A bill to restructure Permanent Fund earnings and cut fund dividends died in the House Finance Committee Friday.Download AudioAlaskans file their Permanent Fund dividend applications in downtown Anchorage in March 2016. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage)The bill is the cornerstone of Governor Bill Walker’s plan to bring stability to state government finances.But six of the 11 committee members voted against sending the bill to a vote by the full House.The bill stumbled over concerns that voters wouldn’t accept cuts if the Legislature doesn’t make other changes. Republican members want to further reduce the size of government, while Democrats want to further cut tax credits to the oil and gas industry.Anchorage Republican Lance Pruitt voted against the bill. He says he doesn’t want to spend fund earnings without ensuring they won’t fuel more government.“That’s why people are scared about us doing this – is we’re going to put our hand in the cookie jar and we’re never going to pull it out,” Pruitt said.Dillingham majority-caucus Democrat Bryce Edgmon said the state has no other options for closing the three-to-four-billion-dollar annual deficit. He urged Walker to make another attempt to build public support. Without a PFD reduction, Edgemon is concerned the state will spend all fund earnings and eliminate dividends.“In my district, you know, I’ve got a lot of people who support this and I got a lot of people who support income taxes,” Edgmon said. “But as I look around the table here, and I talk to a lot of my colleagues, there’s other parts of the state where that support doesn’t exist.”Committee Co-Chairman Fairbanks Republican Steve Thompson voted to advance the bill, arguing that Walker will soon call the Legislature back into another special session. The current special session will end by Tuesday. But it’s not clear whether any votes will change in another session — closer to the August primary — in which votes to cut PFDs could be used against them.
The Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak has just received a grant to begin an Alutiiq language program for preschool-aged children.Listen nowCandace Branson is the tribe’s Alutiiq heritage educator and says last week Sun’aq learned that it won a five-year, almost $2 million grant from the Administration for Native Americans. Branson explains it’ll enable a whole new generation to be immersed in Alutiiq language with a teacher and a teacher’s aide dedicated to that mission.“Our community has been working on language revitalization since the 1960s, and this grant is a huge honor and a huge responsibility for the Sun’aq Tribe, and I really look forward to doing our best and moving forward with the language revitalization movement.”Branson says connecting with her ancestral language has helped her form an identity within the Native community, and there are other benefits to learning the Alutiiq language.“In terms of broader scales outside of my experience, we know that learning your indigenous language helps with the effects of historical trauma, so it can be something that relates you to a positive aspect of your culture rather than just seeing the alcoholism and the abuse and the historical trauma effects that happen as a result of our history.”Branson also says learning a second language makes a person’s brain more active. Various sources, from studies to articles, have made connections between language learning and increased mental performance.Branson says the language nest will serve the same age group as a preschool and the teacher and teacher’s aide will instruct 2 days a week, 4 hours a day. She explains by the end of the third grant year, the language nest will run 5 days a week, and may eventually require enrollment fees in order to pay the instructors and maintain a sustainable program.Branson says Sun’aq is currently taking applications for both the teacher and teacher’s aide positions, and classes should be ready to begin in January.
A technician helps groom an orphan otter pup at the Alaska Sealife Center. Maintaining a healthy coat is essential for otter survival. (Photo: Alaska Sealife Center)In coastal Alaska, a bacterial infection has caused adult sea otter die-offs in record numbers. Meanwhile, researchers have seen a steep increase in the number of orphaned pups over the last several years.In North America, the places where rescued pups would normally live out their lives are nearly full, putting volunteers in a tough spot.Listen nowUntil recently, when an orphan sea otter was found on a beach, volunteers helped get it out of harm’s way and into rehabilitation.The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward was the only place that would accept orphan pups.Animal Husbandry Director Brett Long is in charge of caring for the baby otters. While that might sound like a dream job, don’t be fooled: it’s hard work.“It’s the screaming child, right? Hey, it’s your turn to take care of it,” Long said.All four of the otter pups at the SeaLife Center are orphans. Over the last several years, a strain of Streptococcus bacteria has been killing Alaska’s sea otters.Since 2002, an estimated 328 otters have died statewide from the infection. That means more orphan pups to care for.Long coordinates a team that cares for the pups round-the-clock. Because of their fast metabolism, sea otters eat about 25 percent of their body weight in seafood every day. He opened a heavy metal door, revealing a freezer the size of a studio apartment.“We’ve got smelt, squid, herring, pollock, capelin and mussels,” Long said, pointing to cardboard boxes lining the shelves.It’s not just feeding that’s time-consuming. Because many of the pups are too young to know how to groom themselves, the staff has to do it for them. They use blow dryers, towels and combs to clean the fur and fluff it up.For Long, the demanding nature of the work feels familiar.“I had two nephews that were born 3 months early, so the first three months of their life was in a neonatal care ICU. That’s what raising sea otters is like,” Long said. “It’s a little beauty salon mixed with a neonatal ICU.”As the pups grow older, trainers work with them individually to help prepare them for lives in education centers. In an outdoor enclosure, trainer Juliana Kim teaches Tongit how to roll on his back and accept a fish. The pup arrived at the SeaLife Center last spring, after turning up in a Cordova parking lot. Total sea otter deaths recorded in Alaska from 2002 to November 11, 2016 (left) and sea otter deaths directly attributed to Streptococcus syndrome during the same time period (right). According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the data presented depend in large part on the total number of dead sea otters collected and examined. Because only a fraction of sea otter carcasses are recorded or examined, the data are likely an underestimate of the total number of dead otters and otters who died due to Streptococcus infection. Data courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Graphic: Shahla Farzan / KBBI)The SeaLife Center isn’t equipped to keep the pups forever. Eventually they’ll be moved to educational facilities or aquaria, either in the U.S. or abroad. But the options for orphan otters are becoming fewer and fewer. Only a limited number of facilities meet the strict requirements set by the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, allowing them to accept otters.According to estimates from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, there are only 14 facilities licensed in North America.Debbie Tobin is a biology professor at Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College in Homer. She also volunteers for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.“You have to have the right aquarium or facility or zoo to house a sea otter,” Tobin said. “It’s an expensive and difficult task to take on a sea otter if you don’t already have the set-up for that. Many of the facilities in the U.S. are essentially full.”Up until the age of six months, rescued otter pups require 24-hour care for everything from feeding to learning how to groom themselves. (Photo: Alaska Sealife Center)That means rehab facilities are now turning pups away. Although the four pups at the SeaLife Center since moved to new homes, the facility has no plans to accept more.Now when volunteers like Tobin find orphan pups, they have to leave them be.“We’ve had to physically put them back laying on the beach knowing that very likely you come by the next day and they’re either there dead or they’ve been scavenged,” Tobin said. “If you’re lucky they’ve washed out to sea and you don’t know what happened to them. Oftentimes, we go out the next day and they’re dead lying on the beach.”Leaving pups on the beach is a bitter pill to swallow for Tobin.“It’s really, really hard to put that actual pup back down on the beach and walk away,” Tobin said.Several organizations are in the process of applying to become certified to house otters. But if the current pace of adult otter die-offs continues, it’s unlikely there will ever be enough facilities to keep up with the demand.
Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprnListen nowBegich and Treadwell throw their hats into Alaska Governor’s raceCasey Grove, Alaska Public Media – AnchorageAfter days of rumors and speculation, Mark Begich has announced that he is running for governor in the Democratic primary. Mead Treadwell, former Lt. Gov. under Sean Parnell, announced his candidacy in the Republican primary.In AOGA gubernatorial debate, Dunleavy and Hawkins grill Walker on China, gasline prospectsElizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – AnchorageGov. Bill Walker, former State Senator Mike Dunleavy and businessman Scott Hawkins faced off in a debate yesterday at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference in Anchorage.Three Democrats running to unseat Don YoungLiz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – Washington D.C.Several challengers had filed for the seat held by Congressman Don Young. Young is running for re-election and had about half a million dollars in his campaign account as of April 1.Former House District 38 Rep. Zach Fansler to plead guilty to harassmentTeresa Cotsirilos, KYUK – BethelAlmost six months after he was accused of slapping a woman in his hotel room, former House District 38 Representative Zach Fansler is pleading guilty… though not to assault.Alaska businesses find a niche: helping oil companies cope with climate changeElizabeth Harball, Alaska’s Energy Desk – AnchorageAlaska’s oil industry has specially designed its operations for freezing conditions. But as temperatures rise, companies are starting to pay a price for climate change — and some Alaska businesses are making money off of it.Fast ferry’s future sailings uncertainEd Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – JuneauThe Alaska Marine Highway System appears to be phasing out its fast ferries. One is in long-term storage and the other will join it this fall.Breakfast, horses, and other wisdom from retiring uber-reporter Ed SchoenfeldRobert Woolsey, KCAW – SitkaAfter three decades in media in Alaska (almost 15 of them as CoastAlaska’s regional news director), Ed Schoenfeld retires.AK: Safari Quest returns to PetersburgAlanna Elder, KFSK – PetersburgA cruise ship that used to stop in Petersburg will be using the small town as its home port this summer. Its tour company is the latest of several to add the town to an itinerary peddling the authentic Alaskan experience.49 Voices: Marin Lee of HomerZoe Sobel, Alaska’s Energy Desk – UnalaskaThis week we’re hearing from Marin Lee in Adak. Lee grew up fishing in Homer and is a deckhand on the research vessel Tiglax.
Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via email, podcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprnListen nowAll 11 passengers survive Tuesday morning floatplane crash on Prince of Wales IslandLeila Kheiry, KRBD – KetchikanEleven people have survived an airplane crash Tuesday morning on Prince of Wales Island, and were back in Ketchikan early Tuesday afternoon.Will Murkowski block Kavanaugh nomination? Here’s how she says she’ll decideLiz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media – Washington D.C.Sen. Murkowski isn’t saying whether she’ll vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Here’s how she says she’ll decide.AFL-CIO president says Walker has earned re-election Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO – JuneauThe head of Alaska’s largest labor federation says at this point Governor Bill Walker would have most unions’ support. And he wants Walker and former U.S. Senator Mark Begich to reach an agreement that would leave only one of them in the race for governor.State’s wildfire season ‘largely uneventful,’ according to officialsNathaniel Herz, Alaska’s Energy Desk – AnchorageWildfires have burned just 270,000 acres in the state this year. That’s far short of the 1.2 million acres that burn during a normal season.Coast Guard, partners search ferries for illegal activity, drugsKayla Desroches, KMXT – KodiakU.S. Coast Guard and Alaska law enforcement agencies seized 56 grams of heroin, an ounce of methamphetamine and almost 2 pounds of non-commercial marijuana in a large-scale search for illegal activity on ferries in Washington state and Alaska.Fewer summer chum and kings in Yukon than predictedJohanna Eurich, KYUK – AnchorageFewer summer chum salmon and king salmon swam up the Yukon River than expected this season.How ‘pickers’ and ‘lickers’ help Bristol Bay’s fleetAustin Fast, KDLG – DillinghamEvery couple of days during salmon season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports how many sockeye from each age class are returning to Bristol Bay.Lemon Creek inmates study Latin etymology and epic poems behind barsAdelyn Baxter, KTOO – JuneauTaking GED or vocational classes in prison is not unusual. But at Juneau’s Lemon Creek Correctional Center, a small group is studying Latin, a language that’s been dead for centuries.Larsen Bay manages summer recycling needsKayla Desroches, KMXT – KodiakResidents of Larsen Bay on Kodiak Island are working to keep recycling alive for the population of around 70 people.
As an elder judge, Eugene Landlord works to address Mountain Village’s public health as well as its public safety. (Google maps image)The first thing that Judge Eugene Landlord does is listen. He watches his clients’ body language. There’s a certain look in their eyes that he tries to keep track of. If they seem depressed or at risk of harming themselves, he gives them his phone number.“Twenty-four hours a day, it doesn’t matter. Day or night, you call me when you really need help,” Landlord said. “There’s been two or three incidents where this occurred, and they do call. And those people are still here.”Eugene Landlord is an elder judge in the tribal court system of Mountain Village, and his job is different from that of his Western counterparts. Landlord focuses on his community’s health as well as its public safety. He arbitrates domestic violence and child protection cases, but he counsels community members with substance abuse issues, too.Over the past year, the Walker administration has worked out the details of its pledge to recognize Alaska Natives’ right to govern themselves; tribes are assuming authority over child welfare cases, certain education programs and law enforcement. And in communities like Mountain Village, tribal court systems are drawing on traditional views of justice to help residents rebuild their lives, rather than just punishing them.Landlord says Mountain Village’s tribal court practices restorative justice.“I always say all people are good,” Landlord said. said. “They just make bad choices. And we always give you an opportunity to change your life.”Landlord’s a little young to be an elder — he’s in his late 50s — but Mountain Village tribal officials kept asking him to join the court. He finally did four years ago. He has struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse himself, and while he’s been sober for years, that experience informs his work.When community members petition for substance abuse counseling, Landlord and two other judges review the case and figure out a treatment plan. The court’s tribal administrator usually schedules weekly or bi-weekly meetings between Landlord and the client. Landlord draws on a range of tools in these sessions. Some of them come from Alcoholics Anonymous; he’s also read a lot of self-help books. He says that he tries to steer away from many Western styles of treatment. Thirty-day or 90-day rehabs set time limits on recovery, and Landlord says that just isn’t helpful.“Sometimes they’re really reluctant to open up,” Landlord said. “We have to find ways to let them open up. And one of the ways we do it is to share our stories of how we overcame some of the substance abuse problems. That sort of breaks the ice because they’ll hear something that they can relate to and we build on that, and that’s really, really rewarding.”Cases that involve domestic violence are harder. Mountain Village’s tribal court system handles a lot of elder and child protection cases.“They’re the ones that are caught in the middle,” Landlord explained. “It’s not easy sometimes, finding solutions, but we do find solutions.”Court starts with a prayer. Then the elder judges, the respondents and the petitioners sign an oath. They promise to be as fair and impartial as possible and keep the proceedings confidential. Landlord says that they follow a specific process: the petitioners present their case and the judges ask them questions, then it’s the respondents’ turn.“The trick is not to draw ourselves in emotionally,” Landlord said. “Because we won’t make any kind of rational decisions. We just listen, sometimes really hard, but we’re listening to both sides.”If that arbitration doesn’t lead to any improvements, Landlord says that the respondent could face consequences. Hypothetically, those consequences could include banishment. Landlord says that it’s listed as a sort of last resort punishment in Mountain Village’s new alcohol code, though the community hasn’t had to banish anyone in years. It’s more of a deterrent than anything else, he says, and banishment can also be a pretty misunderstood practice. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the banished person is shunned by their community forever. Landlord remembered hearing about one case that involved several people who were addicted to homebrew.“The elders got tired of these people because they would always create problems in the village, so they kicked them out of the community,” Landlord said. “But the community would always go to them on a weekly basis to buy them supplies and make sure they were okay.”Mountain Village launched its tribal court system in 2007, and Landlord anticipates that the State of Alaska will be relying on systems like it more and more. He says that the state is already starting to turn domestic violence cases over to tribal court systems. While the court’s been doing well, Landlord says that he’d appreciate further education or training if the state begins to refer particularly serious cases to him, like sexual assault cases or those involving the mentally ill.In the meantime, Mountain Village’s tribal justice system is expanding. The tribe organized its own Department of Justice in February, and it includes a series of wellness programs to help sexual abuse and domestic violence survivors heal through traditional practices. The Department’s focus is not punishment, but healing and finding solutions instead.
Seal oil from Southeast Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/Alaska’s Energy Desk)The House Resources Committee got an update Monday on the traditional foods movement in Alaska. It’s becoming more common for public facilities in the state to accept wild-harvested donations, such as deer or seafood. Seal soup has been added to the menu at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.But places like schools, nursing homes and hospitals have yet to incorporate one of the most requested subsistence foods. Melissa Chlupach, from the University of Alaska Anchorage College of Health, called it “Alaska’s condiment.”“Seal oil is a superfood. It has a high amount of omega-3s that are so healthy for us,” Chlupach said.The state’s food safety codes don’t allow seal oil in public facilities yet. That’s because it’s been implicated in several botulism outbreaks in Alaska. Rep. John Lincoln, a Democrat from Kotzebue, asked why a food considered safe to eat by many villages raised red flags.Chlupach and a colleague explained that the rendering process differs across Alaska. There’s a lot of variability.Chlupach told lawmakers there’s still more work to be done to incorporate a variety of subsistence foods on the menu at public institutions. She encourages people to tell their stories.“That’s how we can get these foods into our facilities and help heal our patients, help provide foods to the Elders so they can eat the foods they’ve grown up on,” Chlupach said.Maniiḷaq Health Center in Kotzebue is on the forefront of this effort.The long-term care facility there has been working with the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the University of Wisconsin and the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center to determine the safest rendering techniques for seal oil, with the hopes of someday serving it to residents.