current employees, or whether the company expects to downsize in the immediate future.
An Alaska Seaplanes aircraft makes its way to Juneau in June 2107. (Abbey Collins)A plane on its way from Skagway to Juneau made an emergency water landing Monday morning. Everyone on board the aircraft swam safely to shore.Listen nowHaines resident Luck Dunbar was one of them.“Well there you are, you’re sitting there thinking ‘This is it. This is it. Here we go,’” Dunbar recounted.Dunbar boarded the Alaska Seaplanes flight around 5:30 a.m. Monday. The plane flew from Haines to Skagway to pick up three more passengers. Then, it headed for Juneau.Dunbar is a commercial fisherman who was on his way to Sitka to get his boat. Once on board the flight, he took a nap. He woke up to what he describes as the engine making an unusual noise.Soon after, Dunbar said the plane started to descend early. He asked the pilot what was going on.“He pointed over by Coghlan Island and he said ‘I think we’re going to lay her down over here,’” Dunbar said.According to the Alaska State Troopers, the pilot was Haines resident Joshua Poirier.Poirier declared an emergency following an engine failure. That’s according to a press release form Seaplanes General Manager Carl Ramseth.The troopers say Poirier made an emergency landing in the ocean, about 150 ft. from Coughlan Island.Dunbar said after hitting the water, they were able to keep the plane upright.“Josh, the pilot, did an amazing job,” Dunbar said. “He kept the nose up. We hit the water as slow as that plane could fly. Still keeping the nose up. By the time the nose hit we had lost enough momentum where we didn’t flip the plane.”Then, they exited the aircraft.“I opened the door without a problem,” Dunbar said. “Opened it up wide, reached down to unbuckle. There was water going up my arm pretty quick. I got unbuckled. I looked back, everyone was scrambling, doing their thing to get out of the plane. The back door opened. The pilot opened his door, I opened my door. Everybody scrambled, got out of the plane.”All four passengers and Poirier swam to shore.“We swam and swam and swam,” Dunbar said. “Not going to lie, by the time I got to the beach I was pretty exhausted. I had too many layers on. I was feeling pretty heavy, feeling pretty blessed to just relax and have my feet touch the sand of the beach of Coughlan Island.”According to the troopers, an Alaska Seaplanes aircraft equipped with floats responded to the scene and retrieved the four passengers. Poirier stayed on the beach and was later picked up by Coastal Helicopters.All of the passengers and the pilot were assessed by Capitol City Fire/Rescue and were released with no injuries.Troopers say the plane that went down was a Cessna T207 on wheels. Its last airworthiness certificate was issued by the FAA in September 2015. It is set to expire in about a year. The National Transportation Safety Board and Alaska Seaplanes are working together to determine the cause of the accident.Ramseth commended Poirier’s actions in the incident.Dunbar thanked the airline, and credits Poirier for the success of the rescue.“He did an amazing job,” Dunbar said. “He instructed us on exactly what to do at the proper time. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Josh.”Alaska Seaplanes is based in Juneau and operates daily flights to communities in Southeast Alaska. Seaplanes gained a monopoly on its market after competitor Wings of Alaska shut down in March.Dunbar said this incident has not deterred him from flying.“I’ll be flying happily for the rest of my life knowing that can’t happen twice, right?” Dunbar said.In fact, Dunbar got on another Seaplanes flight to finish his trip to Sitka the same day.Update: This story has been updated with an interview from plane passenger Luck Dunbar. It also has been corrected with the correct spelling of Coghlan Island.
Seb Kurland sits right of DEC Commissioner, Larry Hartig. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Center)The last serious effort to create a statewide climate change policy for Alaska happened under former Governor Sarah Palin. Now, a group of teenagers are trying to push the issue.Listen nowThey hand delivered a petition to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation recently — asking for reduced carbon emissions and a strategy moving forward.17-year-old Seb Kurland is home schooled in Juneau and grew up in the capital city. But Seb said the landscape around town looked different not that long ago.The Mendenhall Glacier continues to shrink. Every year there seems to be less and less snow. And as Seb has gotten older, this teen’s concern about the changing environment has grown, too.“You know, one of the hard things especially about being a teenager with these concerns is that you don’t feel like you can do anything about it,” Kurland said. “And I found Alaska Youth for Environmental Action.”Alaska Youth for Environmental Action is part of the Alaska Center, an environmental nonprofit.The program engages teens across the state to voice their opinions on issues like climate change.In late August, Seb flew to Anchorage to deliver a petition to Larry Hartig, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.Seb was joined by 18 other teens asking the state to fulfill an obligation to protect Alaska’s natural resources.“Basically what we’re saying with this petition is, ‘Hey you’re not doing that!’” Kurland said.The petition asks the state to reduce CO2 emissions, monitor what greenhouse gasses it does emit and come up with a climate change strategy for the long haul.The carefully-crafted legal document didn’t just come out of nowhere. Back in 2011, a group of Alaska teens filed a lawsuit that made it all the way to the state Supreme Court. The Justices ruled that it was a matter for the executive or legislative branch.“Now, kind our reply or our response is that’s the reason we were in court in the first place,” Brad DeNoble, a lawyer from Eagle River, said. He helped craft both the lawsuit and the current petition.DeNoble said the state may be obligated to do more to address climate change, under a common law with ancient roots called the public trust doctrine.“Certain resources are essentially so important to society that they have to be protected,” DeNoble said. “They’re incapable of private ownership.”DeNoble said the atmosphere in Alaska is the resource that needs to be protected from harmful emissions like CO2. It’s a concept, he says, that’s even embedded in the state constitution.But Rep. Chris Birch, a Republican and freshman member of the House Resource Committee, doubts regulating industry further would do much good. Birch thinks climate change is cyclical — not just caused by people.While Birch applauds the youth’s civic engagement, he said there’s more than one way to look out for Alaska’s future.“You know, certainly the oil and gas industry in Alaska has led to tremendous benefits for each and every one of our citizens and residents,” Birch said. “And I think to compromise that or to try to put a lid on that or to burden that development is not reasonable.”Seb Kurland doesn’t see it that way. Kurland said climate change is jeopardizing the state’s other economic drivers, like tourism and fishing, and it’s something the Alaska legislature needs to address now.“It can’t be delayed any further. Like, this is an issue that gets worse,” Kurland said.The Department of Environmental Conservation has until Sep. 29 to respond to the petition. At which point, it can reject it or call a public hearing.
File photo of a gold Krugerrand (Creative Commons photo)Salvation Army staff in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough got a big surprise while counting change from their red kettles Friday. You know the ones, staffed by bell ringers seeking donations at store entrances.An anonymous donor dropped a gold coin, which the Salvation Army says is worth $1,251, into the kettle at the Three Bears store on Knik-Goose Bay Road in Knik.“This is so unusual, we were just thrilled,” said Janet Kincaid, who chairs the Mat-Su Salvation Army board and serves on the Anchorage Salvation Army Board.Kincaid realized the coin was special — it’s a gold Krugerrand from South Africa — as they were counting out lower-denomination change.“And I looked at it and I thought, ‘Oh whoa! This is one of those!”Gold coins show up in the Salvation Army’s kettles every year, usually anonymously and in other parts of the country. This is the first Krugerrand believed to have been dropped into one of the red buckets in Alaska.Kincaid said she thought the earthquake might’ve had something to do with the donation, because the area where it was given was hit hard. The quake shut down the Three Bears store for a couple of days, she said.And while Kincaid said people have been especially generous this year, the coin is a random gift that tops all others.“We find all sorts of things, like washers and screws. All other kind of coins. Sometimes we find and alcoholics coin that’s a symbol of their sobriety,” Kincaid said. “You know, men in particular, they just clean out their pockets and drop it in.”The gold Kruggerand was likely not the result of someone cleaning out their pockets, or an accident, she said. That’s because it was in a plastic sleeve and came with a note in memory of someone.Kincaid said she doesn’t want to reveal the name, because it was given anonymously, and she doesn’t know if the person wants their loved one’s name made public.