Safe from bears? Don’t fall for it — Delayed onset of winter weather leaves nature stuck in autumn

Redoubt Reporter file photos By mid-November, most bears are in their dens for winter. This year, however, a late onset of winter has extended bear activity, as well.

Redoubt Reporter file photos
By mid-November, most bears are in their dens for winter. This year, however, a late onset of winter has extended bear activity, as well.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

By the calendar, it’s winter in Alaska. Usually by the end of November, the Kenai Peninsula has gotten at least one coating of a couple inches of snow and marked temperatures dipping into the teens or single digits. But this year, winter as usual has yet to arrive. With temperatures in the 30s and just a scant dusting of snow, it feels more like October than nearly December, and wildlife aren’t falling for it supposedly being winter.

Bears, in particular, are still in fall activity mode.

“We had reports last week of bears getting in to garbage or Dumpsters,” said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna, on Monday.

A brown bear was reported getting into Dumpsters and breaking into a garage seeking garbage stored inside in a neighborhood about five miles out Funny River Road, Selinger said.

The Kenai Peninsula Bears page on Facebook has a few reports of bear sightings, as well, including a black bear checking out a neighbor’s chickens on St. Theresa Road in Sterling, posted Nov. 19. Another black bear was seen heading into Woodland Estates in Kenai, posted Nov. 19, and a walker reported seeing fresh bear tracks near Hidden Creek on Nov. 4.

Selinger said that his office gets reports of bears out and about every month of the year on the Kenai, so there’s no guaranteed safe period when all bears are tucked away for the winter, but most by now are denned up for the winter.

“Generally speaking, the majority of your animals, by about mid-November, most should be in the den. Some animals go in a little earlier than others, but usually by now they’re all pretty much denned up,” he said.

“Daylight, snow cover, how much fat they have on them — there’s a lot of factors that can play into it. Usually they want to wait until the ground freezes a little bit and makes it better for digging dens, they don’t cave in as easily. It’s a lot of factors all rolled into one. Generally speaking, the warmer it is the more likely they are to stay out longer,” Selinger said.

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Iron dogged determination — Soldotna snowmachine racer Scott Davis looks to represent motorsports with nomination to Alaska Sports Hall of Fame

Photo courtesy of Scott Davis. Scott Davis crosses the Iron Dog finish line for his seventh win in 2007 with partner Todd Palin.

Photo courtesy of Scott Davis. Scott Davis crosses the Iron Dog finish line for his seventh win in 2007 with partner Todd Palin.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Any Alaskans interested in snowmachine racing probably know of Soldotna’s Scott Davis. Those with even the merest passing interest in Iron Dog definitely do. Fans of the 2,000-mile annual snowmachine race could rattle off his highlight stats as smoothly as the acceleration on the high-performance machines the two-person teams ride from Big Lake to Nome every February.

He holds a record seven championships — in 1985, 1989, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2007 — with five different partners, has 20 career top-three finishes and is the only continuously participating racer who was in the first Iron Dog and is still racing today. He’s only missed a couple events due to injury.

Come Dec. 8 he could have a new title — first motorsports athlete inducted to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.

“There’s never been a motorsports person that’s made it. But it couldn’t be more Alaskan,” Davis said.

Davis is among 48 other athletes nominated for the individual honor, as well as 26 nominees in the Moment category and 19 entrants in the Event category. Voting — including by the public — closes at midnight Dec. 2.

The Hall of Fame began in 2006, with its first batch of inductees in 2007. Past inductees include a mix of dog mushers, skiers, mountain climbers, runners, basketball, baseball, football and hockey players, and a rower. Events and Moments reflect the same sports — the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, the first ascent of Mount McKinley, the Fairbanks Equinox Marathon, the Great Alaska Shootout, the Midnight Sun Baseball Game, and even Les Anderson’s catch of a world-record king salmon in the Kenai River.

But no honoring of motorsports. This year, Davis and the Iron Dog are nominated.

“I think that there couldn’t be anything more Alaskan than Iron Dog. How many people do you know that actually mush dogs? Not very many,” he said, though hastening to add his appreciation for the athletic achievement required in mushing, as well as mountain climbing, hockey and the other sports that are already well represented in the hall.

“The first Iron Dog I ever did I went, ‘Holy s***, if I were George Attla’s lead dog I’d bite him right in the butt. After doing 50,000 miles or whatever I’ve done on that (Iditarod Trail, which Iron Dog follows for most of its route), I’ve got a lot of respect for the dog mushers. They just do it a different way than we do it. I think (Iron Dog) is uniquely Alaskan, and I think it’s a world-class event and I think we should at least recognize the event if nothing else,” he said.

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Sense, defense — Sterling Judo Club holds class in women’s self-protection

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Caitlin Sturman, of Kenai, tries to get out of a headlock imposed by her sister, Carly Sturman, during a free self-defense class for women put on last week by the Sterling Judo Club.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Caitlin Sturman, of Kenai, tries to get out of a headlock imposed by her sister, Carly Sturman, during a free self-defense class for women put on last week by the Sterling Judo Club.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there are 237,868 victims of rape or sexual assault each year in the U.S., with the majority of victims being women. It’s a sobering statistic, one which the Sterling Judo Club hopes to decrease on the central Kenai Peninsula. On Friday, the club offered a self-defense class for women free of charge.

“The statistics for sexual assault crimes for Alaska are some of the highest in the country, and it’s not just happening in the villages. It’s happening in the cities, too,” said Sensei Robert Brink, a black belt in judo and one of the primary instructors of the Sterling Judo Club.

Brink explained the importance of self-defense for women is to empower them to not make it easy for would-be predators. Often, attackers are dissuaded when women defend themselves, he said.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean fighting, although at times that may be necessary. It also means having an awareness of dangerous situations and learning how to avoid them or get out of them. It means more than just putting up your arms and giving up,” he said.

Brink was not the instructor of the women’s class, though. It was led by a visiting instructor from Las Vegas, Sensei Kati Gibler, who has been a judo practitioner for 25 years. She expanded on the idea of awareness of when sexual assaults often can occur.

“It’s just like hiking, in which you have to avoid steep terrain and watch for signs of bear activity. With self-defense, avoidance means recognizing the hazards,” she said.

As examples, Gibler cited the bar scene, where men and women may have a loss of inhabitations from drinking.

“You mental state is altered, you don’t have the same coordination, and, unfortunately, for some men, there is a perception that if a lady is in a bar they’re fair game,” she said.

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Plugged In: Click that holiday wish list up a notch

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Knowing how to properly use your camera equipment is certainly more important than acquiring new gear. This week, though, you’ll find our camera purchase suggestions for the holiday season, just in time for “Black Friday.”

In the spirit of Christmas, be sure to leave a copy of this week’s Redoubt Reporter lying about the house, open to this article with your preferred new camera highlighted. To ensure your subtly expressed Christmas wish is not overlooked, don’t forget to leave a note addressed to your gift givers reminding them to please forward the highlighted article to Santa well before Christmas. After all, you don’t want to be TOO subtle, but you’ll definitely want to toggle into “nice” mode if you’ve overstayed your welcome on the “naughty” side.

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Frequent flyers — Nikiski art students vote for better campaigning in political project

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Sadie Averill, left, and Heidi Kaser, seniors at Nikiski Middle-High School, assembled trees from the political flyers that stuffed mailboxes this election season. Art teacher Anna Widman had each of her classes construct branches for the trees.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Sadie Averill, left, and Heidi Kaser, seniors at Nikiski Middle-High School, assembled trees from the political flyers that stuffed mailboxes this election season. Art teacher Anna Widman had each of her classes construct branches for the trees.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The general election is over, and with it the deluge of campaign fliers that inundated mailboxes, taxing the capacity of Alaska voters’ patience and garbage bins.

Most of those flyers found their way to the landfill, but in Nikiski, many found a new purpose as a way to make a different political statement.

“I was getting so many of these in the mail and I figured everybody else was, too, so I had my classes start collecting fliers, and the teachers were pretty happy to bring in fliers, so we just started collecting them in a bin,” said Anna Widman, art teacher at Nikiski Middle-High School.

It seemed a waste to let all that paper go to waste — killing trees, and all. So she challenged each of her classes to make a tree branch and leaves out of the flyers. Two of her students, seniors Sadie Averill and Heidi Kaser, took it upon themselves to turn all the branches into trees.

There was no difficulty finding materials.

“I had one family give me 100 fliers because they have four adults in their household, so every one of them were getting their allotment,” Widman said. “And a lot of teachers brought in whatever they got at their house, which was quite substantial, as well.”

She told her students that whichever class brought in the most flyers would win a pizza party. Her second-hour class took the prize, thanks in large part to Melissa Roza’s large contribution — 1,000 flyers or more, Widman said.

“We’ve still got more that haven’t been used in the trees,” Widman said. “It wasn’t hard to collect fliers at all.”

The challenge — artistically as it was logistically for voters at their mailboxes — was what to do with them.

“We had to figure out how to get the base stable enough and also where to add stuff to it, because it leaned. Once we started adding stuff we had to figure out how to find the balance of it,” Kaser said.

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Peek of adventure — Nikiski graduate bikes across the country

Photos courtesy of Tyler Peek. Tyler Peek, of Nikiski, recently completed a bike ride through all 50 states, covering 6,850 miles in 111 days.

Photos courtesy of Tyler Peek. Tyler Peek, of Nikiski, recently completed a bike ride through all 50 states, covering 6,850 miles in 111 days.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Youth is squandered on the young, as the cliché goes. But is it frittering away your days if, after finishing school, you have an adventure unequivocal to anything you’ve yet experienced in life? Seeing vast and different parts of the country, far away from the part in which you grew up, and achieving something no one else you know has done? Tyler Peek, of Nikiski, doesn’t think so.

The 22-year-old recently returned from a bike tour of the U.S., in which he rode through all 50 states, following the shortest route — rather than more-popular, established paths — to cover 6,850 miles in 111 days, in just under four months, completely on his own.

“Going through every state would mean I’d be the first at something. Either I’d have the fastest time or the shortest distance for a self-supported cyclist, or I’d be the most amateur to do it, or I’d be the first person in 2014 to do it. These potentials are what sold me. I know it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it felt like it,” Peek wrote in his blog.

Peek said he had long known he wanted to do something after graduating college on June 15, before the responsibilities of life snared him into a routine from which he couldn’t escape.

“I knew once I started a career I couldn’t just take off for months, or leave my wife or family, so this seemed like my only chance to do it,” he said.

Peek knew he wanted to challenge himself in some way, but hadn’t narrowed down exactly what. After his parents took him to Hawaii on June 17 for a postgraduation gift, he used the time to focus and begin his personal odyssey. He and his family went on a tour of a volcano in Maui and rode bicycles down the summit cone. It was an ah-ha moment for Peek.

He did some research and plotted his planned route, but coming from the age of technology, he bought a smartphone and relied on Google Maps, rather than atlases or printed road maps, to find his way.

“It told me where to go. I used driving maps, but with the bicycle option, and avoided freeways and high-traffic things like that,” he said.

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Drinking on the Last Frontier: High marks for High Mark — Distillery toasts law change in tasting room reopening

Photo by Elaine Howell. Visitors sample the spirits at High Mark Distillery at its grand reopening Saturday in Sterling.

Photo by Elaine Howell. Visitors sample the spirits at High Mark Distillery at its grand reopening Saturday in Sterling.

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

It’s said that all things come to he who waits. In this case, it could be more accurately said that they come to she who waits, with the lady in question being Felicia Keith-Jones, the owner of High Mark Distillery in Sterling.

As I mentioned in my monthly column earlier this year, Keith-Jones and the four other artisanal distillers in the state banded together and worked hard to convince the Legislature to pass HB 309, a measure to allow distilleries the same privileges granted to wineries and breweries in Alaska — i.e., to have a tasting room in their production facility and to be able to sell their products directly to the public.

While the distillers only had about three weeks to draft and push the bill through before the end of the session, they received excellent support from their representatives and senators, and HB 309 passed with wide margins in both bodies before the end of April. Gov. Sean Parnell delayed signing it in to law until mid-July, which meant that it would not go into effect until Oct. 12, thereby ensuring that the distilleries would miss out on the entire 2014 tourism season. Still, better late than never.

So it’s been a long time coming, but last Saturday, Nov. 15, High Mark Distillery was finally able to celebrate the grand reopening of its tasting room at 37200 Thomas St. in Sterling. All of its bottles were on sale for $25, which represented a substantial savings for many of them. Besides its Nickel Back Apple Jack (36 or 50 proof), its High Mark Vodka (80 proof) and its Blind Cat Moonshine (90 proof), there was a new product on sale, Blueberry Cobbler Shine (58 proof). As it is my duty as a reporter to be extremely thorough, I sampled the new product, and I can report that it is quite delicious, with a wonderful berry flavor and none of the alcohol heat of the higher-proof Blind Cat.

In between customers stopping in to sample and purchase bottles, Keith-Jones told me about a couple of soon-to-be released new products, as well as her hopes for the future of her business.

“We will be releasing our homemade vanilla extract in time for Thanksgiving,” she said. “I did extensive research comparing vanilla pods from all over the world — Tonga, Tahiti, Uganda, Indian, Hawaii, Mexico and Madagascar. In the end, I settled on a blend of Hawaii and Madagascar,” she said. “I’m also excited to be finally producing something that my mother, who is a nondrinker, can enjoy.”

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