The Tyonek Fire is now considered 100% contained. It burned about 1,900 acres. Most of the crews and resources are now being used on the Funny River Fire instead, though some personnel and equipment will stay behind to make sure the fire stays under control.No one was injured in this fire. However, fire officials say locals should pay attention to standing trees that burned and may topple in strong winds. The fire started on May 19 and burned between Tyonek and Beluga villages.A photo of the Tyonek Fire taken on May 19 by the Alaska Division of Forestry.
A bearded seal was stranded in a Nome parking lot in December. (Photo: Emily Russell, KNOM)Alaska’s marine mammal population is stressed, according to the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. One member of the federal agency will share new research on marine mammal health and discuss how the commission is helping conserve animals like walrus and seals on Monday in Nome.“I’m going to focus mostly on harmful algal blooms and the effects that we know they have on marine mammals,” said Dr. Frances Gulland, a member of the commission and a senior scientist at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. “I’ll also talk a little bit about ship strikes on whales and then briefly on the seal sickness outbreak from 2011.”Seal sickness was first reported in 2011, and Gulland said the disease is still a problem. It causes patchy coats, sores, and sluggish behavior in seals.“At this point, we know that it’s probably a number of different factors influencing the hormonal system of the seals,” she said. “But the single main cause is still not clear.”The Marine Mammal Commission is studying changing Arctic conditions, which affect subsistence hunting. Gulland is among a group of scientists in Nome this week.“I work in the Lower 48 on marine mammal health, but I don’t live here,” she said. “So I’d actually love to learn something from the local community that will help us understand more the changes that we’re seeing.”Gulland will give a talk Monday night on changes in marine mammal health as part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Northwest Campus Strait Science Series.
Anchorage voters are heading to the polls today for municipal elections. Generally, these local contests – especially in years without a mayoral race – see low voter turn out, but arguably have some of the biggest impacts on residents. To talk about whats on the ballot, I’m joined by Alaska Public Media reporter, Zachariah Hughes.Download AudioTOWNSEND: Hi Zach.HUGHES: Hi, Lori.TOWNSEND: So what are voters deciding on today, and what do you have your eye on?HUGHES: Well, voters in Anchorage are deciding on three things. There’s ballot propositions, nine of them all together. There’s also five Assembly seats that are up for grabs, and that’s a big number since the Assembly itself is only 11 people. And then there are two School Board seats that are also up for grabs. So between the three of those, you can think of them as three separate issues and I’m going to be watching a lot of the ballot measures quite closely. A lot of them are for bonding propositions, some of which feel sort of routine. About $36 million for repairs to roads, resurfacing drainage, stuff like that. Just what an area wide bond should go for. And a really big School Board bond.TOWNSEND: What about the Assembly races? What do you think is important in that mix?HUGHES: Well. The Assembly races are interesting because there’s the potential for the balance of power on the Assembly to shift. The Assembly is not a partisan race. There’s no Democrats or Republicans affiliations that are part of it. But for people who watch city politics, there’s definitely a sort of balance and a contest between liberal and conservative approaches or ideologies that are brought to bear on issues like budgeting or some social issues like the equal rights amendment that this current mayor’s administration signed off on. And with five of the 11 seats up for [grabs], we could see a change on the Assembly.TOWNSEND: You have lived in rural Alaska, outside of Anchorage. Do you think this is the kind of election that has any bearing on the lives of people across the state, whether that’s in the Valley, or Deering, Yakutat? What do you think?HUGHES: Yes and no. I’d say this is much more important than tennis courts were a couple years ago for rural voters. But I think sometimes in Anchorage we can get pretty myopic with things that feel really important within the bounds of the municipality. Because there’s so many people here, because so many people pass through here because Anchorage has such a big footprint on the state’s finances, what happens here resonates outward. Some of that is just zoning requirements change and there’s more hotels in midtown and that ends up having an impact on people’s visits whether it’s for medical or conferences and stuff like that. There’s other things like the Assembly where you might not see that that’s the body that’s green-lighting a Capitol project request to the state which ends up potentially financing a report which influences all of the state. So there’s a lot of invisible strings that connect back to a lot of the Anchorage elections – financially especially – even if it might not feel relevant or particularly immediate to somebody in Nome, Kotzebue or Ketchikan, what’s happening here, I would say that here the ripples are going outward.TOWNSEND: Alright Zach, we’ll look for results tomorrow.
Two new tribal court programs are getting off the ground at Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. They’re focused on reducing recidivism.Download AudioThe Andrew Hope Building is the new location of Central Council’s tribal court, which is located on the third floor. Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall is on the first floor. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins,KTOO – Juneau)At the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall — the new location of Central Council’s tribal court — a framework is being created.It’s part of a larger conversation to identify what’s holding some people back from reaching their potential. Namely, things such as childhood trauma, unstable home lives and a disconnect from culture.Colleen Belardi is one of the coordinators at Central Council’s Youth Wellness Court. She said the program is still being developed.“What we do know is that we would like to intervene with youth in the court system … and also kids who may be at risk of becoming involved in the court system,” Belardi said.The juvenile court could take the shape of therapeutic court or family conferencing. It’s funded by a 3-year $550,000 grant from the U.S Department of Justice. But they want to make the program sustainable.Belardi said mentorship will play a key role.“We want to teach them traditional ways — putting up food, carving, what is it to have an elder in your life and what does that mean to have an elder in your life,” Belardi said.A different program aimed at helping adult offenders is also underway.Tribal Judge Debra O’Gara said the program primarily handles family law, but soon it will also be able to sentence some criminal cases.Youth Wellness Court held a meeting in April to hear feedback from the community. Next it will consult with elders and appoint an advisory board. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins, KTOO – Juneau)State court judges reached out to the tribe, O’Gara said. Central Council signed an agreement with the state in April.Defendants who plead guilty or are found guilty will be able to have their cases transferred to Central Council. From there, they’ll go through circle sentencing.“We will have more time to delve into what is causing (them) to do this criminal behavior,” O’Gara said. “We’ll also have more time to inform the defendant as to what the effect their behavior has had on their family or what effect (it’s) had on their family or anybody who is harmed by that behavior.”O’Gara said four other tribes up north have had success with the program. Eventually, Central Council wants to offer circle sentencing in other Southeast tribal courts.Typically in the state court system, O’Gara said, the prosecutor or the judge have no connection to the defendant.“Whereas in tribal court, we’re going to have family members and members … of their own tribe there, and often their grandma or grandpa or aunts or uncles or parents or siblings are going to be there in the court and have to explain why they’re doing what they’re doing.”O’Gara says criminal behavior can sometimes be linked to poverty, childhood trauma or substance abuse. Depending on the case, the sentencing outcome could be job training or treatment — recommendations which will be sent back to the state.The adult program could start up by the end of summer. O’Gara says she hopes it brings healing.
The driver of a passenger van that crashed on the remote Aleutian island of Atka, killing three passengers, has been charged with three counts of manslaughter.Download AudioA warrant has been issued for the arrest of 28-year-old Sonny Iloilo, who is also charged with six counts of felony assault and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.Alaska State Troopers on June 14 received notice that a van carrying 10 people had crashed in Atka, a fishing village 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage.The crash killed 43-year-old Ray McCullough Jr., 51-year-old Mike Tunohun Jr. and 57-year-old Paul Nicholas Nesbit and injured the other seven in the van.Troopers say the van vehicle drifted off the road and the driver over-corrected, causing the van to roll several times.
The U.S. Senate Thursday passed a bill that is said to require consumer labeling of genetically modified foods, but opponents say it is too weak to be called a requirement. Alaska U.S Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the legislation would not obligate the makers of genetically engineered salmon to clearly distinguish their product from a natural salmon.Listen now“The reality is we will not see the labeling that I, as an Alaskan, who is putting fish on theSen. Lisa Murkowski (File photo: Skip Gray/360 North)dinner table for my family, would require and would want,” Murkowski said.The bill would allow GMO food manufacturers to satisfy the mandate by placing a QR code on their labels. To get information, a consumer would scan the code with a smart phone, which would lead to a web page. The legislation was sponsored by farm-state lawmakers. If it becomes law, it would pre-empt states from enforcing their own GMO labeling mandates and block an Alaska law requiring labels for engineered salmon.The measure passed by a vote of 63-30, with both Alaska senators voting no. It now goes to the House.
A 2005 advertisement for Iḷisaġvik College in Utqiaġvik, Alaska (Courtesy of ulalume)Earlier month, Iḷisaġvik College in Utqiaġvik — the only federally recognized tribal college in Alaska — announced that it will waive tuition for all Alaska Native students, starting next semester. The college offers associate degrees, vocational certificates, and short-term workforce development courses, plus a bachelor’s degree in business administration that just launched this fall.Listen nowOf the 700 or so students enrolled in the college each semester, a large proportion are non-native. In fact, among tribal colleges and universities, Iḷisaġvik has one of the highest non-native enrollments.“We hover between about 55-60% Alaska Native students currently,” Pearl Brower, President of Iḷisaġvik College, said. “And we certainly hope that those numbers are going to grow with this waiver of tuition.”Brower said that students have expressed concern with the price of tuition, which for a full course load runs over $3,000. This is especially hard for distance-education students who take classes online from rural areas where there aren’t a lot of high paying jobs.“More and more we were hearing that funding was a barrier. They were trying to figure out how to go to college when this looming monetary amount was in front of them,” Brower said.The school is planning to cover the cost of the waiver internally, although the price will be defrayed by the Bureau of Indian Education, which gives Iḷisaġvik money for each full course load being taken by Alaska Native or American Indian students.Brower said that the ultimate goal of the waiver program is to encourage more Alaska Native students to finish their associate degrees and go on to get their bachelor’s. She hopes that will translate to more hiring of Alaska Natives in positions that require those degrees, especially in rural schools and businesses across the state.
Shops line Pioneer Avenue in Homer (Photo by Aaron Bolton/KBBI)The U.S. Supreme Court changed course on taxing online sales this summer. Now, the Kenai Peninsula Borough is working towards taxing major online retailers, namely Amazon. While taxing those sales may help cash-strapped boroughs like the Kenai Peninsula, local retailers are also hoping the change will benefit their bottom line.Listen nowBack in June, the Supreme Court overturned a 1992 decision preventing states and municipalities from taxing online retailers without a presence in their jurisdiction. Now states and communities that are not home to warehouses, stores or offices belonging to major online retailers can tax their sales.The Kenai Peninsula Borough is working towards taxing most online purchases, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is likely to take up the issue this fall. Its aim is to target consumers like Homer resident Danielle Meyers.“I was born and raised in Alaska. So, I’ve resorted to online shopping most of my life, and it has varied, but now as a mother, most of my online shopping is through Amazon,” Meyers said as her one-year-son sat on her lap at the kitchen table.Meyers and her husband mostly buy household items like cleaning supplies, diapers and wipes through Amazon’s subscribe & save program.“I even get my quinoa and my rice through that program,” Meyers added.Meyers said she would be happy to pay into the borough’s coffers through her online purchases, but local brick-and-mortar retailers hope taxing online sales will incentivize consumers like her to shop locally instead.“I’m not sure how sensitive people are to the sales tax in the Homer area, especially with a $500 cap. The maximum impact on any transaction is $37.50,” Patrick Mede, co-owner of Ulmer’s Hardware Store in Homer, said. “Theoretically, you should see some change. How much of a change will it be for our business? I’d be interested to see. I don’t know.”Mede has managed the store, which sells everything from firearms to gardening supplies, for the last two years. He said it’s difficult to say just how much business he loses to online retailers overall, but he said the largest impact he has seen is on high-end sporting goods like fishing rods and skis.“People do more research online and they’re more apt to buy those online where they can get a deeper discount than here,” Mede explained. “Lower value items, items that they need immediately, we see much less decrease in sales due to online sales – at least we think so.”But how online shoppers’ habits might change as a result of online sales taxes is hard to say and there are more factors than just price, according to Mouhcine Guettabi, associate professor of economics at the Institute of Social and Economic Research.“There’s the big question of are people actually buying the same things they would otherwise buy in their community online or not,” Guettabi explained.Guettabi said there isn’t a lot of data on what Alaskans are buying online and how many of those products are available in the communities they live in.When it comes down to the fundamental question of whether consumers will be more apt to buy items from local retailers because of a sales tax, Guettabi said that will still largely depend on the base price of the product, though he does acknowledge taxes make a difference.“When, for example, a community across the border from a state levies a tax, we do see people crossing the border to buy things that are not taxed,” Guettabi said.On high-priced items like a fishing rod, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Homer’s combined 7.5 percent sales tax might not be enough to close the gap between what consumers pay online and locally.It might make a difference on items such as paper towels and cleaning supplies purchased from Amazon where savings can vary and some items are actually more expensive.But consumers like Meyers say they are still saving money.“It’s still cost effective for me to keep shopping this way. I don’t think it will change the way that I shop online at all,” Meyers said.Meyers adds that all those savings are delivered to her front door, providing a convenience local retailers may not be able to compete with.
Leland Hale, along with his late coauthor Walter Gilmour, is known for writing the book “Butcher, Baker” about Anchorage serial killer Robert Hanson in the 1970s and early-’80s, which more recently was made into a movie. And Hale went back to 1980s Alaska for the subject of his new book, “What Happened in Craig?”, out this week.It was the end of the fishing season in 1982 in tiny Craig, Alaska. The town was full of fishing boats and fishermen, and after a night of celebrating, nobody could find 28-year-old Mark Coulthurst, his boat — the Investor — or his crew, kids or wife, who was pregnant.Hale spoke with Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove and says what happened next rocked the community and set off one of the most perplexing murder mysteries in Alaska history.Listen nowHALE: Let’s set the scene. It’s in September. It’s the end of the fishing season in Southeast Alaska. There’s a little town called Craig. There’s about a hundred fishing boats in town. So now the population has doubled and people are out celebrating because the fishing seasons over. They’ve made their money and one of the vessels there is actually from Blaine, Washington. It’s skippered by a guy named Mark Coulthurst. He’s 27 years old. He’s got a million-dollar boat. It’s the pride of the fleet. Everybody’s celebrating. He’s celebrating his birthday. He’s had a few drinks. And then the next day people try to contact his boat. Some people see the vessel about a mile and a half out from Craig. Then the next thing we know this vessel is on fire. When they finally get the fire tamped down they discover bodies. They found four at that time. Four out of eight. First of all, you have sort of two crime scenes because the the killings were probably on the dock in Craig, so that’s one crime scene, but there’s second crime scene, which is the boat.It was a year before they discovered someone that they thought was a suspect. It was another year before there was an arrest that guy named John Peel, who had worked for the Coulthursts on their previous boat, then it was another two years before the first trial, and that trial was in Ketchikan. It was a hung jury. So then there was a second trial and that moved to Juneau. And John Peel was acquitted. So we don’t know who did it. Whoever did it is still out there. This person would be now in his 50s, but that’s all we know.GROVE: Going back and talking to people about events that happened in the past and tracking people down; that’s difficult in any circumstance. But especially in something tragic like this. I imagine it’s really tough to get people to talk to you.HALE: Well, it got tougher later because there was a civil suit filed by John Peel and his attorneys. So people kind of clamp down but I did most of my research in the early 90s. And then I relied heavily on the court records because, as it turned out, the prosecuting attorney, Mary Ann Henry, had all of the records, even the stuff that the jury did not see or hear, put in the Alaska state archive in Juneau, so I had a very rich body of work there. And then I was able to talk to a couple of Troopers. In fact, I talked extensively to a guy named Trooper Bob Anderson, who was the first guy on the scene. And really his description of what was going on, what was going through his head, what he saw is how I open the book because it’s so immediate. I mean this guy was not expecting to find bodies, and he had nightmares after that. I talked to one of the detectives who did the scene investigation on the boat, and I was really lucky to talk to the first judge who gave me sort of the judges view of the trial.GROVE: Through this reporting, doing this book, have you reached a conclusion on who you think was the real killer?HALE: I haven’t. Imagine in your mind a pyramid, and the best investigations start at the bottom with a really strong base of facts and you just go up until you get to the top of the pyramid and there’s the person who did it the top. And this case it’s an inverted pyramid. So there’s not really a strong basis in fact. It was a circumstantial case from the very beginning. It never identified a motive. Speculation, there’s some people speculate it was drug-related, that because this guy had a million-dollar boat and he owed a lot of money, he was, you know, dealing cocaine. That’s not proven. What else? He wasn’t an Alaska fisherman. So maybe there’s a rivalry there that just kind of blew up. But I tend to think it’s somebody that was known. I mean, again, there was over 150 boats in Craig at that time. That’s a lot of people. It was the end of the season so they quickly dispersed. I mean, I think somebody out there knows who did it and just didn’t come forward.