(CBC News, 7 March 2013) -- A proposal by the United States to ban cross-border trade in polar bears and their parts was defeated Thursday at an international meeting of conservationists, marking a victory for Canada's Inuit over their big neighbour to the south. Delegates at the triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, rejected Washington's proposal to change the status of the polar bear from a species whose trade is merely regulated, not banned. The proposal fell far short of the two-thirds needed to pass, garnering 38 votes in favour, 42 against and 46 abstentions. A similar proposal was defeated three years ago at the last CITES meeting. While support for most of the meeting's 70 proposals covering the trade in other species fell along predictable lines, the U.S. proposal made for some odd bedfellows. Russia endorsed Washington's proposal, which was also supported by a cluster of animal humane societies. Canada was joined in opposition by some of the larger conservation organizations, including the CITES Secretariat and the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, better known as TRAFFIC. The worldwide population of polar bears is estimated to be 20,000 to 28,000, with about two-thirds in Canada. The United States had contended that climate change was dangerously shrinking the bears' habitat, and that pre-emptive measures were needed to save them. ... The U.S. delegation said it was disappointed that the trade ban proposal had failed.
Posted 9 March 2013; 1:37:21 AM. Permalink
(NOAA press release, 28 February 2013) -- NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has issued an updated Arctic Nautical Charting Plan, as a major effort to improve inadequate chart coverage for Arctic areas experiencing increasing vessel traffic due to ice diminishment. The update came after consultations with maritime interests and the public, as well as with other federal, state, and local agencies. “As multi-year sea ice continues to disappear, vessel traffic in the Arctic is on the rise,” said Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, NOAA Coast Survey director. “This is leading to new maritime concerns about adequate charts, especially in areas increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry and cruise liners,” Glang said. Commercial vessels depend on NOAA to provide charts and publications with the latest depth information, aids to navigation, accurate shorelines, and other features required for safe navigation in U.S. waters. But many regions of Alaska’s coastal areas have never had full bottom bathymetric surveys, and some haven’t had more than superficial depth measurements since Captain Cook explored the northern regions in the late 1700s. “Ships need updated charts with precise and accurate measurements,” said Capt. Doug Baird, chief of Coast Survey’s marine chart division. “We don’t have decades to get it done. Ice diminishment is here now.” NOAA plans to create 14 new charts to complement the existing chart coverage.
Posted 1 March 2013; 2:23:50 PM. Permalink
(Suzanne Goldenberg/The Guardian, 18 January 2013) -- The entire future of Shell's drilling plans in the Arctic was put in doubt on Friday after two of Barack Obama's most trusted advisers called for a permanent halt to oil exploration. In a piece for Bloomberg news, Carol Browner, who was Obama's climate adviser during his first two years in office, and John Podesta, who headed his 2009 transition team, said they now believed there was no safe way to drill for oil in the Arctic. Their opinions come at a critical time for Shell, which has invested six years and nearly $5bn trying to gain access to the vast undersea reserves of oil and natural gas in the Arctic ocean. The Obama administration this month launched a high-level review of Shell's plans for the Arctic, after a series of equipment failures and safety and environmental lapses. The company is also struggling to repair or replace its Kulluk oil rig, which ran aground over the New Year, in order to return to the Arctic when the drilling season re-opens in July. Now two of Obama's advisers are suggesting Shell and other companies should not be operating in the Arctic at all. "Developers and Barack Obama's administration assured us these operations would be safe, thanks to strict oversight and new technology. Now it seems that optimism was misplaced," Browner and Podesta write in a piece for Bloomberg View. "Following a series of mishaps and errors, as well as overwhelming weather conditions, it has become clear that there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic ocean."
Posted 19 January 2013; 7:25:01 PM. Permalink
(Cathy Hunter/National Geographic News Watch, 14 December 2012) -- [The thirty-three founders of the National Geographic Society were an adventurous and accomplished group. They included scientists, explorers, a journalist and a superintendent of the National Zoo. In recognition of the National Geographic Society’s upcoming 125th anniversary this series takes a look at their stories.] A.W. Greely’s 1881 Arctic expedition tragically demonstrated the hardships and deadliness of attempts to explore the Far North. Despite his achievements before and after the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, his reputation would forever be tainted. ... In 1881, Greely was in charge of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition to the Arctic in order to establish one of a chain of international circumpolar weather stations. This expedition began as part of the first International Polar Year, reached the high latitudes of Canada north of Baffin Bay as well as crossing Ellesmere Island for the first time, charting parts of the coast of Greenland, and achieving a new northern record of 83 degrees, 24 minutes. Unfortunately, two relief ships failed to appear. Commander Winfield Scott Schley at the head of a third relief vessel finally made it–but by then it was 1884, and 18 of the 25 men had died.
Posted 4 January 2013; 5:20:20 PM. Permalink
(Coastal Care, 21 September 2012) -- ... the village of Shishmaref in North Western Alaska, inhabited for 400 years, is currently facing evacuation due to rising temperatures, which are causing a reduction in sea ice, thawing of permafrost along the coast. The reduced sea ice allows higher storm surges to reach shore and thawing permafrost makes the shoreline more vulnerable to erosion. The town’s homes, water system and infrastructure are being undermined. A federal appeals court has ruled against the northwest Alaska village of Kivalina, which sued energy companies over claims that greenhouse emissions contributed to global warming that is threatening the community’s existence. The eroding village sought monetary damages to help with the estimated $400 million to relocate…
Posted 22 September 2012; 10:40:02 AM. Permalink
(Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping Joint Hydrographic Center, 6 September 2012) -- A blog detailing the daily progress of the Healy as researchers study the Arctic Ocean and map the sea floor. Blog post from September 5, 2012: Today we returned to the seafloor knoll that was partially sounded on August 31 to fully map the feature and determine if it rises above the 2500 m depth contour. (The 2500-m contour is a key element in establishing limits of the extended continental shelf.) Our multibeam mapping determined that the highest point of the knoll is about 2690 m deep and thus does not give us a 2500-m contour to work with. Nonetheless, we now have a detailed survey of the knoll to replace the vague shape on the existing maps. After we acquire the multibeam echo sounder data, our data processing watch team “processes” the data. In data processing, we confirm that the ship’s position and attitude data are valid and we clean erroneous depth values from the sounding data. These erroneous depth values can arise from interference from other echo sounders, bubbles or ice under the ship, mechanical noise from the ship’s machinery, or often just from weak echoes returning from the seafloor. The cleaned depth values are combined into a digital depth data grid for display and analysis.
Posted 6 September 2012; 3:31:17 PM. Permalink
(Dennis L. Bryant/Marinelink.com, 16 July 2012) -- While it seems that half the world is monitoring the oil and gas exploration activities of Royal Dutch Shell (Shell Oil) on the United States outer continental shelf (OCS) in waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the north coast of Alaska, another historic event is occurring in those same waters: Arctic Shield 2012. The US Coast Guard is assembling its largest ever effort in the Arctic during the period July through October 2012. The Coast Guard has been gradually expanding its presence in the Arctic over the past four years. ... This summer, though, the Coast Guard is making a full-court press. The National Security Cutter Bertholf, the Medium Endurance Cutter Alex Haley, and the buoy tenders Hickory and Sycamore will be operating in waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, testing their ability to perform national security, maritime safety, law enforcement, marine pollution prevention, and other Coast Guard missions in Arctic waters. They will be joined by four helicopters, a mobile communications facility, and various shore-based assets. In a first-ever Arctic waters test, the Coast Guard, the US Northern Command, the Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving, and other agencies will deploy Spilled Oil Recovery System (SORS) equipment from one of the buoy tenders.
Posted 17 July 2012; 2:26:18 PM. Permalink
(Mia Bennett/Eye on the Arctic via Alaska Dispatch, 7 May 2012) -- The Canadian Forces have just commenced one of their annual sovereignty exercises in the Arctic, called Operation Nunalivut. One-hundred fifty Canadian Forces personnel from the Navy, Air Force, Army, and Canadian Rangers are participating. This year, the exercises are taking place around Cornwallis Island and on the western portion of Devon Island in Nunavut. Sovereignty and search and rescue (SAR) training compose a large portion of the operations this year. Royal Canadian Navy divers dove under six feet of ice in Gascoyne Bay to simulate a medical rescue. Two Royal Canadian Air Force CC-138 Twin Otters also performed ski-landings to resupply a temporary camp in Viks Fiord. Another exercise helped Canada look into the dangerous past of the Arctic: sailors cut a hole into the ice with heated saws to submerge a remotely operated vehicle to survey the world's northernmost shipwreck, the HMS Breadalbane, which sank down into the murky depths in 1853. Participants are also testing new communications capabilities for Op Nunalivut. For the first time, rangers can communicate through a chat program that connects them both to headquarters in Resolute and Yellowknife, thousands of miles away in the Northwest Territories. ... Meanwhile, the U.S. is "behind the power curve regarding the Arctic" according to Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Bob Papp. The U.S. Naval War College's War Gaming Department recently carried out an operations game in which it found that the Navy is woefully unprepared and ill-equipped for activities in the Arctic. Without any heavy icebreakers, it must rely on other countries for that capability. Walter Berbrick, assistant research professor in the War Gaming Department, stated, "We have limited capability to sustain long-term operations in the Arctic due to inadequate icebreaking capability. The Navy finds itself entering a new realm as it relates to having to rely on other nations." Previously, the Navy mostly just had to rely on the Coast Guard, to whom it gave its last icebreaker, the Glacier, to the Coast Guard in 1966. That year, it decided to hand over all icebreaking operations.
Posted 8 May 2012; 10:52:50 PM. Permalink
(Charles M. Sennott/Ground Truth via GlobalPost Blogs, 27 March 2012) -- MEDFORD, Massachusetts - The Arctic Circle is the next gold rush with eight nations holding territory in the melting tundra all vying to stake a claim to the bountiful resources that lie beneath the ice flows. Or, the Arctic Circle is the next utopia, a global commons where mankind can work together to save the environment and the traditions of its indigenous people while responsible investors harvest resources the planet will need to survive. Or, it is all of these things. The truth is that the Arctic Circle is a tabula rasa, a place where political leaders, business investors, environmentalists, dreamers and schemers are all trying to assert their will and give shape to its uncertain future. What is clear is that the Arctic Circle holds the world’s largest supply of untapped resources, particularly oil and gas, as well as rare minerals. Most economists agree it stands to become the last great emerging market in the global economy. At an extraordinary conference this week at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Iceland’s President Olafur Grimsson gathered along with more than 50 leading diplomats, politicians, academics, environmentalists and business entrepreneurs to address the foreign policy, economic, environmental and security implications in the Arctic. At the conference, titled “Voyage of Re-Discovery: Panning for Wealth in the Warming Arctic,” a general consensus emerged that the combination of a growing scarcity of resources combined with scientific breakthroughs for extracting them from the bottom of the icy waters and new pathways that are opening up due to climate change has put the Arctic at center stage in geopolitical conversation. The conference seemed to focus most sharply on the need for a precise legal and political framework for the Arctic Circle to be established by the Arctic Council, which is made up of Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland.
Posted 27 March 2012; 11:20:54 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, ) -- The U.S. Consul General for British Columbia and Yukon thanked Yukoners with a bronze plaque Thursday for their help on 9/11 and the days afterwards. Two Korean Air 747’s bound for the United States were diverted to Whitehorse back on September 11th, 2001. Anne Callaghan said Canadians across the country opened their homes and hearts to stranded Americans that day. "The U.S. government has been presenting bronze plaques to various Canadian communities in appreciation." she said. “Neither terrorism nor adversity can conquer free people,” Callaghan said, “We are grateful to stand with neighbours who are willing to share the burdens of trying times and to work together for good. Our profound gratitude goes to all Canadians for the many acts of kindness and support rendered in the wake of September 11, 2001.” Callaghan just recently began her job at the U.S. consulate in Vancouver. She said she's keen to support the already strong ties between Yukon and Alaska. “One thing that's been very gratifying for me here is to see the extent of the cooperation between Yukon and Alaska, on the educational front, on the trade front, it's deep and it's heartfelt and anything we can do to help promote that we will.” Yukon premier Darrell Pasloski accepted the plaque on behalf of the territory.
Posted 23 March 2012; 10:36:07 AM. Permalink
(Defence Professionals, 19 March 2012) -- The Arctic region is poised for greater regional significance as polar ice retreats in coming decades. Ship traffic likely will increase during summer months, and commercial activity focused on the sea floor is expected to grow. The Arctic is largely isolated, vast and environmentally extreme. Remote sensing may offer affordable advantages over traditional methods of monitoring the region—aircraft, satellites or manned ships and submarines—due to the great distances in the Arctic. To enable future capability for regional situational awareness and maritime security, DARPA’s Assured Arctic Awareness (AAA) program plans to develop new technologies to monitor the Arctic both above and below the ice, providing year-round situational awareness without the need for forward-basing or human presence. AAA seeks advances in sensor systems and related technologies—such as station-keeping capabilities—that are rugged enough to withstand Arctic conditions, economical to operate and environmentally responsible with minimal impact. DARPA seeks proposals that specifically take the perceived negatives of the harsh polar environment and turn them into positives for a suite of unique Arctic capabilities. “We’re looking for creative ideas for compelling component technologies and a vision for applying them to monitor the region—whether proposers have expertise in the Arctic or not,” said Andy Coon, DARPA program manager.
Posted 20 March 2012; 12:04:28 AM. Permalink
(Alexandra Gutierrez/KUCB - Unalaska, APR, 16 March 2012) -- The state legislature is making progress toward establishing an Arctic policy commission. At a hearing of the House Finance Committee on Wednesday, Rep. Reggie Joule explained that even though Alaska is the country’s only Arctic state, it’s often left out of conversations about federal policy concerning the region. He thinks that having a body responsible for developing an Arctic strategy would give the state more credibility with regulators in Washington. “When we went and addressed the State Department, the Department of the Interior, it is amazing what people do not know about our state that should be basic,” said Joule. “And they get to make budget decisions. And I think it’s imperative that the legislature stay involved in this process.” The idea for the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission came out of the Northern Waters Task Force, a state body that had a similar mission but was only meant to exist for two years. If established, the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission would pick up where the task force left off. It would also be expanded to include representatives from industry, academia, conservation groups, and the state’s tribes.
Posted 18 March 2012; 1:16:54 AM. Permalink
(Carl Meyer/Embassy, 8 February 2012) -- The United States and Canada should march in lockstep at the Arctic Council, as the US helps to develop natural resources in Canada's North, say Canadian and US officials. "We look forward to developing a common agenda at the Arctic Council, which we can advance during these four years of a shared North American chairmanship," said Richard Steffens, minister-counsellor for commercial affairs at the US Embassy. Mr. Steffens was speaking as part of a Feb. 3 panel at Northern Lights 2012, a four-day conference in Ottawa focusing on the Arctic and the North. The panel also featured the heads of mission of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, as well as Canada's senior Arctic official, Sheila Riordon. The Arctic Council—an intergovernmental forum that deals with matters facing Arctic states and indigenous peoples—is set to be chaired by Canada from 2013 to 2015, and the US from 2015 to 2017. Ms. Riordon confirmed in her own speech that the two countries are now angling to collaborate. "There's a great deal of opportunity to look at ways that we can use the council from the North American optic to advance some of our shared interests and objectives," she said. The US is Canada's "closest neighbour and in many ways our premier partner in the region," added Ms. Riordon, who is director general of the energy, climate, and circumpolar affairs bureau at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. A Canada-US bloc would set the two nations apart from a Scandinavian bloc that has existed since 2006. Council documents note that the three last chairs—Norway, Denmark, and Sweden—pledged to follow a common set of priorities: climate change, environmental protection, the legacy of the 2007-08 international polar year, indigenous peoples, and the management of the council.
Posted 13 February 2012; 11:06:40 PM. Permalink
(Alaska Volcano Observatory press release via RedOrbit, 1 February 2012) -- The Alaska Volcano Observatory raised a warning level for a remote Alaskan volcano on Tuesday, indicating a possible eruption. The center elevated the alert status for Cleveland Volcano after a new lava dome was spotted in the summit crater. Officials said the dome was about 130 feet in diameter as of Monday. The volcano is a 5,675-foot peak on an uninhabited island, 940 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. Authorities say sudden eruptions could occur at any time, and ash clouds 20,000 feet above sea level are possible. The observatory did say that there have been no observations of ash emissions or explosive activity “during this current lava eruption.” Cleveland had one of its first explosive eruptions since 2001 on December 25 and 29 last year, destroying the dome that had grown in the crater over the year. “The volcano’s most recent significant eruption began in February, 2001 and it produced 3 explosive events that produced ash clouds as high as 39,000 feet above sea level,” the observatory said Tuesday. “The 2001 eruption also produced a rubbly lava flow and hot avalanche that reached the sea.” The volcano lies directly below the commercial airline path between North America and Asia, meaning a major eruption could disrupt international air travel. About 90 percent of all air freight from Asia to Europe and North America flies over Alaska air space, and hundreds of flights fly through Anchorage’s air space on a daily basis.
Posted 3 February 2012; 12:56:38 AM. Permalink
(Jill Burke/Alaska Dispatch via Eye on the Arctic, 20 January 2012) -- Just before 6 a.m. on Thursday, the last drops of fuel flowed through two hoses stretching 700 yards from ship to shore in Nome, Alaska. It took more than 60 hours of continuous pumping to transfer an estimated 1.3 million gallons of fuel from a Russian fuel tanker to the Alaska fuel buyer's storage tanks. Crews continue working to clear about 7,000 gallons that remains in the hoses. During the day Thursday, crews were also planning to detach the hoses and clear the safety zone that had been established around the ships and begin preparations for a Friday departure back through 395 miles of Bering Sea pack ice, said Stacey Smith, project manager with Vitus Marine, which hired the Renda to bring the fuel to Nome. The U.S. Coast Guard's ice-breaking cutter Healy will break itself and the Renda free of their parking spots outside Nome's harbor. Then, just as it did for the trip to Nome, the Healy will lead the convoy south in search of open water. According to the Coast Guard, the ships are aiming for a Friday "bon voyage!" Renda's crew has been at sea, busting through ice, for nine months. Healy's crew has been under way for eight. After it leaves the Bering Sea ice pack, Healy will return to Seattle, her home port. "I am extremely proud of the way our partners and the marine industry worked as a collaborative team along with the Coast Guard to get the needed fuel to the residents of Nome." Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, Coast Guard District 17 commander, said in a prepared statement Thursday.
Posted 23 January 2012; 10:47:53 PM. Permalink
(Heather A. Conley/Post Opinions, Washington Post, 23 December 2011) -- Santa Claus may see you when you’re sleeping, but NORAD makes sure it sees Santa pretty much round-the-clock. The North American Aerospace Defense Command not only follows Saint Nick’s sleigh ride with its famous NORAD Tracks Santa site, but it is also involved in a struggle over resources, border control and broader military presence right in Santa’s vast and magnificent home: the Arctic. In April, President Obama signed a new command plan that gives NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command greater responsibility in protecting the North Pole and U.S. Arctic territory. The Arctic region — covering more than 30 million square kilometers and stretching around the territorial borders of Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Norway, Russia and the United States by way of the Alaskan coastline — is transforming before our eyes. And not just because the ice is melting. It’s increasingly the site of military posturing, and the United States isn’t keeping up with the rest of the world. In 2009, Norway moved its operational command to its northern territories above the Arctic Circle. Russia has plans to establish a brigade that is specially equipped and prepared for military warfare in Arctic conditions. Denmark has made it a strategic priority to form an Arctic Command. Canada is set to revitalize its Arctic fleet, including spending $33 billion to build 28 vessels over the next 30 years. Even China has entered the Arctic race; it constructed the world’s largest non-nuclear icebreaker to conduct scientific research in the Arctic.
Posted 30 December 2011; 6:11:19 PM. Permalink
(Hannah Heimbuch/The Arctic Sounder, 29 December 2011) -- Alaska's mushing community can add a new race to their to-do lists in the coming year, as the Norton Sound Sled Dog Club ushers in the Paul Johnson Memorial - Norton Sound 450. The race begins in Unalakleet on the morning of Feb 8 and finishes a few days later in Nome. Race organizers, like Middy Johnson of Unalakleet, are working on making the race a qualifier for the Iditarod, which kicks off from Anchorage a month later on March 3. "It'll give us something to add to our region during that time when you're just coming out of the dead of winter, and give people something to look forward to," Johnson said. The race is dedicated to the memory of beloved Alaska musher and Unalakleet resident Paul Johnson – Middy Johnson's brother – who died unexpectedly in October from surgery complications. Paul Johnson was a lifelong member of the Norton Sound Dog Sled Club and had planned to run the 2012 Iditarod. The club wanted to establish a major qualifying race in the Norton Sound region that is accessible to local mushers – both financially and geographically. Aaron Burmeister, a veteran of 12 Iditarod races, splits his time between Nenana and Nome. He is one of a number of mushers already planning to hit the trail for both the Paul Johnson Memorial race and the 2012 Iditarod. "I think it's fantastic. It's a great way to promote the sport on the coast and get the community and villages back involved with it," Burmeister said. "(It) will be a big benefit to the rural mushers in that area that have goals of running the Iditarod. It's so expensive for mushers in the Bush to travel out to races to get qualified." Burmeister also pointed out that because the race covers nearly a third of the Iditarod trail, it is excellent training ground for any musher serious about Alaska's longest sled dog race.
Posted 30 December 2011; 6:05:25 PM. Permalink
(NOAA News, 15 December 2011) -- A recent mission marked the completion of a five-year collaboration between the United States and Canada to survey the Arctic Ocean. The bilateral project collected scientific data to delineate the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the coastline, also known as the extended continental shelf (ECS). The U.S. has an inherent interest in knowing, and declaring to others, the exact extent of its sovereign rights in the ocean as set forth in the Convention on the Law of the Sea. For the ECS, this includes sovereign rights over natural resources on and under the seabed including energy resources such as: oil and natural gas and gas hydrates; “sedentary” creatures such as clams, crabs, and corals; and mineral resources such as manganese nodules, ferromanganese crusts, and polymetallic sulfides. The 2011 joint Arctic mission spanned nearly six weeks in August and September and was the fourth year to employ flagship icebreakers from both countries, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy and the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent. “This two-ship approach was both productive and necessary in the Arctic’s difficult and varying ice conditions,” said Larry Mayer, Ph.D., U.S. chief scientist on the Arctic mission and co-director of the NOAA-University of New Hampshire Joint Hydrographic Center. “With one ship breaking ice for the other, the partnership increased the data either nation could have obtained operating alone, saved millions of dollars by ensuring data were collected only once, provided data useful to both nations for defining the extended continental shelf, and increased scientific and diplomatic cooperation”.
Posted 17 December 2011; 9:14:19 PM. Permalink
(Anchorage Daily News via The News Tribune, 15 September 2011) -- How about some Yup'ik language rock? Maybe you missed the fledging Bethel-based band Frozen Whitefish at the state fair -- and on Discovery's "Flying Wild Alaska. There's still time to catch up on the group's MySpace and Facebook pages before their full-length album hits next year. I asked frontman Mike McIntyre to tell the group's origin story. Here's what he had to say: Frozen Whitefish is a Bethel based Alaskan Native Yupik Rock band formed in 2010 and all lyrics are written in the Yupik Eskimo language. Frontman Mike McIntyre was raised in the small village of Eek and spoke Yupik as his first language before moving to Bethel as a young child. Frozen Whitefish was first a project started by Mike after he returned from a trip to Greenland where he played drums for the Kuskokwim Fiddle Band in the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in 2010. He was inspired by the influence of their Native language in their own music and wanted to do the same here in Alaska. Soon after he started recording his music in his home studio, he got a request from a Native radio station in Washington to send his songs over to a TV producer with the Discovery Channel, which was gathering Native music for the "Flying Wild Alaska" TV show.
Posted 16 September 2011; 1:56:30 PM. Permalink
(Kim Murphy/Los Angeles Times, 26 August 2011) -- The arcane world of polar bear research was rocked recently by the suspension of a federal scientist in Alaska whose research on polar bear drownings in the Arctic raised major concerns about climate change. But the researcher was reinstated to his job Friday — and an inquiry has been launched to determine whether the Obama administration tried to interfere with his research. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement confirmed that Charles Monnett — whose suspension in July sparked an outcry among fellow scientists, climate change researchers and opponents of offshore oil and gas drilling — has been recalled from six weeks of administrative leave. But he won't be resuming his previous work managing research contracts, the bureau said. Agency officials have sought to downplay the incident, saying Monnett was suspended for improperly administering contracts, not for documenting dead polar bears. "There is no truth to any suggestion that the return to work is in any way tied to … allegations against bureau leadership," said Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the bureau, which oversees oil and gas development in many of the same Arctic regions where polar bears are seeing their icy habitat shrink.
Posted 12 September 2011; 10:44:21 PM. Permalink
(Bob Freeman/Office of the Oceanographer of the Navy, NNS110816-17, 16 August 2011) -- WASHINGTON - The Navy released an Arctic environmental assessment and outlook Aug. 15 that will be instrumental in developing future strategic plans and investments in a region that is becoming increasingly accessible to exploration and commercial enterprise. "In the past the Arctic was largely inaccessible, but increased seasonal melting of the sea ice is opening the region and creating opportunities for oil and gas exploration, maritime shipping, commercial fishing, and tourism," said Rear Adm. David Titley, director of the Navy's Task Force Climate Change. According to the assessment, the Arctic region is experiencing "increasing air and water temperatures, loss of volume in ice sheets and glaciers, melting of permafrost, and the poleward migration of ecosystems and fishing stocks from warmer regions." "The geography of the Earth is changing," Titley said, "We are confronted by a new ocean for the first time in 500 years." The assessment notes that the U.S. has close to a thousand miles of Arctic coastline in Alaska and significant coastal waters for resource exploitation.
Posted 9 September 2011; 4:29:42 PM. Permalink
(Dan Joling/Anchorage Daily News, 29 August 2011) -- In a windowless convention center room more than a thousand miles from polar bears roaming on sea ice, marine mammal biologists gathered last week in Anchorage to work on a recovery plan for the Arctic Ocean's most famous fauna.The Interior Department three years ago listed polar bears as threatened because of the alarming rate at which sea ice, their primary habitat, is projected to disappear each summer. In the same announcement, then-Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said endangered species law would not be used to set climate policy or limit greenhouse gas emissions, a rule affirmed by the Obama administration. The determination that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not be allowed to address the culprit for warming -- greenhouse gases emitted worldwide -- means the recovery plan will be like no other since the Endangered Species Act was signed by President Nixon 38 years ago. "The best we can do is work with our domestic and international partners to address symptoms of climate change," said wildlife biologist James Wilder, who heads the recovery plan effort, on Thursday. ... Rosa Meehan, the USFWS marine mammals manager in Alaska, said recovery plans traditionally have dealt with a very specific threat that causes habitat loss. "We don't have that," she said. "We're dealing with a projected change and it's not a directed feature, it's this climate change that all of us ... is in some way contributing to." Figuring out how much greenhouse gas melts what amount of ice, and how that equates to an effect on a particular bear, would require near impossible connections, she said. "At the end of the day, you can't say, 'Well, someone driving an SUV down in California on the highways is going to make polar bear cub 'A' live two years less," Meehan said. "There's just too many huge steps in there to make those direct connections." So instead, wildlife managers are focusing on what they can control, such as assessing the condition of polar bear populations through habitat and demographic reviews, which present their own challenges.
Posted 29 August 2011; 2:42:41 PM. Permalink
(The Dutch Harbor Fisherman, 22 August 2011) -- Twenty-five of the 36 rural Alaska post offices that have been under consideration for closure are no longer under consideration for closure. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, had that good news today in a meeting with officials for the U.S. Postal Service, rural health care providers and other community groups. Last month postal authorities announced that 36 post offices in Alaska were among the nearly 3,700 post offices nationwide targeted for possible closure as a way to reduce costs and expenses. Begin and three other senators wrote to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe requesting more information on the issues related to the closures. Begich also spoke with Donahoe to express his concern about the impact of closing post offices in rural areas. The names of the 25 post offices taken off the list were not immediately available. USPS District Manager for Alaska Diane Horbuchuk said letters to the 25 communities no longer targeted for possible closure are going out this week, and that a review of the remaining 11 sites continues and should be completed by week's end.
Posted 29 August 2011; 2:39:05 PM. Permalink
(US Department of Homeland Security, 15 July 2011) -- the Arctic is critical to U.S. commercial and homeland security interests. In 2009, President Obama issued National Security Presidential Directive 66 / Homeland Security Presidential Directive 25, outlining the administration's Arctic Region Policy. The U.S. Coast Guard, a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), plays a critical role in implementing this policy. Their mission includes securing international commerce, protecting the environment, defending America's maritime borders, and saving those in peril at sea or on other navigable waterways. "In the near future, the Coast Guard will face challenges posed by increased commercial shipping, resource exploration, and recreational activity in that part of the world," says DHS program manager Theo Gemelas, who oversees two Centers of Excellence at the Department's Science and Technology Directorate (S&T). The Coast Guard's research planners are examining the future capability and technological needs of its operators. To ensure that tomorrow's Arctic guardians will get the tools they'll need, the Coast Guard must devise innovative solutions today.
Posted 18 July 2011; 1:58:35 PM. Permalink
(Yukon River Gold LLC press release, 12 July 2011) -- KALTAG, ALASKA - Yukon River Gold LLC has announced the suspension of fish buying operations this summer in the remote Alaskan village of Kaltag, pending review for a permanent closure of the facility. This closure results in elimination of 70 jobs this summer, in this remote village of less than 800 people, where jobs are scarce. The closure is the result of inadequate supplies of harvest opportunities to supply the plant with salmon. With record numbers of Keta salmon returning, this plant stands idle while the fish swim by. The primary problem facing Yukon fisheries, is how to separate the abundant Keta salmon, from the Chinook salmon that are needed for conservation. How to harvest one, and not the other? Kaltag’s answer; harvest with fishwheels. Fishwheels are an old technology, that is being rediscovered wherever salmon return, because they are so environmentally friendly. Fishwheels are a revolving series of dip nets powered by the river, hence no energy needed. Fisheries scientists worldwide, utilize this technology to capture and release fish for research purposes. The salmon are carefully captured alive and returned to the river unharmed within seconds; guaranteeing a 100% subsistence priority for Chinook salmon. A perfect solution to the mixed salmon in the Yukon River. ... Kaltag cooperating with Alaskan authorities began using their fishwheels to release the Chinook salmon alive. ... As a consequence of this program, leading global magazine Seafood International has named the tiny Alaskan village of Kaltag, as one of the world’s 11 greenest fisheries. Environmentally sensitive customers lined up to buy the product. Karlberg said “Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) notified us that we would not be able to harvest abundant Keta salmon, until all the Chinook salmon have left the area. These fish travel together, so that marked the end of the fishery for us with nothing to harvest. We pointed out that we had proven to ADFG that over the last two years we could harvest Keta salmon, without killing a single Chinook salmon. We asked; How do you close a fishery that does not kill Chinook salmon, … to save Chinook salmon? We simply do not know what the issue is. ... Historically there have been dozens of salmon processing plants on the Yukon. Last year there were two left. With today’s closure of the Kaltag plant, there is only one plant left standing, and it is struggling to survive. With no processing plants, there can be no fishing. These centuries’ old isolated communities will have been walled off from the very resource that the villages were specifically located to survive upon over centuries. ... Plant manager Doug Karlberg says, “Closing this plant was a painful decision. It simply did not have to happen. This closure was caused by politics, not science. Kaltag is a wonderful community, but it is economically challenged, isolated with a small voting population, and being asked to pay the ultimate price in order to save a species which it does not even harvest.”
Posted 13 July 2011; 12:17:35 PM. Permalink
(Our Amazing Planet/MSNBC, 13 July 2011) -- A ship expedition is under way to conduct the first modern-day survey of seafloor depths along a vast region of the Arctic Ocean. Water depth in the Kotzebue Sound, off northwestern Alaska, hasn't been studied in more than a century — since the United States bought Alaska in 1867. The 230-foot Fairweather, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) survey vessel, set off from Kodiak, Alaska, on July 7 and will spend two months at sea, measuring ocean depths across roughly 530 square miles in a region that is seeing a marked increase in ship traffic. Satellite measurements that began in 1979 show that Arctic sea ice cover has been declining steadily. As sea ice has disappeared, ships have taken advantage of the open water. "The reduction in Arctic ice coverage is leading over time to a growth of vessel traffic in the Arctic, and this growth is driving an increase in maritime concerns," said NOAA Corps Capt. David Neander, commanding officer of the Fairweather, in a statement. "Starting in 2010, we began surveying in critical Arctic areas where marine transportation dynamics are changing rapidly. These areas are increasingly transited by the offshore oil and gas industry, cruise liners, military craft, tugs and barges and fishing vessels," Neander said. The Fairweather and its survey launches are equipped with state-of-the-art acoustic technology to measure ocean depths, collect 3-D imagery of the seafloor and detect underwater hazards that could pose a danger to surface vessels. The ship itself will survey the deeper waters, while the launches work in shallow areas. Recent expeditions to the Arctic are attempting to better understand the processes that are fueling the loss of the region's ice.
Posted 13 July 2011; 10:57:44 AM. Permalink
(Lisa Demer/Anchorage Daily News, 4 July 2011) -- When Sarah and River Bean cleared old timber to start their farm near Palmer more than two decades ago, one of their first chores was recruiting customers for the coming harvest. It was a way to build a base of buyers and make their love of farming a viable business. Their customers, in turn, got fresh vegetables all summer long. Turns out the Beans were on the leading edge of what's now a hot trend in Alaska. In a state once known for dreary produce aisles and few fruit options, customers from Adak to Anchorage are turning to a growing number of farm-to-table delivery services. Some are spending hundreds of dollars a year in exchange for boxes packed with local or organic produce. ... Business is growing fast in Alaska, say subscription produce operators, who charge anywhere from $35 to more than double that for a weekly box of fruits and veggies. One outfit, Washington state-based Full Circle, is targeting customers beyond the urban core with regular shipments of organic produce to villages and hubs from Bethel to Barrow and beyond.
Posted 12 July 2011; 12:02:39 PM. Permalink
(Mike Dunham/Anchorage Daily News, 11 July 2011) -- Anchorage is home to more Athabascans than Fairbanks, more Yup'ik than Bethel and more Inupiat than Barrow, the U.S. Census shows. The city has long been known as "Alaska's biggest Native village." With new numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau it can now claim, more specifically, to be home to both the largest Yup'ik and largest Inupiat communities. According to information from the 2010 Census released on June 30, Anchorage has a Native American population of 23,130. That's about one in 13 residents. Yup'ik remain the single largest Alaska Native group in the state, followed by Inupiat and Athabascans, the figures show. The new numbers offer a closer look at where members of different Alaska Native groups live around the state. The previous Census, in 2000, made no distinction between Yup'ik, who have historically resided along the Bering Sea coast from the Alaska Peninsula to Norton Sound, and Inupiat, who occupy the coast north of Unalakleet and along the Arctic Ocean. In 2000, the two ethnic groups were lumped together as "Eskimo" and 5,607 were reported as living in Anchorage. That changed with the 2010 Census. In answering the survey, a respondent could identify himself or herself as belonging to a single tribe, as having two or more Native American tribes in their background, or in any combination with non-Native groups.
Posted 11 July 2011; 4:15:49 PM. Permalink
(Clifford Krauss/New York Times, 1 May 2011) -- SAVOONGA, Alaska — Shell Oil will present an ambitious proposal to the federal government this week, seeking permission to drill up to 10 exploratory oil wells beneath Alaska’s frigid Arctic waters. The forbidding ice-clogged region is believed to hold vast reserves of oil, potentially enough to fuel 25 million cars for 35 years. And with production in Alaska’s North Slope in steep decline, the oil industry is eager to tap new offshore wells. Shell has led the way, working for five years to convince regulators, environmentalists, Native Alaskans and several courts that it could manage the process safely, protect polar bears and other wildlife, safeguard air quality for residents and respond quickly to any spill in the region. But BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster a year ago put a chill on new offshore drilling. Shell’s renewed application will pose a test for President Obama, who promised to put safety first after the BP spill. But he has also reiterated his support for offshore drilling amid voter worries about rising gasoline prices. Environmental groups say a spill in the Arctic’s inaccessible waters could be even more catastrophic than the Gulf of Mexico accident. Republicans, meanwhile, are threatening to excoriate the president for turning his back on energy security if he says no to Shell. “Americans are reeling from staggering prices at the pump,” said Representative Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “So the president has to justify to the American people why we are not replacing Saudi Arabian oil imports with U.S.-produced oil.” Whatever the administration decides, it will anger somebody. “If the Obama administration approves drilling in the Arctic, it will demonstrate that they have learned nothing from the gulf spill,” said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is suing to stop Shell.
Posted 1 May 2011; 11:48:38 PM. Permalink
(Jacob Resneck, KMXT via APRN, 18 April 2010) -- Kodiak- Flagship cutters from the U.S. and Russian coast guards are in Kodiak this week as the two nations meet to strengthen cooperation in enforcing in each other’s fishing grounds in the Bering Sea. The U.S. Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter Bertholf is in port preparing for its first patrol in the North Pacific. Moored alongside is its Russian counterpart, the cutter Vorovsky which arrived from Russia on Sunday.
(Margaret Bauman/The Arctic Sounder, 24 March 2011) -- A continuing modest decline of Alaska's largest caribou herd is being carefully watched by state wildlife biologists, who see the animals as important not only for hunters, but the environment as a whole. "It has our attention," said Jim Dau, a biologist at Kotzebue for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "We are not ignoring it. This is important not just for subsistence users, but for the whole ecology of the region." Dau said in an interview today that a couple of detailed health analyses conducted by ADF&G veterinarian Kimberly Beckman in Fairbanks concluded that the Western Arctic caribou herd is among the healthiest of the caribou herds in Alaska. There is no indication that disease is causing the decline, he said. A recent further analysis of aerial photos of a July 2009 Western Arctic caribou herd census had prompted state biologists to revise the population estimate down to 348,000 caribou in a continued modest decline. The previous estimate of 401,000 caribou indicated an increase in the herd over the 377,000 animals identified in a 2007 census. "The herd is still vey large, individual caribou appear to be healthy, the rate of decline is still modest, and harvests are not thought to be affecting its status," Dau said in a statement released a day earlier. "The revised estimate will not result in any immediate changes to management activities or hunting opportunities. The revised total is within a range of acceptable count variation and the herd is still considered stable, though slowly declining." Biologists intensified monitoring of this herd after the 2007 census suggested the onset of a decline. The revised 2009 count of 348,000 caribou indicates that the Western Arctic herd has declined 4-6 percent annually since its peak of 490,000 caribou in 2003,. Dau said that after exceeding a population size of 400,000 caribou for over 20 years, a period of slow decline is probably preferable to continued growth and the possibility of an eventual, abrupt decline. Caribou herds fluctuate naturally due to a variety of factors.
Posted 31 March 2011; 3:28:19 PM. Permalink
(Andrew C. Revkin/Dot Earth, New York Times, 10 March 2011) -- The Navy, which has long seen security issues intensifying in a warming world, commissioned a study by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to provide an independent assessment, and the results, focused on six areas for “naval leadership action,” are in. ... "In response to the measured and projected effects of climate change, U.S. naval forces should begin now to strengthen capabilities in the Arctic, prepare for more frequent humanitarian missions, and analyze potential vulnerabilities of seaside bases and facilities, says a new report by the National Research Council. Although the ultimate consequences of future climate change remain uncertain, many effects such as melting sea ice in the Arctic and rising sea levels are already under way and require U.S. naval monitoring and action."
Posted 31 March 2011; 3:16:35 PM. Permalink
(Annie Feidt/APRN – Anchorage, 16 March 2011) -- Alaska received its 2010 census numbers today. Overall the state’s population grew, but many areas of rural Alaska lost residents.
(Jake Neher/The Arctic Sounder, 21 February 2011) -- The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) is calling on Alaska's Congressional delegation to introduce subsistence whaling legislation before 2012. Officials say legislation is needed in case an international regulatory body fails to pass a harvest quota renewal for subsistence hunters. AEWC members and officials passed this and four other resolutions last week during the commission's two-day Mini-Convention in Barrow. The current five year block quota for native subsistence whaling is ending in 2012. At that time, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will decide whether or not to renew or adjust the quota for another five years. But AEWC officials say the international body is dysfunctional, and has used the quota as a bargaining chip in negotiations on other issues unrelated to Native subsistence whaling. They fear political gridlock in 2012, which could leave the 11 communities in the AEWC without a set quota. A subsistence quota renewal needs the approval three-quarters of IWC member nations to pass. Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission Vice President George Ahmaogak says it's time to start considering all options to protect against a quota denial from IWC. "It's getting harder and harder to work with the International Whaling Commission," Ahmaogak says, "even though we abide by all their rules, do the census work, a lot of the requirements and mandates by the IWC. Unfunded mandates, if you will. It's getting harder and harder. In 2012, it's going to be a challenge. So, I think we're better off going for domestic legislation. That's why we pushed this resolution on the floor." According to the AEWC resolution, the International Whaling Commission does allow subsistence whaling without a set quota "to meet cultural and nutritional need" under domestic national legislation. It says such legislation needs to correspond with IWC requirements.
Posted 21 February 2011; 11:19:53 PM. Permalink
(PBS via , 7 February 2011) -- In 1881, 25 men led by American Adolphus Greely set sail from Newfoundland to Lady Franklin Bay in the high Arctic on the east coast of Ellesmere Island, where they intended to collect a wealth of scientific data from a vast area of the world’s surface that had been described as a "sheer blank." Their expedition was an American contribution to the "International Polar Expedition" that later became known as the International Polar Year. Three years later, only six survivors returned, with a daunting story of shipwreck, starvation, mutiny and cannibalism. The film [52:11] reveals how poor planning, personality clashes, questionable decisions and pure bad luck conspired to turn a noble scientific mission into a human tragedy. The web site has many additional high-quality resources for deeper study into the Lady Franklin Bay Greely Expedition.
Posted 13 February 2011; 1:50:32 PM. Permalink
(Alex Demarban/The Arctic Sounder, 8 February 2011) -- A federal disease-fighting program in Alaska recently doubled its laboratory space, a move designed to further protect residents from deadly pathogens, including bioterrorism threats. Officials with the Arctic Investigations Program in Anchorage, part of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unveiled the $2.3 million renovation and addition in Anchorage, near the Alaska Native Medical Center, late last month. For decades, the CDC has played a critical role in preventing the spread of disease in Alaska. More labs will lead to more advances, especially in rural Alaska, said officials attending the ceremony. "This lab is really our eyes and ears for any kind of infectious problems that come up in Alaska," said Dr. Ted Mala, head of the traditional healing clinic at Southcentral Foundation, after the ribbon-cutting. "They survey all our villages and all our lands and give us early warnings of what's going on and what to look for, along with the state divisions of epidemiology and public health." "What's important here is this lab will mean more testing, more surveillance, more early warning," said Mala, an Inupiaq enrolled in Buckland's tribal government. "The more they know, the more they'll tell all the doctors and nurses and clinicians in the state. It's all a win-win." The CDC has been fighting disease in Alaska with the Indian Health Service since 1948, said Mala. One of the biggest victories may have come in the war against Hepatitis B. Alaska Natives once suffered the country's highest rates of the liver disease, as well as Hepatitis A, but now have the lowest rates thanks to vaccines introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, said Brian McMahon, a liver specialist at the Alaska Native Medical Center.
Posted 9 February 2011; 4:56:07 PM. Permalink
(Estes Park Trail-Gazette, 25 January 2011)** -- Estes Park resident Dr. Robert Krear was one of the speakers for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Dr. Krear was invited to the headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service near Washington, D.C., the week of Jan. 17-21 to speak at the anniversary ceremony. In Washington, he was reunited with Dr. George Schaller. Along with Krear, they are the only surviving members of the famous Murie Arctic expedition. The two were among the featured speakers at this symposium involving numerous Alaskan biologists, refuge managers and other members of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Among the other speakers was former president Jimmy Carter. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest wildlife refuge in the United States. It is an area of great natural beauty that has been called the Serengeti of North America because of the wildlife populations that exist there. Dr. Krear considers his participation in the creation of the Arctic refuge the greatest contribution of his life. It all began in 1956, when Dr. Krear, a local retired biology professor and scientist, received a phone call from Dr. Olaus Murie of Jackson Hole, Wyo., who invited him to join Murie`s expedition to the northeast corner of Arctic Alaska for the purpose of assisting in ecological studies during exploration of that primitive area. It had been determined by the nation`s top environmentalists following World War II that that area of Alaska was the last pristine Arctic wilderness area remaining on the entire planet. There was an urgent necessity to preserve it from commercialization.
Posted 26 January 2011; 1:47:19 PM. Permalink
(West Virginia Public Radio - 19 January 2011) -- Yesterday afternoon attendees to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Services heard from former President Jimmy Carter about his efforts to expand the Arctic refuge and protect it from oil drilling. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was created in 1960 under Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. But it was President Jimmy Carter and his interior secretary Cecil Andrus who found a way to expand the refuge over the objections of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK). Carter said he and Andrus used the 1906 Antiquities Act to declare 17 parcels precious places they wanted to preserve. “And the cumulative size of them was 67 million acres, about the same size as the state of Minnesota to put it in perspective,” Carter said. Carter said Stevens, along with some oil and gas companies, argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that what the President did was unconstitutional. “To make a long story short the Supreme Court ruled in my favor,” Carter said. Carter’s decision to preserve so much land was not popular with many Alaskans. ... Carter has tried unsuccessfully to convince the democratic presidents who’ve served since he left office to do more to protect the refuge and he stands ready to fight any future efforts to drill for oil there.
Posted 25 January 2011; 9:58:48 AM. Permalink
(Rachel D'Oro/Anchorage Daily News, 17 January 2011) -- Gordon Brower has been hunting bowhead whales for most of his 47 years, forgoing life jackets because no one made them in white, the only color that would work as camouflage on Alaska's icy Arctic coast. Now the whaling captain from the nation's northernmost town of Barrow and other Eskimo whalers have begun to wear personal flotation devices, custom-made in the white they've traditionally used to make them more invisible to their massive prey. When the subsistence whaling season arrives this spring, more Alaska Native hunters from coastal villages will be outfitted with the white float coats being distributed through a safety program that's been greatly expanded since its debut last year. A couple dozen whalers also will receive white float pants. ... The coats are the result of efforts by the Coast Guard, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Burnaby, British Columbia-based Mustang Survival Corp., which makes flotation and extreme climate protection products. The whalers' coats have a nylon shell and flotation foam filling, which also offers protection against the frigid conditions faced in the Arctic. There is no federal or state requirement to wear a life jacket in a recreational boat unless the person is under 13, although life jackets on board are required, he said. The Coast Guard can't purchase equipment to give to the public, so Folkerts turned to the tribal health consortium. The organization tapped $12,000 of its own funds and ordered 52 coats from Mustang, distributing them among whalers in Barrow and two other villages. It was an apt connection. One of the consortium's areas of interest is reducing the disproportionate rate of drownings among Alaska Natives. Between 2000 and 2006, Alaska Natives accounted for 179 drowning deaths in the state, or 45 percent of the 402 such deaths in that period, although they represented less than 18 percent of Alaska's population at the time, according to Hillary Strayer, the organization's injury prevention specialist. ... For the upcoming spring whaling season that begins in April when bowheads are heading north, the consortium is distributing 96 coats among crews from the remaining villages that are members of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which represents 11 communities. Four crews ... will get the float pants. The funds for this year's effort came from a $15,000 donation from Shell Oil and almost $11,000 from Conoco Phillips, an oil producer on the North Slope, where some of the whaling villages are located. Shell has offshore oil exploration projects in the region.
Posted 18 January 2011; 1:17:40 AM. Permalink
(Julia Werdigier/New York Times, 14 January 2011) -- The British oil giant BP agreed on Friday to a partnership with Rosneft, a Russian company, forming an alliance to explore the Russian Arctic. ... The two companies would explore three license blocks on the Russian Arctic continental shelf that were awarded to Rosneft last year and span about 50,000 square miles. ... The agreement allows BP to expand its operation in Russia at a time when the demand for energy is rising and competition to explore new fields is heating up. “We are very pleased to be joining Russia’s leading oil company to jointly explore some of the most promising parts of the Russian Arctic, one of the world’s last remaining unexplored basins,” Mr. Dudley said in a statement. “This unique agreement underlines our long-term, strategic and deepening links with the world’s largest hydrocarbon-producing nation,” he added. The deal drew immediate calls for a review by a lawmaker in Washington, who noted that BP was the top petroleum supplier to the United States military in 2009.
Posted 15 January 2011; 11:02:40 PM. Permalink
(Jacquelyn Ryan/The Washington Post, 10 January 2011) -- KODIAK, ALASKA - Flying over the Arctic Circle, the Coast Guard C130 rumbled as it alternated between 500 and 2,500 feet, its high-tech equipment quietly observing the thickness and stretch of ice along Alaska's northern border. Cold air rushed through the open cargo door as some musk oxen and the occasional walrus passed below. Like the rest of the 2.5-million-square-foot [sic] area at the top of the world, this chunk of the U.S. Arctic is melting quickly because of accelerated climate change. The prospect of newly thawed sea lanes and a freshly accessible, resource-rich seabed has nations jockeying for position. And government and military officials are concerned the United States is not moving quickly enough to protect American interests in this vulnerable and fast-changing region. "We're not doing OK," said Lt. Cmdr. Nahshon Almandmoss as he flew the massive plane on the nine-hour flight from Kodiak to the northern border then down along the coast through the Bering Strait. "We definitely don't have the infrastructure available to operate for an extended period of time in the Arctic in the summer, much less in the winter when it's more critical for logistical purposes." The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has identified the Arctic as an area of key strategic interest. The U.S. military anticipates the Arctic will become "ice-free" for several summer weeks by 2030, possibly as early as 2013. But the United States does not have the military and civilian resources it says it needs to successfully operate there - and there are few indications that any significant ones will be forthcoming. In a report last September, the Government Accountability Office said the Coast Guard lacks adequate infrastructure or equipment in the Arctic and that its funding for such programs faces uncertainty.
Posted 10 January 2011; 10:30:11 PM. Permalink
(Yereth Rosen/Reuters, 30 December 2010) -- ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The state of Alaska certified Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski's victory over Tea Party favorite Joe Miller on Thursday, nearly three months after the incumbent won the race with an unconventional write-in campaign. The certification document was signed in the state capitol in Juneau by Governor Sean Parnell and Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, a spokeswoman for Parnell said. "It's been certified. The governor signed the certificate and the lieutenant governor notarized it," Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said. "From there it gets on a plane tonight with Gail." Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai will carry it personally to the Secretary of the Senate, who must receive it by noon Monday, Leighow said. It will be hand-carried by a state employee to Washington, D.C. so that it can be delivered to the Secretary of the Senate by Monday, the deadline to ensure Murkowski is sworn in for the start of the new Congress. Although Murkowski beat Miller by 10,252 votes, about 4.5 percent of the total cast, Miller filed lawsuits in state and federal court seeking to overturn the results by throwing out ballots with minor misspelling or handwriting flaws. But an Alaska Superior Court judge, the Alaska Supreme Court and a U.S. District Court judge found the lawsuit was without merit and that the state counted ballots correctly. A Murkowski spokesman said the long-delayed certification was welcomed.
Posted 31 December 2010; 1:24:43 PM. Permalink
(Neela Banerjee/Tribune via Keene Sentinel, 27 December 2010) -- WASHINGTON - A dispute about how much the government should protect polar bears has turned into a battleground for environmentalists and some of the country’s most powerful business organizations over the larger question of global warming. On Wednesday, the Interior Department filed arguments in federal court defending its decision to classify polar bears as “threatened” rather than “endangered” despite widespread shrinkage of the sea ice that forms the bears’ natural habitat. What makes the issue so sensitive is that, if polar bears received the stricter endangered classification, the Obama administration would be pressured to attack the problem at its source: the petroleum, coal and manufacturing companies that emit the greenhouse gases scientists say are a major factor in climate change. “There is a pronounced push-back from industry because they rightly see that they will have to modify or mitigate their activities to comply with the laws,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Land and Wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the environmental groups suing to change the polar bear’s status. ... Although the Obama administration has moved steadily to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, now — with a tough re-election campaign ahead in 2012 and a still-wobbly economy — the White House has been trying not to provoke policy battles with the wary business community. The issue is even more sensitive because tougher emissions rules would be likely to raise prices and could cost jobs.
Posted 27 December 2010; 11:37:23 PM. Permalink
(Siku Circumpolar News, 25 October 2010) -- The Alaska Federation of Natives meets this past week to discuss the
problems and challenges of rural life in Alaska, including domestic
violence, subsistence laws, suicide rates and substance abuse. Delegates to this year's Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks tackled the problems and challenges of rural life in Alaska, including domestic violence, subsistence laws, suicide rates and substance abuse. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported a federation convention more than three decades ago carried a similar theme, but the prospect of "village survival" then held a strong thread of doubt, former state Sen. Georgianna Lincoln said. "Thirty-four years later, at this convention, we put an exclamation point on the end of that theme," said Lincoln, who represented the rural Interior in the state Senate. "We know our villages can survive, we know our villages have and will survive. We know, and we've known all along, our villages and our people are resilient survivors." At the convention, which attracts Alaska Natives from across the state, some weighed in at open microphones. Some suggestions were specific, such a request that Native communities do more to protect ground fish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea from commercial trawling; a 1998 bill that slashed state aid for any public school that saw enrollment dip below 10 students; and improved telecommunication infrastructure to help communities keep up with a quickly changing world. The keynote speaker, Gloria O'Neill, said Alaska Natives have survived disease, displacement, discriminatory policies and life in a demanding physical environment. O'Neill said she senses public leaders are poised to tackle another challenge: education. People who thrive, she said in an interview, are those that both stay in touch with their respective cultures while adapting to succeed in contemporary economies. "We've really got to invest in our young people," she said.
Posted 18 December 2010; 9:20:57 AM. Permalink
(AFP, 24 November 2010) -- WASHINGTON – The US government on Wednesday designated "critical habitat" for polar bears who live on Alaska's disappearing sea ice, a move that could impact new oil and gas drilling projects in the Arctic. The Fish and Wildlife Service set aside 187,000 square miles (484,000 square kilometers) off Alaska as the threatened bears' habitat, which means any project that could impact the animals' way of life must undergo careful review. "This critical habitat designation enables us to work with federal partners to ensure their actions within its boundaries do not harm polar bear populations," said Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. "Nevertheless, the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of its sea ice habitat caused by human-induced climate change. We will continue to work toward comprehensive strategies for the long-term survival of this iconic species." The move falls short of barring any drilling or other activity in the area, but "identifies geographic areas containing features considered essential for the conservation of the bear that require special management or protection." US environmental advocates earlier this month warned that polar bear habitats could be disrupted if oil companies eager to exploit the Arctic for fuel were to experience an accidental spill like the BP gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. The Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that the designation, which includes swaths of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off northern Alaska, "encompass(es) areas where oil and gas exploration activities are known to occur." Any activity there would now have to undergo a review to "identify ways to implement these actions consistent with species conservation," the statement said.
Posted 18 December 2010; 9:19:22 AM. Permalink
(Stephen Kaufman/Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State, 17 December 2010) -- Washington - In what the State Department describes as "an important and meaningful change" in U.S. policy, President Obama announced that the United States is lending its support to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and told a gathering of Native Americans that he hopes "we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations." Speaking at the White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington December 16, Obama said his administration began reviewing its position on the measure in April and "today I can announce that the United States is lending its support to this declaration." The declaration, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2007, seeks to protect the rights of more than 370 million native peoples around the world by setting standards to fight discrimination, promote their human rights and affirm the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain their traditions, institutions and cultures. "The aspirations it affirms — including the respect for the institutions and rich cultures of Native peoples - are one we must always seek to fulfill," Obama said. The president told Native Americans that he hopes "we are seeing a turning point in the relationship between our nations," with an end to their facing an implicit choice between abandoning their heritage and accepting "a lesser lot in life." "We know this is a false choice. To accept it is to believe that we can't and won't do better. And I don't accept that," Obama said. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said December 16 that the president's support of the declaration is "an important and meaningful change in the U.S. position." Although the General Assembly measure is not legally binding, "we think it carries considerable moral and political force," Crowley said, and the Obama administration is committed to making its support meaningful. "It is part of our ongoing work with [American] tribal leaders and their communities," he said. In a separate December 16 statement (PDF, 307KB), the State Department said the April decision to review the U.S. position on the U.N. declaration "came in response to calls from many tribes, individual Native Americans, civil society, and others in the United States" who believed U.S. support for the measure "would make an important contribution to U.S. policy and practice with respect to Native American issues." More than 2 million Native Americans, in 565 federally recognized tribes and other indigenous communities, reside within the United States, and the president's support "reflects the U.S. commitment to work with those tribes, individuals and communities to address the many challenges they face." The United States is also pleased to support the declaration's promotion of "a new and distinct international concept of self-determination" that is specific to indigenous peoples. "The United States is committed to serving as a model in the international community in promoting and protecting the collective rights of indigenous peoples as well as the human rights of all individuals," the statement said.
Posted 18 December 2010; 12:15:02 AM. Permalink
(Tina Casey/CleanTechnica, 10 December 2010) -- The northernmost defense installation of the U.S., Thule Air Base, is getting an energy efficiency upgrade that shines a light on the potential for making a significant reduction in carbon emissions without waiting for futuristic new technologies to come on board. Thule is located about 700 miles above the Arctic Circle so it needs a lot of heat. The upgrade is expected to reduce energy costs by about $3 million and save 1.6 million gallons of fuel annually, by consolidating and replacing inefficient equipment with updated systems. “Inefficient” is a bit of an understatement when it comes to Thule’s old equipment, which dates back to the 1980's. According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers writer JoAnne Castagna, the heating, hot water and and electrical generating equipment was housed in three different structures, and some of the boilers were non-functioning. The main problem with the system was an energy-wasting design flaw, in which exhaust from the main engines was vented outside. The result was that large volumes of precious heat simply escaped into the atmosphere. The new system was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers New York District, and its main improvement is the capture and re-use of generator exhaust. The exhaust, which can reach up to 840 degrees Fahrenheit, will be routed into a centralized exhaust gas boiler, where it will heat water to create steam. The steam will be sent to heat exchangers in various buildings around the base, which will make hot water for cleaning and washing, as well as for radiators to heat the buildings. In addition to conserving fuel used at the base, the new system will also reduce the carbon footprint involved in transporting fuel to the site.
Posted 12 December 2010; 10:24:16 PM. Permalink
(Washington Post, 6 December 2010) -- On Dec. 6, 1960, nearly 9 million acres of Alaska was set aside as an Arctic National Wildlife Range by order of Interior Secretary Fred A. Seaton. (In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed an act doubling the size of the range and renaming it the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.)
Posted 6 December 2010; 4:38:26 PM. Permalink
(Rachel D'Oro/Anchorage Daily News, 5 October 2010) - George Rogers, an unassuming giant among Alaska's founding fathers, has died at 93. Rogers died at his Juneau home on Sunday, said his daughter, Sidney Fadaoff. He had been ailing for a year but his condition worsened a week ago, she said. His exact cause of death was not disclosed. Rogers was considered an economic architect who helped shape the territory into the nation's 49th state. He was a technical consultant to the Alaska Constitutional Convention that convened in the 1950s before Alaska became a state in 1959. When the convention secretary took sick leave, Rogers stepped in to do that job as well, said Vic Fischer, former Democratic legislator and a convention delegate who became a good friend of Rogers'. "He was totally modest and unassuming," Fischer said. "Even while he was managing the convention, hardly anyone outside the convention was aware of that. That was very typical of his way of functioning." Rogers served as an economic adviser to two territorial governors, developing a revenue system. After statehood, he persuaded lawmakers to pass a bill creating the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research and was an early member and chairman of the board of trustees for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., which manages the state's $36 billion oil savings and investment account.
Posted 6 October 2010; 10:19:53 PM. Permalink
(Dan Bross/KUAC – Fairbanks via APRN, 5 October 2010) -- Alaska is likely in for colder than average winter. The climate phenomenon known as La Nina, the cool sister of El Nino has set up in the equatorial Pacific, and according to National Weather Service lead forecaster Rick Thoman in Fairbanks, it looks powerful. Thoman says that la Nina tends to keep the jet stream south of Alaska, making it colder here. Thoman and fellow Fairbanks meteorologist Corey Bogel recently went through National Weather Service records, which go accurately back 60 years, and found strong correlation between La Nina events and cooler than normal winters in Alaska. Thoman says the only exception to the cooler than normal La Nina trend is in southern southeast Alaska. Thoman says the state’s coastal areas tend to be drier in La Nina years, but there’s no strong correlation between la Nina and precipitation in the interior. The current la Nina is expected to last through next spring. The La Nina-El Nino cycle can take 3 to 5 years, or rapidly transition from one to the other.
(Monique Mugnier/New York Times, 20 September 2010) -- KOGE BAY, Greenland — It was December 1942 and the height of World War II when she received news of her brother. “Nancy,” her mother said calmly over the phone. “John’s been lost.” “When I heard those words, my heart just sank,” said Nancy Pritchard Morgan, 87, of Annapolis, Md. Two weeks earlier, on Nov. 29, her brother and two other Coast Guard aviators had been listed as missing after their plane lost radio contact — and presumably crashed — during a storm off the southeast coast of Greenland. Now, 68 years later, the Coast Guard has commissioned a private recovery team to try to locate, excavate and repatriate the three men entombed in a J2F-4 Grumman Duck biplane in a glacier here. The team set out last month with an arsenal of top-of-the-line technology: ground-penetrating radar, which can detect metallic objects close to the surface; advanced ice-melting equipment, which can pinpoint buried objects as it dissolves the ice around them; and a camera that can take pictures from inside deep hollows of ice. The team also installed two GPS devices that will track the movement of the glacier in question. The goal is to find the servicemen before their relatives are dead and the ice where they are buried moves out to sea. “Any branch of service wants to recover their fallen members, if they can,” said John Long, a Coast Guard master chief petty officer and the head of the “Duck Hunt” recovery mission. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said. The 15-member team, including three from the Coast Guard and a reporter, had expected to spend no more than five days investigating six sites that had been identified as promising. But relentless rain, harsh winds and low visibility kept helicopters grounded, leaving the team stuck on the ice and unable to explore all the sites. Eleven days passed before everyone was able to return to the airport in Kulusuk. The recovery effort began three years ago, when Chief Long began piecing together historic clues. The original 1943 accident report included a hand-drawn map from Col. Bernt Balchen, the American polar aviator who ran a training base in Greenland during the war. Chief Long determined that the crash had taken place within a three-square-mile area about 2,300 feet above Koge Bay.
Posted 20 September 2010; 5:01:32 PM. Permalink
(Elizabeth Bluemink/Anchorage Daily News, 3 August 2010) -- Federal regulators on Monday proposed new commercial fishing restrictions in the Aleutians to combat a steep decline of Steller sea lions in the western and central portion of the island chain. The federal National Marine Fisheries Service proposes to close all commercial fishing for Atka mackerel and Pacific cod in federal waters near Attu, the farthest island in the Aleutian chain. The agency is also proposing restrictions but not an outright ban on commercial fishing for mackerel and cod in the central Aleutians, west of Dutch Harbor. The proposed restrictions, detailed in a 836-page draft biological opinion published Monday, cover the remote fishing grounds stretching between Dutch Harbor and the Russian border. Fishing groups worry that the agency's recommendations are the end of mackerel and cod fishing in the Aleutians, worth tens of millions of dollars to fishermen. Environmentalists are worried that the fisheries service's proposal is inadequate to reverse the sea lion decline. "It closes 90 percent of the historic fishing grounds (in the Aleutians) to cod and more so to mackerel," said Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, a Seattle-based trade group that represents a portion of the trawl fleet in the Aleutians, the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. But one environmental group said Monday that the agency didn't go far enough. The sea lion decline is serious enough that the fisheries service should use its authority to restrict fishing set to begin this fall rather than waiting until next year, according to Oceana, a marine conservation group. If the current fishery management in the Aleutians isn't working for sea lions, the agency is obligated to take immediate action, said Mike LeVine, a Juneau attorney for Oceana.
Posted 6 August 2010; 12:11:20 PM. Permalink
Scientists from the United States and Canada have announced plans to embark on a joint expedition to map the Arctic seafloor this summer. The expedition, which was announced via a July 26 press release, is set to begin today (August 2) and will run through September 6. The five-week mission marks the third straight year that the two North American nations have collaborated to study the Arctic seafloor and the continental shelf. According to the press release, one main focus of the expedition is "to help define the outer limits of the continental shelf…. Each coastal nation may exercise sovereign rights over the natural resources of their continental shelf, which includes the seabed and subsoil. These rights include control over minerals, petroleum, and sedentary organisms such as clams, crabs and coral." "The program seeks to help both nations determine how far north they may extend their sovereignty, a potentially lucrative right in an era of melting Arctic sea ice and worldwide demand for the oil, natural gas and other minerals believed to lie beneath the seafloor," noted Reuters reporter Yereth Rosen in a Sunday morning article. "Under the United Nations [UN] Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal nations have sovereignty out to 200 nautical miles from their shorelines, including rights to the minerals and natural resources there…. If the nations can prove there is an extended underwater continental shelf, they may be able to claim sovereignty beyond 200 nautical miles," Rosen added. American scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will set sail on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. They will depart from an Alaskan port on August 2, and will meet up at sea with their Canadian colleagues on board the Louis S. St-Laurent. "The ships will alternate breaking through the Arctic sea ice for each other," according to the press release. "The Healy will map the shape of the seafloor using a multibeam echo sounder, and the Louis S. St-Laurent will collect multi-channel seismic reflection and refraction data to determine sediment thickness."
Posted 2 August 2010; 2:20:43 PM. Permalink
(Molly Dischner/Alaska Dispatch, 13 July 2010) -- What exactly do people in the nation's capital think of when they think about Alaska? That's the question Libby Casey, Alaska Public Radio Network's Washington correspondent, tried to answer on Monday, July 12. Casey spoke to a full house in Schaible Auditorium as part of a University of Alaska Fairbanks Summer Sessions lecture series. In true radio reporter fashion, Casey interviewed inhabitants of the District before flying to Alaska, letting many speak for themselves. Overall, she said, the Outside perspective of Alaska hasn't changed too much. "They still have those old stereotypes," she said before playing clips from her interviews. "I think about really dramatic landscapes," said one unidentified man on the street. Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said he had flown across the state in a small airplane. "Well, what I think of is the beauty," he said. "It's magnificent." Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said he thinks Outsiders tend to view Alaska as an unspoiled land where man shouldn't be involved, even if people happen to live there — "this is the greenies talking," he said. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the state's senior senator, said Alaska still needs to educate people whose views are based on "The Deadliest Catch" or cruise ships. Casey also talked to reporters from other states; their answers, unsurprisingly, tended more toward the political. "I think about salmon, earmarking, and also Bristol, but not Trig or Tripp," one joked. Another theorized about the state's political leanings: "I guess when you get cold, you get really seriously libertarian." Casey also asked people on the street if they had heard of a variety of Alaskans besides the former governor. No one had heard of Gov. Sean Parnell. Many didn't recognize the names Lisa Murkowski, Susan Butcher or Libby Riddles. Alaska's complex relationship with the feds came up, too, in an interview with Larry Persily, the Obama administration's Federal Coordinator for Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects. The state is as known for strange people and strange happenings under the midnight sun, Persily said, as it is for its dependence on the federal government. "(We're) a state that is always hassling the federal government," Persily said. In other words, Persily said, "We're viewed as kind of a pain in the ass."
Posted 14 July 2010; 9:52:21 PM. Permalink
(U.S. Department of State/Office of the Spokesman media note, 7 July 2010) -- As part of the U.S. Government's review of U.S. position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the State Department, together with other Federal agencies, will host dialogues with interested non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders. The first dialogue will be held on July 8 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm in the Rasmuson Theater, National Museum of the American Indian, 4th Street and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20013-7012. An additional dialogue will be held in the fall. During President Obama's first year in office, tribal leaders, stakeholders and non-governmental organizations encouraged the United States to reexamine its position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. On April 20, 2010, Ambassador Susan E. Rice, United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, announced that the United States decided to review its position on the Declaration. ... Details on consultations with tribes and dialogues with stakeholders and NGOs will both be posted on the State Department's website located at: http://www.state.gov/s/tribalconsultation/declaration/index.htm
Posted 9 July 2010; 10:59:38 PM. Permalink
(Tom Laskawy/Grist, 11 June 2010) — The political (or at least the Senatorial) tides are running strongly against a muscular policy response to climate change. Now a top NOAA scientist tells us that even the winds are blowing in the wrong direction — actual winds, mind you, not political. Via Science Daily: "A warmer Arctic climate is influencing the air pressure at the North Pole and shifting wind patterns on our planet. We can expect more cold and snowy winters in Europe, eastern Asia and eastern North America. 'Cold and snowy winters will be the rule, rather than the exception,' says Dr. James Overland of the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in the United States. Dr. Overland is at the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference (IPY-OSC) to chair a session on polar climate feedbacks, amplification and teleconnections, including impacts on mid-latitudes." ... This news represents more than just the irony that extreme warming at the top of the world is resulting in snowier winters in the media and governmental capitals of the developed world. A paper from last year by Patrick Egan and Megan Mullin demonstrated that it's not just our imagination: Public opinion on climate change does indeed move with the weather. For every three degrees of above average heat, there's a 1 percent increase in a "belief" in climate change, especially among so-called "low information" voters. Sadly, the reverse is also true — above-average cold causes support to drop. Climate skeptics will no doubt rejoice — and the rest of us will rue the fact — that any late-fall debate over climate legislation this year will likely involve senators making jokes about dodging snowplows on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Posted 13 June 2010; 3:30:11 PM. Permalink
(Lori Townsend/APRN Anchorage, 9 June 2010) -- The Northwest Arctic Borough Assembly in Kotzebue voted yesterday to discontinue $125,000 in funds for the public library that will force it to close, leaving the region with no access to a public library. The library is a consortium with the University of Alaska Chukchi campus. The college portion will remain open but the public side will close unless the borough assembly reconsiders. Calls to Borough Mayor Martha Whiting, and Borough assembly members were not returned by air time, but Stacy Glaser, who was the library’s director for 15 years before leaving the position last year, says past attempts to close the library have always brought an outcry from the community.
(Anchorage Daily News, 4 June 2010) -- The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman has kicked off a summerlong series of articles marking the 75th anniversary of the Matanuska "Colony," established as part of the Depression-era New Deal in an attempt to create a new local farm economy and give 200 struggling Midwest families a chance at a better life. Palmer resident Gerry Keeling, whose mother was pregnant with her when her family arrived in Palmer in 1935, looks back in Part 1 of the series.
Posted 7 June 2010; 9:48:39 AM. Permalink
(Steven Thomma/McClatchy Newspapers via Anchorage Daily News, 26 May 2010) -- WASHINGTON - The Obama administration Thursday will suspend planned exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska until at least 2011, a casualty of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.The suspension will be part of a report that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will give to President Barack Obama, who's likely to address the suspension as well as other proposals growing out of Salazar's report, at a White House news conference Thursday. The move will stop Shell from drilling five wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off northern Alaska weeks before it had hoped to start work, an administration official told McClatchy. The move will stop for now a controversial expansion of oil drilling in a part of the world that could hold vast stores of oil and natural gas, but which environmentalists warn would come at great risk. Despite a late appeal from Shell that it would employ new safety measures in the wake of the gulf spill, Salazar was unconvinced that the exploratory drilling even in the much shallower waters of the Arctic would be safe. "He is suspending proposed exploratory drilling in the Arctic," an administration official said on condition of anonymity to talk before Salazar's report is officially released Thursday. "He will not consider applications for permits to drill in the Arctic until 2011 because of the need for further information-gathering, evaluation of proposed drilling technology, and evaluation of oil-spill response capabilities for Arctic waters."
Posted 26 May 2010; 10:02:13 PM. Permalink
(AP via Anchorage Daily News, 25 May 2010) -- Scientists are raising the alert level for Cleveland Volcano in Alaska's Aleutian chain after satellite data has indicated thermal anomalies. The Alaska Volcano Observatory today raised the level to advisory status. There is no real-time seismic network at the volcano. Scientists say unrest there is frequent, and short-lived explosions with ash plumes up to 20,000 feet can occur without warning and may not be detected by satellites. Cleveland is about 940 miles southwest of Anchorage, on a remote and uninhabited island in the Aleutians chain. The observatory says the last significant eruption of the 5,676-foot volcano began in February 2001 and eventually produced a lava flow that reached the ocean. There were minor eruptions in January, June and October 2009.
Posted 26 May 2010; 9:57:25 PM. Permalink
(Canwest News Service via The Vancouver Sun, 31 March 2010) — The much-anticipated but controversial transformation of the Arctic Ocean into a new global treasure house of oil and gas is a step closer with the U.S. government moving Wednesday to open that country's offshore areas — including the Beaufort Sea, subject of a boundary dispute with Canada — to more intensive petroleum development. U.S. President Barack Obama has announced plans to end a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in almost all U.S. coastal waters, kick-starting what's expected to be a major push to exploit extensive undersea deposits north of Alaska — part of a total circumpolar resource that geologists say holds as much as one-quarter of the planet's untapped hydrocarbon reserves.
Posted 4 April 2010; 6:59:33 PM. Permalink
(AP via Google, 11 March 2010) -- SEATTLE - The Coast Guard plans to reactivate its Polar Star icebreaker by 2013. But first the vessel will be retrofitted in Seattle. The Polar Star is one of the nation's two Polar Class icebreakers. The Polar Star is able to ram through 21 feet of ice. It has primarily been used to break open a route to U.S. research stations in Antarctica. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen was in Seattle on Wednesday to announce the Polar Star's reactivation.
Posted 11 March 2010; 12:54:43 PM. Permalink
(Tim Flanagan/Puget Sound Maritime, 23 February 2010) -- SEATTLE - The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea, one of the world’s most powerful non-nuclear icebreakers, homeported in Seattle, departs the week of Feb. 22 for a two-month deployment in support of the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study (BEST). The BEST cruise is part of a six-year study of the Bering Sea ecosystem supported by the National Science Foundation and the North Pacific Research Board. The central focus of the scientific cruise is to examine the impacts of changing ice conditions on food web structure in the Bering Sea. A team of twenty-five scientists will study processes and collect data relating to food webs in the northern Bering Sea. "We will be working at the ecological boundary where the Bering Sea shifts from a fish-dominated system to one where more truly arctic animals such as walruses, bearded seals and spectacled eiders use sea ice as a platform to take advantage of abundant seafoods on the sea floor," said Lee Cooper, chief scientist of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences. "Changing ice conditions are likely to influence the potential expansion of Bering Sea fisheries further north as well as to shrink arctic habitat currently available on the shallow continental shelf," said Cooper. Data and samples to be collected include sea floor sediments, sea ice and water samples, and plankton. Other topics of research include studies of the distributions of birds and marine mammals, including the world population of spectacled eiders that winters south of Saint Lawrence Island.
Posted 24 February 2010; 1:19:13 PM. Permalink
DELAWARE — In what military planners are calling Operation Arctic Vengeance, the Delaware National Guard is working diligently to prepare its forces to aid the state should the governor declare a state of emergency. ... The plan calls for the Delaware National Guard to set up a task force in each county. Each task force will consist of about 45 Soldiers, 15 Highly Mobile Multi-Wheeled Vehicles (Humvees), a Light-Medium Tactical Vehicle, and a wrecker.“This is where we shine,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, addressing leaders during a situation briefing. “This is where we show our value to the citizens of Delaware.”
Posted 6 February 2010; 10:48:33 AM. Permalink
(Haya El Nasser/USA TODAY, 25 January 2010) -- When World War II veteran Clifton Jackson — at 88 the oldest resident of Noorvik, Alaska— answers his door at 1 p.m. local time Monday, he will become the first American counted in the 2010 Census. The painstakingly choreographed event will unfold in the tiny Inupiat Eskimo village north of the Arctic Circle. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves will arrive in Noorvik by dogsled with state officials. He'll meet with local children and tribal leaders and watch traditional dancing, cooking and other festivities. Then he will walk the five minutes from the Aqqaluk School to Jackson's house in sub-zero temperatures to deliver the Census questionnaire. "It's a real big thrill for a lot of us here in the community," Noorvik Mayor Bobby Wells says. Why all this Census ballyhoo more than two months before the official April 1 Census date? The state's geography, climate and demographics are so unusual that the Census Bureau must begin counting Alaskans early and in person or risk missing a big chunk of the state's population. The Census is using targeted approaches to reflect the lifestyles and cultures of an increasingly diverse population across the nation. For the first time, for example, the Census Bureau is sending 13 million English-Spanish questionnaires and printing the forms in six languages. The challenges in Alaska are daunting. The largest state in the union stretches across 586,000 square miles. That's more than twice the size of Texas, the biggest state in the Lower 48. Yet Alaska has one of the nation's smallest populations at less than 700,000. More than 260,000 live in Anchorage, the state's largest city. About 13% of residents are American Indian and Alaska Native, and almost half of Alaskans live in rural areas. Many live in villages so remote they are not connected to roads and receive mail through a post office box. Mailing the Census forms to these far-off places won't work because the Census must count people where they live, not where they pick up their mail. If the questionnaires can't be delivered to a street address, Census takers bring the forms in person. Workers would prefer to go door-to-door in balmier weather but can't wait because once the ice begins to melt, crossing rivers by sled or snowmobile is impossible. Many airports shut down because the mud is too deep for landings. "You have to start early before the spring breakup, before the native community starts to move to summer fishing camps," says Ingrid Zaruba, an analyst with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Posted 25 January 2010; 9:51:10 AM. Permalink
(Dutch Harbor Fisherman, 8 January 2010) -- KODIAK - The Coast Guard has announced that Alaska's six Long Range Aids to Navigation stations (Loran-C) will stop broadcasting a signal this year. The U.S. Global Positioning System and other technological advancements have meant the stations are no longer needed. Loran-C stations in Alaska include Attu, Shoal Cove in Ketchikan, Tok, Narrow Cape in Kodiak, Port Clarence (near Kotzebue) and St. Paul Island. All of the stations will be closed, and the 100 or so employees at those stations relocated. The North American Loran-C signal will cease broadcasting Feb. 8, with the exception of stations Attu and Shoal Cove which are bound by bi-lateral agreements with other nations. Attu and Shoal Cove are expected to stop broadcasting later in the year. "Coast Guard men and women, working largely with antiquated systems and little fanfare, have stood a steadfast watch for more than fifty years in some of America's most isolated regions," said Admiral Christopher Colvin, Commander, 17th Coast Guard District, "I am proud of their professionalism and hard work." Loran-C is no longer required by the armed forces, the transportation sector or the nation's security interests, and is used by only a small segment of the population. The Coast Guard is urging users of Loran-C to make the transition to GPS navigation and plotting systems immediately. The decision to terminate transmission of the Loran-C signal reflects the President Obama's pledge to eliminate unnecessary federal programs. The president did not seek funding for the Loran-C system in fiscal year 2010. Termination was also supported through the enactment of the 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill.
Posted 10 January 2010; 7:25:16 PM. Permalink
(David Holthouse/Alaska Dispatch, 8 January 2010) -- Vester Eyland, a small island off the west coast of Greenland, near the mouth of Disko Bay, has long been known for producing some of the best sea kayakers in the world. "The island draws big waves, so it's not easy to paddle and hunt, compared to other places off the coast of the main country, where the water is calm and flat," says famed sea kayaker Maligiaq Johnsen Padilla (pronounced muh-LIG-ee-ahk YOON-sen pa-DEE-uh), 27, whose mother's ancestors are from Vester Eyland. Padilla grew up in Sisimiut, a town on the edge of the Arctic Circle, just south of Disko Bay. He learned to subsistence hunt and sea kayak from his Vester Eyland relatives, for whom knowing how to right, or "roll" a capsized kayak is more survival skill than sport. They hunt in seas where the wind and waves batter kayaks like unruly children slapping at bathtub toys. Padilla's great-grandfather was killed near Vester Eyland in 1929 when a harpooned seal yanked his kayak with enough force in rough water to snap his spine. Though he still hunts for seals, fish and Auks (diving birds related to sea puffins), Padilla is better known outside the Sisimiut area for his prowess in world-class sea kayaking competitions. He's the only person in history to win the Greenland National Kayaking Championships four times, beginning in 1998 at the age of 16, when he became the youngest Greenland kayak champion ever. Last month, Padilla traveled to Alaska to participate in Generation I, a touring series of workshops, demonstrations and community discussions in Northwest Alaska that took place Dec. 28 through Jan. 8 in Kotzebue, Kiana and Selawik. (Here's a slideshow from the event.) Generation I — a play on "I" representing both personal identity and Inuit culture — was inspired by a recent "Hope and Resilience in Suicide Prevention" seminar, in Nuuk, Greenland, that was organized and funded by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference [now Council] in conjunction with the government of Greenland. Suicides among Inuit, and especially Inuit youth, in both Alaska and Greenland are tragically high. But in Greenland, they're decreasing. The "Hope and Resilience" seminar attributed the positive shift in large part to three factors: affirming the self-worth of Inuit teenagers, promoting a deeper sense of Inupiat cultural identity, and putting youths in contact with positive role models. [See the YouTube video]
Posted 10 January 2010; 11:19:40 AM. Permalink
(Alex Demarban/Arctic Sounder, 29 December 2009) -- At a special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 29, the Bethel City Council introduced a proposed municipal ordinance that defines which types of businesses, if any, can sell alcohol in the community. The council did not vote on the ordinance but introduced it so the public would have a chance to comment on it at the next regularly scheduled council meeting on Jan. 12, said Mayor Joe Klejka. The council is struggling to deal with the aftermath of voters' decision in November to remove Bethel's 32-year-old status as a "damp" community. Restaurants are applying for liquor licenses and other businesses, such as stores, are taking steps to apply to open liquor stores. The council set an advisory vote for Jan. 19 so people can provide feedback on just how "wet" Bethel should be. Do residents want bars, liquor stores, restaurants or any other establishments selling alcohol? The council won't vote on the municipal ordinance banning sales until after that date, said Klejka. That way, if voters say they want some businesses to sell alcohol, such as restaurants, then the council can remove restaurants from the prohibited list. The council is also expected to decide at the next meeting whether it will protest Osaka Restaurant's liquor license application, said Klejka. Kilsuh Park, Osaka's owner, submitted the first application to the state alcohol control board since Bethel went wet.
Posted 31 December 2009; 11:15:56 AM. Permalink
(Alex Demarban/Arctic Sounder, 28 December 2009) -- Bethel residents hoping to tighten that city's alcohol laws have enough valid signatures to put their question on the ballot. Petitioners turned in 544 valid signatures, said city clerk Lori Strickler on Monday. They needed 404 signatures — 35 percent of the voters who submitted ballots in the last election. After 32 years as a damp community — a status prohibiting alcohol sales but allowing alcohol imports — Bethel voters chose in early October to go "wet." But with local restaurants and stores taking steps to acquire liquor licenses, and with police in outlying villages saying no import limits have increased alcohol-related crimes, petitioners want Bethel to go damp again. Strickler said she'll recommend the council set the special election for sometime in April, to give her office time to prepare. But the council could set an earlier date, she said. The question: "Shall the city of Bethel adopt local option to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages?" The city council is also planning its own special election, an advisory vote set for Jan. 19 pending approval from the Department of Justice. The council wants to better understand what Bethel wants, and their election will ask detailed questions. Voters will get the chance to answer whether they support restaurants selling beer and wine, a bar, privately-owned liquor store, a city-owned liquor store or some other establishment that sells alcohol.
Posted 29 December 2009; 11:29:25 AM. Permalink
(Mary Pemberton/Anchorage Daily News, 24 December 2009) -- Crews on Wednesday were continuing to remove snow contaminated with oil from an area around a well house where a pipe broke in the Prudhoe Bay oil field. Tom DeRuyter, the state's on-scene spill coordinator, said the area around the well house is misted with oil. He said 72 cubic yards of contaminated snow -- most of it from the well house's gravel pad -- have been removed, but there is more to go. The spill was discovered Monday morning by a BP oil field operator doing a routine inspection. The break in the 6-inch line occurred where the production line left the well house. The cause of the break is not yet known, DeRuyter said. "The case is going to be under investigation as to why the line parted," he said. BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said the well line broke at a weld and released an estimated 3 gallons of oil and 131 gallons of water. The estimation was reached by considering how much oil and water the pipe normally carried and how quickly the automatic shut-off valve worked, he said.
Posted 24 December 2009; 11:55:58 AM. Permalink
(Alex Demarban/The Arctic Sounder, 18 December 2009) -- Petition gatherers who want to make Bethel a damp community again say they have enough signatures to put the question on the ballot. "We feel pretty good, we're all pretty happy," said Allen Joseph, one of 28 petition sponsors. Voters in the community of 5,600 chose in October to end Bethel's damp status after three decades. A separate group of Bethel residents led that effort. They said they opposed the state-set alcohol-import limits placed on damp communities. But they also said they didn't want liquor stores or bars in Bethel. However, the decision opened a Pandora's Box, as several restaurants and grocery stores raced to get their liquor license applications before the state alcohol board. Three such applications, submitted by Osaka's Restaurant, Corina's Restaurant and 123 BBQ, are pending before the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said director Shirley Gifford. The next board meeting where those can be considered is Feb. 26, Gifford said. Other businesses have run newspaper ads in The Delta Discovery expressing their intent to apply, including to open a liquor store. While gathering signatures, petitioners ran across people who voted to end the damp status but now want to go back, said Joseph. They said too many businesses were trying to get liquor licenses, he said. About 20 sponsors gathered voter signatures starting Dec. 7. They quickly had enough to get the item on the ballot, Joseph said. They gathered 673 signatures, more than the number of Bethel voters who chose to remove the damp status in October, he said. Just 404 valid signatures are needed to get the item on the ballot. That's 35 percent of the number of people who voted in the October election, Joseph said. Joseph turned 24 booklets into the city clerk Friday afternoon so she could begin verifying signatures. "To me, it's a tremendous accomplishment," he said. "A lot of people are pushing for it and supporting it and I'm hoping for the best."
Posted 21 December 2009; 1:50:37 AM. Permalink
(Dan Bross/KUAC – Fairbanks via APRN, 17 December 2009) -- A Fairbanks man has taken his concerns about climate change on the road. Don Ross is riding his bike from Fairbanks to Washington, D.C. stopping along the way to get the word out about the warming planet. Ross, who has pedaled about 2,300 miles to southern British Columbia since leaving Fairbanks October 3rd, says he’s doing the trip during the winter to get attention. [mp3]
Posted 11 December 2009; 4:08:07 PM. Permalink
(Anchorage Daily News, 5 December 2009) -- DUTCH HARBOR - Winds as high as 125 mph toppled a 110-foot gantry crane at a shipping facility in Dutch Harbor. A spokesman for American President Lines Ltd. says no people or other structures were damaged when the crane fell at 8:45 p.m. Friday evening. Mike Zampa says the company is still assessing damage to the crane, which fell onto gravel at the shipping terminal. APL is the world's fifth-largest container shipping company. Unalaska city roads chief Jim Dickson described the storm in an e-mail Saturday. "A few roofs were blown away, a mud slide across a road; but generally most of town made it through with only minor damage," he wrote.
Posted 5 December 2009; 6:26:18 PM. Permalink
(Buck Parker/McClatchy Newspapers via Juneau Empire, 2 December 2009) -- Environmental groups had high hopes for the Obama administration. They had spent eight years fighting off relentless efforts by the previous administration to eviscerate laws and regulations aimed at protecting our natural heritage and opening nearly all public resources to private exploitation. The report card, nearly a year into the Obama era, is mixed but mostly admirable. The Environmental Protection Agency has overturned or withdrawn many onerous Bush initiatives. The Forest Service is doing pretty well by the national forests. The Park Service is working to protect Yellowstone from the annual onslaught of snowmobiles. The president will attend the Copenhagen climate talks. Now, the Interior Department is faced with one of its biggest decision so far: whether to allow oil companies to lease and drill in the Arctic Ocean. The upcoming Arctic decisions dwarf everything else Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has done so far. Interior's Minerals Management Service took a step in the wrong direction in October, approving a plan by Shell Oil to drill just offshore from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska next year, without a full environmental analysis. Other important decisions are imminent, including whether to continue offering lease sales, and defend existing leases, in the Arctic Ocean and whether to allow Shell to also drill in the pristine Chukchi Sea in 2010. It is not too late for Salazar's Interior Department to correct course and protect the Arctic Ocean.
Posted 2 December 2009; 2:18:28 PM. Permalink
(Anchorage Daily News, 25 November 2009) -- Alaska victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and volunteers from the Fairbanks diocese could finally receive payments early next year for the damage done long ago, though many of the details of the bankruptcy settlement have yet to be worked out. Lawyers for the Fairbanks diocese and representatives of almost 300 creditors, most of them sex abuse victims, said Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that they've agreed to a nearly $10 million settlement.The amount available to pay victims could grow considerably, depending on the results of efforts to extract up to $100 million from two insurance carriers that are not part of the settlement, said Ken Roosa, an Anchorage attorney who represents 240 victims trying to collect through the bankruptcy case. Those two insurance companies had refused to participate in the negotiations, Roosa said. The Catholic Bishop of Northern Alaska, the formal name for the diocese, turned to bankruptcy in March 2008 after efforts to settle numerous sexual abuse lawsuits failed. Under the settlement, the diocese would resolve the cases and would sell some property, but would not have to close any parishes. Specific amounts to individuals aren't yet set and will be determined case by case, depending on the abuse suffered. People with marginal claims of mistreatment that don't relate to sexual abuse may not get anything, Roosa said. Bankruptcy Judge Donald MacDonald still must approve the terms.
Posted 25 November 2009; 9:32:33 AM. Permalink
(Alex Demarban/The Arctic Sounder, 19 November 2009) -- Mike Angaiak saw the world change from the tiny village of Tununak. In his lifetime, motorized boats replaced skin kayaks, snowmachines supplanted dog sleds and cash played a growing role. The government school arrived in 1925, and Angaiak, who died in 2001 at age 85, said he attended class just one day in his life, according to his son, John. Still, Mike, and his wife, Susie, insisted their children get college degrees. Seven of 10 did that, including John, who earned a bachelor's degree in 1972 and is now retired after working for Southwest Alaska Native organizations. "It was mom and dad's persistence that I get my education, so that I will fit in my time," said John, 67. The Angaiaks are unusual. While Alaska Native students play an increasingly large role in college classrooms, their enrollment numbers and graduation rates remain low. For example, while Alaska Natives make up about 16 percent of the state's population, they comprise only 9 percent of the students at the University of Alaska Anchorage, according to a 2008 paper. And just 10 percent of UAA's freshmen earn a degree in six years. A new Alaska Humanities Forum program set to begin next spring might help improve those numbers, if slightly, using a key ingredient that worked for the Angaiak family: parental involvement. The program, which doesn't yet have a name, will take to heart an Indian education model that found that family support and involvement dramatically increase a student's college success, said Laurie Evans-Dinneen, project director. That family support is especially important for students who are wrenched out of their tight-knit village and sent off to big-city schools to live among strangers, organizers said. The program, paid for with a three-year, $1.6 million federal grant, will help 50 rural high school students attend college by introducing them to urban campuses early in their high school career. Hopefully, the program will grow to include other Alaska regions in the future, Evans-Dinneen said. The students, who have not yet been selected, will likely come from communities along the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in Southwest, Evans-Dinneen said. ... Some Alaska Natives have trouble going to college because they get lonely after leaving their village. Some might be overwhelmed by the size of the campus and their classrooms. "So often, young people come in from rural communities and have a desire to go to school, get educated and help their people," Landlord said. "But I've seen them get homesick, or they get lost and become invisible." The program will create a structure that will help the rural students succeed, she said.
Posted 22 November 2009; 5:13:23 PM. Permalink
(Naomi Klouda/Homer Tribune, 18 November 2009) -- In the next few weeks, fishermen harmed by the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill should start receiving their biggest settlement payout yet. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs have worked since December through a cumbersome process to distribute $383 million in punitive damages. Now the lawyers are preparing to distribute an even bigger sum — $470 million — in the next several weeks. The money is interest Exxon Mobil Corp. paid July 1 on the punitive damages award the U.S. Supreme Court ordered last year. “The $470 million that we hoped for in September was delayed because Judge (Russel) Holland had a number of different questions about the payout structure and the computation of interest,” said Frank Mullen, one of the plaintiffs and a local investment planner in Homer. “The money is not flowing yet, but in the next few weeks, the results of that $470 million distribution will begin to appear for fishermen on the clean claims list.” Cities and entities other than individuals should also receive payments, including the city of Homer and payments toward its $1.05 million portion. The “clean claims” list includes those who have no liens or attachments. Mullen said the thousands of fishermen who died in the 20-year wait for legal resolutions to receive their payout would not be on the clean claims list either. He added that the money has trickled out since last Christmas, and if plaintiffs were disappointed in the smaller-than-hoped-for sums in the first distribution, they might be happier with the second one. “The settlement money is all going to eventually appear in fishermen’s accounts, but at different times,” Mullen explained. “This will be the largest payment. That’s the way this litigation has worked.”
Posted 18 November 2009; 10:36:37 AM. Permalink
(Voice of America, "Reflecting the Views of the United States Government," 16 November 2009) -- Despite the fact that summer 2009 had more sea ice than in the previous 2 years, drastic changes have taken place in the Arctic during the past 5 years faster than scientists anticipated. That is the finding of the Arctic Report Card, a collaborative effort of 71 national and international scientists. "The Arctic is a special and fragile place on this planet," said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. "Climate change is happening faster in the Arctic than any other place on Earth – and with wide-ranging consequences," said the NOAA Administrator. "When I visited the northern corners of Alaska's Arctic region earlier this year," she said, "I saw an area abundant with natural resources, diverse wildlife, proud local and native peoples – and a most uncertain future." Among the changes highlighted in the 2009 update to the report card were: a change in large scale wind patterns affected by the loss of summer sea ice; the replacement of multi-year sea ice by the first-year sea ice; warmer and fresher water in the upper ocean linked to new ice-free areas; a continued loss of the Greenland ice sheet; less snow in North America and increased run-off in Siberia, and the effect of the loss of sea ice on Arctic plant, animal, and fish species.
Posted 17 November 2009; 11:02:23 AM. Permalink
(Dan Joling/AP, 15 November 2009) -- ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell says he has the best interest of polar bears at heart, but he doesn't intend to let the federal government's expanded protection for bears get in the way of the state's continued prosperity. Like his predecessor, Sarah Palin, the governor is suing the federal government to overturn the listing of the iconic symbol of the Arctic as a threatened species, a move made last year that he believes could threaten Alaska's lifeblood: petroleum development. "Currently some are attempting to improperly use the Endangered Species Act to shut down resource development," Parnell says. "I'm not going to let this happen on my watch." As Alaska North Slope wells dry up, the state is turning to potential offshore discoveries to refill the trans-Alaska pipeline and ensure the long-term prospects of a $26 billion proposed natural gas pipeline. Protections for polar bears under the Endangered Species Act could thwart that, Parnell says, adding that they're not needed. "Alaskans have an excellent track record of both developing our natural resources and protecting our wildlife," says Parnell, who replaced Palin when she resigned in late July. That's a position critics dispute after the 10.8-million gallon Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, a 200,000-gallon North Slope pipeline spill in March 2006, and the state-funded killing of more than 1,000 wolves and hundreds of black bears since 2003 to increase moose and caribou populations.
Posted 15 November 2009; 9:25:05 PM. Permalink
(KYUK – Bethel via APRN, 12 November 2009) -- The village of Mekoryuk is furiously trying to learn all they can from
their two remaining elders. The village, located on Nunivak Island in
the Bering Sea is home to the only living Cupigg civilization in the
world. And their elders are the only remaining Cupigg people to live
before western civilization was established on the Island. [download the mp3]
(Victoria Barber/Arctic Sounder, 12 November 2009) -- A weekly Japanese variety show called "Hexagon" is coming to Barrow this week to perform at the northernmost point of the United States. Hexagon is a quiz show in which 15-20 contestants—actors and actresses, singers and comedians—compete. Mina Matsumoto, who is coordinating for the show, said that trip north was the result of a failed bet. During the show three of the comedian contestants formed a group called "Subera-zu," and released a CD in Japan. Apparently the CD bombed and while American TV stars are allowed to shuffle off into obscurity un-noted (or given reality shows), these contestants must go to Point Barrow to film their song at "the coldest area in the United States" as a penalty. "One typically wears a swimsuit (while performing), but I don't know if they'll wear it," Matsumoto said. Barrow, and Japan, will have to wait to find out.
Posted 15 November 2009; 2:33:23 AM. Permalink
(Dave Wax and Taren Reed/First Coast News, 6 November 2009) -- NAS JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It took more than 47 years, but an air crew lost during the Cold War is finally being honored. A dedication ceremony was held Friday morning for the crew aboard a P-2V patrol aircraft that disappeared in 1962. On January 12, 1962, the crew aboard the P-2V, part of Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadron Five (VP-5), disappeared while flying over Greenland on a routine Cold War mission. Crews searched for about a week in increasingly harsh conditions, but never found any sign of wreckage, so they assumed the plane and crew had been lost at sea. In 1966, a team of British geologists found the crash remains on a glacier in Greenland, and a new recovery effort for the crew was launched. The glacier—Kronborg—is very remote, and the environment is quite harsh, so the recovery effort launched in 1966 wasn't concluded until 2004. Heritage Park at NAS Jax has a P-2V on display, because the VP-5 was attached to NAS Jax in the 1960s. Beginning in September, a team of Mad Foxes from VP-5 repainted the aircraft to mirror that of LA-9, the tail number of the lost P-2V from 1962. "It really gives the squadron and entire VP community a chance to honor our fallen comrades and pay tribute to their Cold War service and sacrifice," says Lt. Cmdr. Robert Huntington, maintenance officer for the Mad Foxes. "On a more personal level, it gives us a chance to say thank you to the surviving families and to let them know their loved ones will not be forgotten." Surviving family members of the crew were on hand for the dedication, along with many people who never gave up the effort to get the crew back home, decades later.
Posted 9 November 2009; 12:53:13 PM. Permalink
(Pat Forgey/Juneau Empire, 5 November 2009) -- Bob Banghart of Juneau has been named chief curator of the Alaska State Museums, Education Commissioner Larry LeDoux announced this week. Banghart had been curator of exhibitions, responsible for the multi-level eagle tree at the entrance of the Alaska State Museum in Juneau and other exhibits. In Banghart's new job, he will oversee exhibits at that museum, the state's Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, and traveling exhibitions, grant programs and technical assistance for other museums throughout the state. Banghart went to work as curator of exhibitions at the Alaska State Museums in 2007, following 20 years with his own Juneau-based museum planning and design consulting firm. He has a bachelor's degree in art and design from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Banghart will supervise a permanent staff of 15, a seasonal summer staff and an operating budget of about $1.7 million, according to the state Division of Libraries, Archives & Museums. Banghart said he's looking forward to working on a new unified campus in Juneau for state library, archives and museum institutions. The Legislature has appropriated $7.5 million for the SLAM project's planning and design. The new, expanded building would more fully serve statewide constituents and offer Juneau residents and visitors more exhibition and research space, Banghart said.
Posted 6 November 2009; 1:24:06 PM. Permalink
(Morgan Howard/NativeCo, 5 November 2009) -- Alaska Native leader Byron Mallott talks about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Native corporations founded under the act. Mr. Mallott is speaking from the board room of the Sealaska building in downtown Juneau, Alaska. NativeCo.com is proud to have Mr. Mallott on our Board of Advisors. This lecture/discussion (58:02) is part of a series of talks sponsored by Sealaska Heritage Institute to celebration Native Awareness Month. Video is provided courtesy of Kathy Dye and the Sealaska Heritage Institute.
Posted 6 November 2009; 12:11:08 PM. Permalink
(NOAA press release via Alaska Report, 4 November 2009) -- Regulations implementing the Fishery Management Plan for Fish Resources of the Arctic Management Area published in the Federal Register November 3 go into effect December 3, 2009. The regulations close the Arctic Management Area to commercial fishing. The Arctic Fishery Management Plan establishes a process for considering requests to develop future fisheries based upon the best available science. In 2006, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council began considering options for fishery management in the Arctic. The council talked extensively with communities on Alaska’s North Slope and other stakeholders. Ultimately, the Council decided to take a precautionary approach, voting to prohibit commercial fisheries until sufficient information on the Arctic marine environment is available to sustainably manage commercial fishing. The Arctic Fishery Management Plan governs commercial fishing for all stocks of finfish and shellfish in federal waters, except Pacific salmon and Pacific halibut, which are managed under other authorities. It does not affect fisheries for salmon, whitefish and shellfish in Alaskan waters near the Arctic shore. The plan identifies Arctic cod, saffron cod, and snow crab as likely initial target species for fishermen. The plan does not affect Arctic subsistence fishing or hunting.
Posted 6 November 2009; 12:01:30 PM. Permalink
(Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State, 5 November 2009) -- Washington - Each November, National American Indian Heritage Month pays tribute to the legacy of the American Indians and Alaska Natives—the first Americans—and celebrates their enduring contributions to the history and culture of the United States. Today, there are nearly 5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States, or 1.6 percent of the total population, and this is expected to jump to 8.6 million, or 2 percent of the population, by 2050. Most American Indians live in metropolitan areas and not on the 227,000 square kilometers of land held in trust for reservations. The states with the largest numbers of American Indians and Alaska Natives are California, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Posted 6 November 2009; 9:55:01 AM. Permalink
(Kyle Hopkins/Anchorage Daily News, 1 November 2009) -- Weeks after two hub cities in rural Alaska voted to remove bans on local liquor sales, the state is launching a campaign warning bootleggers they face big fines and mandatory jail time if caught. Even if they're only smuggling one bottle. Even if it's their first offense. The effort is about spreading word of tough penalties the Legislature enacted in 2008 rather than reacting to recent votes to lift liquor prohibitions in Bethel and Kotzebue, said Assistant Attorney General Robin Koutchak. Some rural leaders have told prosecutors they were caught unaware of the strict new rules. "They wished that the state had made more of an effort to notify people that if you were busted for bootlegging, even one bottle, that you would be going to jail," she said. Koutchak estimates at least 300 people have been convicted under the new bootlegging penalties, which were part of an omnibus crime bill that also included stiffer punishment for sex offenders and child pornography offenses. It became law in July last year.
Posted 2 November 2009; 7:38:46 AM. Permalink
(Tim Bradner/Anchorage Daily News, ) -- An acquaintance, a recently retired civil engineer, remarked about how long it has been -- decades in fact -- since Alaskans had the vision and courage to take on major infrastructure projects, the kind that can transform our state or regional economy. Not that the ideas weren't there and aren't there now. But the state's leaders, perhaps preoccupied with worries about oil revenue and budgets, seem to lack the courage to back them. We shouldn't blame them. Alaskans have been in a funk for the last quarter century, at least in contrast to their optimism and confidence in years just after statehood in 1959. ... Since then there's really been nothing. We have built out our local infrastructure, roads, utilities, water and sewer systems and airports, making adroit use of federal funds. But we've shown a remarkable lack of imagination and vision. This coincided with the downturn in oil prices in the mid-1980s that sharpened the state's economic recession. Maybe that took the wind out of us, and we've never recovered our confidence. It now seems we wait for someone else to do something economy-transforming. I'm speaking, of course, about the gas pipeline.
Posted 30 October 2009; 4:04:18 PM. Permalink
(AP via Anchorage Daily News, 30 October 2009) -- FAIRBANKS - The Defense Department plans to complete all 14 of the silos housing missile interceptors at Fort Greely, home of the military's Missile Defense Complex, Alaska's two U.S. senators said. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to scale back the expansion of the proposed Missile Field 2, part of the administration's efforts to reduce some missile defense programs. During a June visit to Fort Greely, Gates said the technology hadn't proved itself and the threat from rogue states, such as North Korea, could be handled with existing interceptors. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, appealed to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June to maintain money to expand the ground-based missile defense system, saying it's not just about North Korea but also about shooting down missiles launched by Iran. In a news release Tuesday, Begich said the plan is "a welcome decision that will decrease the risk of the ever-evolving ballistic missile threats from rogue nations by increasing capacity required to defend the United States." Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, was less enthusiastic about the decision in an e-mailed statement to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, noting that the completion of Missile Field 2 comes with plans to decommission another missile field at the base, about 100 miles south of Fairbanks. "I remain unconvinced that abandonment of the Bush administration's plan, previously supported by Secretary Gates, is the right thing to do from a national security perspective," Murkowski said.
Posted 30 October 2009; 1:10:29 PM. Permalink
(John Broder/New York Times, 22 October 2009) -- WASHINGTON - The Interior Department on Thursday proposed designating more than 200,000 square miles of land, sea and ice along the northern coast of Alaska as critical habitat for the shrinking polar bear population. The area, the largest single designation of protected habitat for any species, encompasses the entire range of the two polar bear populations that exist on American land and territorial waters. Government scientists estimate that there are roughly 3,500 bears in the two groups, known the Chukchi Sea and the Southern Beaufort Sea populations.Officials said the bears’ range was shrinking because of the disappearance of sea ice linked to global warming. “Proposing critical habitat for this iconic species is one step in the right direction to help this species stave off extinction, recognizing that the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of sea ice caused by climate change,” said Thomas L. Strickland, the assistant interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. In May 2008 the Interior Department declared, under the terms of the Endangered Species Act, that the polar bear was threatened with extinction. The Bush administration found that the bears’ habitat was shrinking because of melting ice, along with commercial activities like shipping, oil and gas operations, hunting and tourism. Yet Bush administration officials said at the time that they did not intend to use the Endangered Species Act to address global warming, a policy affirmed by the Obama administration.
Posted 23 October 2009; 7:31:19 AM. Permalink
(Julia O'Malley and Mark Lester/Anchorage Daily News, 21 October 2009) -- Thousands of Alaska Native young people and elders from across the state filled the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center Monday and Tuesday for the First Alaskans Elders and Youth Conference. It precedes the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, which gets underway Thursday. We talked to a sampling of teenagers Tuesday about the conference, their futures, and how they feel about village life.
Posted 21 October 2009; 2:45:38 PM. Permalink
(Kyle Hopkins and Sean Cockerham/Anchorage Daily News, 18 October 2009) -- Alaska Native leaders expect the push for rural subsistence hunting and fishing rights to resurface this week as a major theme at the state's largest gathering of the state's indigenous people. ... The annual three-day AFN meeting draws thousands of people from across the state and begins Thursday in Anchorage. An annual elders and youth gathering begins today. As in 2006, subsistence rights are expected to be a centerpiece issue of the main convention. ... The details are complex but the central question is straightforward: Should rural Alaskans taking fish or wildlife for their subsistence use get first dibs over other Alaskans, as promised under a 1980 federal law? In 1989, the Alaska Supreme Court said no, ruling that it's unconstitutional to favor one group of hunters or fishermen over another based on where they live. The federal government waded into regulation of subsistence hunting and fishing on the federal lands as a result, leaving Alaska with an unusual, overlapping tangle of state and federal subsistence rules. AFN leaders say that system is broken. "People are just tired of the dual management. They're tired of a system that's not working. And tired of people getting citations and people having closures and people not having enough fish," said AFN President Julie Kitka.
Posted 20 October 2009; 9:17:48 AM. Permalink
(Siku Circumpolar News, 17 October 2009) -- Managers with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program are trying to give a boost to the reindeer industry on the Seward Peninsula by providing a mobile slaughter facility along with an expert instructor who knows how to use it, reports the Geophysical Institute. Greg Finstad, head of the reindeer program at UAF, ordered a 45-foot self-contained slaughter plant, winterized it, had it barged to Nome, and helped design a "high-latitude range management course" at the university campus there. To run the program, Finstad hired Heikki Muhonen of Finland, who will live in Nome for about two years. "He's the world's expert," Finstad said. "He's set up slaughter facilities all across Russia, Kazakhstan, Finland, Sweden and Norway." One of Finstad's goals with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project is to teach local people how to process reindeer using the plant, which is approved by the USDA and will result in inspected steaks, backstrap, burger, and other cuts of meat. The reindeer industry on the Seward Peninsula is not what it once was. Following the migration of caribou onto the Seward Peninsula in the 1990s—when some herders saw hundreds of their animals drift off with the wild version of their species—there are now just a few viable herds in the area. Two are in the Teller area, and others roam the muskeg near Stebbins/St. Michael, Nome, Wales, and on St. Lawrence Island. Finstad said the mobile processing plant can be barged to areas with reindeer, and Muhonen will train people how to use it in different areas, with the goal of inspiration. Muhonen. who comes from a small village in Finland, visited the Seward Peninsula at the invite of UAF a few other times, giving meat-cutting clinics in different villages. He knows how to set up a processing plant, and he has experience working to train people on how to make it pay off, Finstad said. Finstad hopes the course and the slaughter facility will give villagers more ideas and options, not necessarily related to reindeer.
Posted 19 October 2009; 1:44:10 PM. Permalink
(CBC News, 16 October 2009) -- Canadian Inuit are outraged over a U.S. plan to use an international treaty to eliminate all trade in polar bears anywhere in the world. They say it would cripple one of their few industries and they're calling on the federal government to step in. "We're fighting with Goliath here," said Gabriel Nirlungyak, director of wildlife with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which oversees the Nunavut land claim. "We want our government to defend us." On Friday, Tom Strickland, the United States assistant secretary of the interior, released a proposal to the 175 countries that have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species [CITES]. The proposal says polar bears should be moved to a classification that would outlaw all commercial trade in the animals. "The proposals submitted this week will improve protections for dozens of declining species, while improving enforcement and implementation of (the convention) for many others," Strickland said in a news release. The bears are threatened by habitat loss—the result of melting sea ice caused by climate change, he said.
Posted 18 October 2009; 3:05:26 PM. Permalink
(David Kerley/ABC, 14 October 2009) -- The desolate landscape of the Arctic icecap is about to change, at least temporarily. First, one hears the noise, and then something rises out of the ice. On the top of the world, 200 miles north of Alaska, it's a nuclear powered attack submarine, the USS Annapolis, crashing through three feet of ice. This is a military exercise in an area that may hold a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil. It's a mission that has now become critical because of climate change. For the first time, the Navy has allowed a network television crew to see its ICEX exercises, which it conducts every two years. The purpose is to prove the Navy can operate in this unforgiving environment to protect the national interests. Those interests could be threatened because the Arctic ice is thinning and receding more every year, possibly allowing more access to this now frozen body of water. A new National Science Foundation report suggests that the melt is so quick that the Arctic could be devoid of ice in the summertime by 2040. That could start a "gold rush" of sorts for all that "black gold" under the Arctic's seabed.
Posted 13 October 2009; 10:43:03 PM. Permalink
(ENS, 8 October 2009) -- ANCHORAGE, Alaska - It took a court order to accomplish, but threatened sea otters in southwest Alaska now will have some respite from the pressure of human activities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wednesday designated 5,855 square miles of nearshore waters along the Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea, and Alaska Peninsula as critical habitat for the northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni. The Service does not anticipate that this critical habitat designation will result in any closure of commercial fishing in southwest Alaska because sea otters eat bottom-dwelling creatures of no commercial value and spend most of their time in shallow water close to the shore. The agency took this action under a court order resulting from a lawsuit against the Service by the Center for Biological Diversity. "Critical habitat has a proven record of aiding the recovery of endangered species," said Rebecca Noblin, a staff attorney with the Center in Anchorage. "We are pleased that habitat for threatened Alaska sea otters will finally be protected. With the habitat protections of the Endangered Species Act now extended to sea otters in Alaska, this iconic species has a fighting chance of recovery."
Posted 10 October 2009; 4:04:01 PM. Permalink
(Kyle Hopkins/Anchorage Daily News, 8 October 2009) -- Voters in two regional shopping hubs in rural Alaska are on pace to loosen liquor rules after decades of prohibition. On Tuesday, Bethel residents voted 543-482 to do away with the city's 32-year-old ban on liquor sales, according to an unofficial tally by the city clerk Wednesday afternoon. At least 114 ballots remain to be counted, the city says. Key supporters of the proposal say they don't really want liquor stores or bars but grew fed up with state restrictions last winter when then-Gov. Sarah Palin proposed reducing how much alcohol people in Bethel and other "damp" communities could buy each month. Opponents, including the school district and regional health corporation, feared lifting the ban would flood surrounding villages with inexpensive liquor. Bethel has been the largest community to forbid liquor sales. But towns and villages across Alaska have banned booze in an attempt to battle crippling rates of alcohol abuse, accidental death, suicide and domestic violence. The other major liquor vote came in Kotzebue. A proposal to allow a city-run liquor store, bar or alcohol-serving restaurant was passing 389-353 there Wednesday, with 90 questioned or absentee votes still uncounted, according to the city. "I think a lot of people realized that what we have right now wasn't working," said Willie Goodwin, chairman of the Kotzebue elders council.
Posted 8 October 2009; 11:45:48 AM. Permalink
(Andrew Revkin/New York Times, 2 October 2009) -- Half a century after Pacific walruses began recovering from industrial-scale hunting, marine biologists are growing worried that they face a mounting threat from global warming. Masses of lumbering walruses have been crowding on beaches and rocks along the Russian and American sides of the Bering Strait in the absence of the coastal sea ice that normally serves as a late-summer haven and nursery. While the retreats in sea ice around the Arctic this summer were not as extensive as in 2008 or 2007, the Chukchi Sea, at the heart of the walrus subspecies’ range, was largely open water. On Thursday, biologists from the United States Geological Survey issued a report concluding that 131 walruses found dead near Icy Cape, Alaska, on Sept. 14 died from being crushed or stampeded. Several thousand walruses had been congregating in the area, a situation that scientists from the agency said was highly unusual. Last month, a team from the World Wildlife Fund reported seeing 20,000 walruses on the shore at Cape Schmidt, Russia. In that same area, scientists in 2007 reported several thousand crushing deaths after tens of thousands of walruses crowded on the shoreline. Walruses have endured more than 15 million years of climatic ups and downs, so experts do not foresee the species’ becoming extinct, particularly if hunting remains controlled. (Thousands are legally killed each year by indigenous communities in both countries.) But there has been growing confirmation that the walrus is suffering substantial losses as the sheath of sea ice in coastal waters erodes in the summer.
Posted 6 October 2009; 11:41:20 AM. Permalink
(Ellen Lockyer/APRN – Anchorage, 30 September 2009) -- Barrow’s Ilisagvik College is attracting notice from college bound students in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and even Burbank, California. What makes this two-year community college a magnet for Alaska Natives and non-Natives alike?