Monthly Archives: October 2012

Career in the books — Mohorcich saw borough through youth of planning, river protection

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Laura Mohorcich. John Mohorcich is planning out new endeavors after a 30-year career in planning and land management at the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Recreational opportunities on the Kenai Peninsula, such as rafting Six Mile Creek, is part of what cemented Mohorcich’s residency here.

Redoubt Reporter

For someone as closely involved in codes and regulations as John Mohorcich has been in his 30-year career in land planning and management on the Kenai Peninsula, he’s not as given to unyielding allegiance to doing things by the book as the nature of his job might indicate. Being the director of the Donald E. Gilman Kenai River Center — a hub of intersection between local, state and federal departments involved in managing the borough’s watersheds — makes Mohorcich sort of the broth that binds the alphabet soup of acronymed regulatory agencies together.

There are a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross in that role, but enforcing the rules has never taken priority over his own personal rule for doing his job — keeping open ears, eyes and mind in assessing situations as they come. As times change, so, too, do technology, knowledge, approaches and, eventually, the regulations for achieving the end goal of maintaining the health of the Kenai watershed.

“There’s been a learning curve. It’s important for the borough to be flexible and change those codes with that learning curve. We definitely didn’t have all the answers (when the river center began), and I still don’t think we do. If you’re not learning every day it’s time to look back a little bit and scratch the head and go, ‘Hmm, is this the right place to be?’” Mohorcich said.

It’s not that he’s against doing things by the book — he was a code enforcement officer at one point, after all. It’s just that he’s one of the people who helped write the book of land management on the Kenai. And he learned from that experience that throwing the book at someone is rarely a productive way to achieve long-term improvements.

“It goes back to him being able to get along with everybody and treat everyone fairly and explain things thoroughly,” said Max Best, planning director at the borough, and Mohorcich’s longtime colleague and friend. “He’s never demeaning anybody or giving somebody less importance than another. He treats everybody fairly.”

You catch more flies with honey, as the saying goes. In Alaska, where residents take very seriously their private property rights, you get more compliance with outreach, understanding, education and by sweetened positive reinforcements, like tax credits and streamlined permitting processes, than by a governmental representative telling people when, where and what they can and cannot do.

“It wasn’t the philosophy to point fingers or to identify faults and to write tickets for compliance. We wanted compliance, we needed compliance, but I really think that education and voluntary compliance goes much further,” Mohorcich said.

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Good grousing — Bird hunting trip is successful culmination of youth training

By Joseph Robertia

Photos courtesy of Joseph Robertia. Billy and Grace Morrow show off their quarry during a hunting trip with their aunt and uncle, Colleen and Joseph (at right) Robertia.

Redoubt Reporter

“They’ll never do it,” “That’s asking a lot,” and “I think your plan is a little over-ambitious,” were the responses I got when discussing my plans to take my niece and nephew, 9 and 11, respectively, on a three-day grouse-hunting and backpacking trip earlier this month.

To be fair, our tentative schedule was a little rigorous. It entailed gaining more than 2,000 feet of elevation while hiking 7.5 miles a day for the first two days, and then a full 15-mile hike on the third day. And this wasn’t hiking, it was backpacking, so we were carrying all our camping supplies, hunting equipment, ammo and food for three days in the woods.

This could be challenging for anyone, but for two little kids, people were starting to make me wonder if, indeed, we had bitten off more than we could chew. But I had faith in our plan because of how my niece and nephew were raised.

Since the time they were in diapers they have been coming out to visit on weekends every few weeks, and a big part of spending time around my wife and I meant doing chores. But to keep them engaged and as a reward for their share of the hard work, we’ve always tried to do something fun afterward, such as taking them hiking.

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Science of the Seasons: Whoo goes there? Great horned owls often heard before seen

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. A great horned owl is silhouetted in a tree. The birds have excellent camouflage. Often their hoots are heard before they are seen.

On a recent evening, as I was watching the end of a cold, beautiful sunset, I noticed a large bird land in a tree in front of the house. From its broad wings, short tail and large size, I was pretty certain it was a great horned owl. Sundown is when they are fairly active as they survey for their next meal. With binoculars I could make out some of its mottled coloration and the all-important feather tufts that give it the “horned” name.

Great horned owls are fairly common here on the Kenai Peninsula and can actually be found all over North and South America. So they are well-known throughout the country. They are one of the larger owls, with a wingspan of almost 5 feet, and they weigh 4 to 6 pounds. That may seem light because they have a barrel-shaped body and their feather fluff-up makes for an impressively large-sized bird.

These predators will take just about any animal they can capture, including grouse, crows, squirrels, marmots, hares, voles, weasels and even fish. In some parts of their range they are known to take bats, reptiles and amphibians. Great horned owls are also a major predator on young raptors, like osprey. They are able to take on more formidable prey because of their large and powerful talons. Some prey items are eaten on the ground, while smaller rodents or birds can be carried to a perch for a more leisurely repast. These owls are not above taking carrion or road kill, too. Because of the willingness to take animals off the roads, younger owls often become road kill themselves.

With the current high numbers of varying hares on the peninsula, great horned owls have probably been feeding well for the past couple years. Recently there have been reports of large local populations of redback voles, so their good food fortunes continue.

Great horned owl food choices remind me of a favorite children’s book called “Owls in the Family” by Farley Mowat. In the story, the two pet great horned owl return to an open porch window with their nightly prey until one flies in with a freshly killed skunk. The family was no longer amused! While that is just a story, great horned owl are actually the only known avian predator of skunks. One western owl nest was found to have remains of more than 50 different skunks. Apparently, owls are not put off by the powerful skunk odor.

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Sights set on spooky

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

Costumed treat-seekers of all stripes took to Tsalteshi Trails on Sunday for its annual Spook Night event, including a trick-or-treat trail through the woods and a 5-kilometer Zombie Run.

Zombie 5-kilometer

Sunday, Oct. 29, Tsalteshi Trails

Men — Jordan Theisen, first place, 20:03.7; Sean Goff, 21:13.3; Ryder Galic, 25:24.9; Jeremy Kupferschmid, 27:00.1; Tanner Best, 28:21.9; Rick Proffitt, 30:51.2; John Solem, 30:53.5; Joseph Briggs, 31:55.4; Todd Pollock, 35:27.5; Van Grainge, 36:40.2; Billy Morrow, 39:14.9; Will Morrow, 39:15.2; Rick Kraxberger, 46:59.8; Drake Thomas, 53:44.6; Phil Pijahn, 58:48.6.

Women — Emily Colton, first place, 24:18.3; Anna Berington, 27:19.8, Kristy Berington, 27:20.1; Hadassah Udelhoven, 27:53.4; Regina Theisen, 29:36.2; Nimi Pollock, 31:01.6; Melody Nichol, 32:09.9; Patty Moran, 32:37.0; Janice Habermann, 33:22.2; Jenny Olendorff, 33:22.5; Susan Pfaffe, 33:22.8; Marian Werth, 33:23.1; Madeline Brennan, 35:47.9; Angie Brennan, 35:52.5; Danielle Caswell, 36:02.5; Markie Shiflen, 36:24.8; Amy Adcox, 37:08; Kristin Morrow, 39:15.5; Diane Pollock, 43:10.2; Thi Pijahn, 46:07.8; Amber Kraxberger, 47:00.1; Shelby Dykstra, 48:43.8; Kathy Hahmel, 48:46.7; Joni Dykstra, 48:47.0; Yvonne Oren, 50:08.5; Kristen Mitchell, 53:48.6; Lauri Langafelt, 53:51.2; Jennifer Jackson, 55:12.2; Heather Christian, 58:48.3; Laura McIndoe, 1:03:55.1; Becky Hutchinson, 1:04:12.5.

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Night Lights: Chilly views heating up

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

Graphic courtesy of Andy Veh

Looking at the sky in the late evening around 11 p.m., prominent constellations and stars are the Big Dipper, part of Ursa Major, high in the northeast, and the Little Dipper high in the north. Cygnus with Deneb, Lyra with Vega and Aquila with Altair are now low in the northwest. These three stars form the summer triangle. It’s perhaps comforting that in Alaska we can see this summer triangle all winter along, albeit near the horizon.

Cassiopeia appears overhead, in the zenith, Pegasus’ square/diamond in the southwest. In the east, Gemini with Castor and Pollux, Cancer with the Beehive cluster and Leo have risen, following Orion with red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel, which are now quite high in the southeast (that’s why I chose the late evening for my description). Auriga with Capella and Taurus with Aldebaran, the Pleiades star cluster and currently with the very bright Jupiter appear now high in the south.

If we could only observe it, we’d see that around 5 p.m. Mars, Mercury, sun, Saturn and Venus all set at the same time. But of course, when the sun is out, our atmosphere’s brightness overpowers the planets.

Ultrabright Venus itself, though, rises in the mornings around 6 a.m. in the southeast and is visible throughout all of November and December.

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Almanac: Would preservative — Manitoba cabin’s existence once on unstable footing

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a multipart story concerning the Manitoba Cabin at about Milepost 50 of the Seward Highway. This week, part one explores the contentiousness between the U.S. Forest Service and the owners of the cabin and its nearby mining claims. Next week, part two will examine the earliest mining history related to the cabin and its likely progression of ownership.

By Clark Fair

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Manitoba Cabin as it appears today. At many times in its history, its continued existence was uncertain.

Redoubt Reporter

Willard Dunham answered the phone, listened for a few moments and immediately boiled over.

It was the early 1970s, and he was working as a longshoreman in Seward when he received a phone call from a gold miner named Ron Newcome, who operated several claims on Canyon Creek near a cabin that Dunham’s family had owned since 1940. Newcome wanted to alert Dunham to the movements of a U.S. Forest Service crew that was planning to destroy Dunham’s cabin.

It wasn’t the first time that the Forest Service had threatened the existence of the cabin, and it wouldn’t be the last. But on this particular occasion, Dunham was determined to meet the threat head on and deal face to face with the federal agents to whom he referred frequently as “bastards” and “sons o’ bitches.” He climbed immediately into his vehicle and sped down the Seward Highway toward his property beyond the northern end of Lower Summit Lake, nearly 50 miles away.

Newcome had explained that “a so-called team of experts out of Anchorage” had approached the Dunham property — located near the southwestern base of Mount Manitoba, just north of the confluence of Mills, Fresno and Canyon creeks — and dug a hole to test the validity of the minerals claim attached to the property. Finding no “color” at their test site, the experts had affixed to a nearby tree a yellow tag reading: AREA CLOSED TO MINING. NO MINERAL CONTENT FOUND.

Dunham arrived at his property just in time to confront these experts as they prepared to ignite his place.

“I told ’em, ‘Yeah, that’s fine,’ and I took pictures of ’em. And I said, ‘When you do it, I’ve got it insured, so I’ll turn you in for arson.’ (The man in charge) looked at me and said, ‘Well, you can’t do this,’ and I said, ‘Watch me.’ And then they bundled up all of their stuff and left.”

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Orchestrate a link to the classics — Link Up program encourages classical music appreciation through active youth participation

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Sue Biggs leads third-graders at Redoubt Elementary School in a rehearsal for their participating in the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s fall concert this weekend in Kenai and Homer.

Redoubt Reporter

Vibrato, as a musical concept, may be a little beyond the scope of experience of most elementary school music students. For that matter, so is participating in a professional, bona fide, grown-up orchestra. But as Soldotna and Homer students prepare to do just that in the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s fall concert this weekend, they’re also unwittingly physically demonstrating the musical expression, vibrating with excitement as their orchestral debut draws near.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students at Redoubt and Kalifornsky Beach elementary schools in Soldotna and McNeil Canyon Elementary in Homer have been practicing since the beginning of school to learn the parts they will sing and play with the orchestra and its fall concert Saturday in Kenai and Sunday in Homer, as part of a Link Up educational outreach program through New York’s Carnegie Hall.

“Instead of going to a concert and observing an orchestra, they’re actually a part of the orchestra, so it becomes a concert that they own. And because it’s done with professional musicians, then it has just an extraordinary opportunity for them to play with musicians at a level that they would never play when in third, fourth and fifth grade,” said Sue Biggs, music teacher at Redoubt and violinist with the orchestra.

“They’re usually playing ‘Hot-Crossed Buns’ but I’ve had to teach them faster and more complex pieces than I usually would by this time of the year, and they have just jumped into it with both feet,” she said.

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Wright stuff — Gun shop owner sights in on hobby as novelist

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Travis Wright poses in his Impact Area gun shop with his two new novels, “Uncertain Times” and “Into the Fire.”

Redoubt Reporter

In some ways, Travis Wright is a lot like other authors — he pecks away at the keys of a laptop to capture his creative ideas, and he enjoys a bit of solitude while trying to work on a novel. But one of the most striking characteristics that sets him apart from his contemporaries is his writing-room décor — semi-automatic AK-47s, AR-15s and other tactical rifles hanging on the walls of his workspace.

“I’ll write whenever I can, whenever I’ve got time between sales. We have more gun owners per capita than a lot of other places, but, still,” he said.

Wright has just written two books, the first of which, the 176-page “Uncertain Times — A Story of Survival,” was published in May.

Wright is the owner of The Impact Area gun shop on Kalifornsky Beach Road, and while he said his sales are steady, the business of dealing firearms and ammo isn’t like a lot of other retail items. Even stable business doesn’t mean dozens of sales an hour, so he began writing in his free time.

“I never anticipated writing a book. I didn’t set out to do it. I just starting writing a story and the book just sort of happened,” he said.

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Art Seen: Message by design — Art show tackles social issues

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

“Deposit” by Steve Schoonmaker.

The back room at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, dubbed Gallery Too, has an interesting grouping of art on display dealing with various social issues. Kenai Peninsula College students of varying ages took on the task, and while they don’t address some of the really huge hot-button topics (probably best in a small town like Kenai, I suppose), they certainly have put their hearts and creativity into expressing concern over an assortment of issues.

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Plugged In: Take shooting knowledge to the streets

‘Fall into winter on the Kenai’ photo contest

The Redoubt Reporter is holding another in its series of reader-submitted photo contests.

Photos will be judged and winners selected by a three-member panel. After each contest closes, we’ll publish and discuss some of our favorites in the Redoubt Reporter. Some of the selected photographers will be invited to frame and hang their photos at a Redoubt Reporter June 2013 group photo show scheduled at the Sterling Highway Kaladi Brothers coffee shop.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1, 2012. All submissions must be in high-quality digital format. Submit no more than five JPEG images by email to

Entry rules:

1. Our theme is “Falling into winter on the Kenai” and submissions must fit this theme.

2. Entrants must be amateur photographers who are residents of the central Kenai Peninsula.

3. Photographs can be of any subject fitting the theme but must have been taken of the Kenai Peninsula on or after Aug. 1, 2012.

4. If you submit photographs in which people are recognizable, you must also provide us with their permission for us to publish any such photographs.

5. Please do not submit portrait photos. Do not submit photographs whose content would not be appropriate for publication in a family newspaper. Do not submit photos of illegal subject matter. All such photos will be deleted immediately without notice to you and at the sole discretion of the editor.

6. Photographers must include their name, telephone number, email address, town of residency and each photo’s date, location and description of subject matter.

7. Submitted JPEG images should be of the best possible technical quality. Good technique and technical quality are important, but originality, creativity, interesting subject matter, artistic merit and good composition are even more important.

8. By submitting photos, you agree to our publication of them in the Redoubt Reporter newspaper and on our website. The Redoubt Reporter will have the right of first publication of your photos. However, you will retain the copyright for all other purposes and your name will be listed if we publish any of your photos.

9. Our decisions about what’s published or selected for exhibition are final and are admittedly subjective. Space is limited, and the judging panel and editor reserve the right to choose photos at their discretion.

10. Retain your original digital files of all submitted images. We are not responsible for preserving copies of your digital images.

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Homegrown revolution — Gardeners expand to tackle Alaska’s food insecurity

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Farmers markets are sprouting up all over Alaska these days, yet another sign of a growing agricultural culture.

Redoubt Reporter

Here’s something to chew on with your breakfast: The eggs for that omelet you’re eating — or the milk in your cereal, the meat in your sausage, the honey in your tea, the jam on your toast — probably wasn’t produced in Alaska. But half a century ago, it probably was.

The factors contributing to this fact are many, and about as complicated as making a soufflé in an Easy-Bake Oven with no electricity at the 17,200-foot camp on Denali’s west buttress.

Convenience, cost, and consumer demand related to those, are big parts of the equation. It’s also a product of changes in globalization, infrastructure, transportation, supply chains, the increase in corporations and conglomerations vs. privately owned businesses, marketing strategies, subsidies, technologies and growing conditions. It doesn’t break down into an easy recipe, with one part of this to two parts of that, or three tablespoons of this whisked into four cups of that.

The result, however, is quantifiable: In 1955, 55 percent of the food consumed in Alaska was produced in Alaska. Today, a mere 5 percent of the food Alaskans eat is produced in Alaska.

And that, say experts concerned with the health, stability and economy of Alaska, is as bitter a problem as mistaking salt for sugar.

“In 1955 we were pretty self-sufficient, but from 1955 to 2010, we have gone from being self-reliant and independent to completely vulnerable, completely dependent on the next plane,” said Danny Consenstein, director of the Alaska Farm Service Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Consenstein points to three justifications for needing a better local foods system in Alaska:

1. Economics.

“Alaskans spend $2 billion a year on food. Ninety-five percent of that is leaving the state. Imagine if just 10 percent more stayed here — if we went from 5 to 15 percent. That 10 percent is like $200 million dollars that would be bouncing around local communities,” he said. “So the economic potential, I think, is big for Alaska. Why are we sending all of our dollars to Mexico or California when we could be keeping it right here?”

2. Health.

“We clearly have health problems in Alaska — obesity, diabetes, especially in the Bush. It’s got to be connected to the food that we’re eating. If we can provide healthier, fresh, nutritious, local food, it’s got to be good for Alaska,” he said.

3. Security and the ability to be more self-reliant in an emergency. Advances in transportation are part of the reason why Alaska moved more to importing food than producing its own, because it became faster and cheaper to bridge the gap between Alaska and beyond. But that gap still exists, both between the state and the main food-producing regions of the world, as well as within Alaska, with rural communities separated from main distribution hubs. An earthquake, fire, flood, avalanche, volcanic eruption or a number of other uncontrollable events could disrupt supply chains, with grocery stores only stocking enough to feed residents for a few days to, maybe, a week.

“How can Alaska be more prepared for an emergency? It’s a lot more than just stockpiling. It’s strategies like helping farmers grow more food. And maybe that’s a longer-term strategy. It won’t help us tomorrow, but in 10 years from now if we can get from 5 to 15 percent, we will be more secure, more protected against supply disruptions,” Consenstein said.

Getting there will take a homegrown revolution, the seeds of which have already been planted and the budding shoots of which can have taken root on the Kenai Peninsula.

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Juvenile otter rescued on road — Pup was likely looking for separated mother

By Naomi Klouda

Photo courtesy of Alaska Sea-Life Center. A baby sea otter is recovering at the Alaska SeaLife Center after being rescued from a road in Homer last week.

Homer Tribune

A baby female sea otter was rescued from Kachemak Drive on Oct. 17 after it crawled out of Mud Bay on a high tide and motorists found it on the road.

The otter, about 18 inches in length, had apparently become separated from its mother, said Debbie Boege-Tobin, an assistant professor of biology with Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus and a marine mammal stranding volunteer.

“Since otters are typically born in spring-summer, I assumed this would likely be a 4-plus-month-old, and therefore recruited Martin Renner, KBC ornithology adjunct instructor, to assist,” Boege-Tobin said. “When Martin and I arrived on the scene, Lisa Zatz was on site making sure the otter remained safe until someone arrived to assess its condition. I noticed it was quite small/young, likely 2 months old or so, didn’t appear to have any obvious injuries, but was very lethargic.”

Before placing the otter into a kennel, Boege-Tobin assessed her external condition for possible injuries, but didn’t find any apparent problem. She also didn’t get too much of a response. But by the end of the transition, the pup woke up fully and began calling loudly and repeatedly.

“We placed the kennel next to the water’s edge in Mud Bay for a while in hopes it would call in the mother.  Unfortunately, once again we did not observe or hear any sea otters whatsoever in the area,” Boege-Tobin said.

“It’s tough out there for an otter to survive without its mother. Otter mothers do a lot of intense training to prepare them for life at sea.” Since the mother couldn’t be located, it means the otter will have to grow up in aquariums.

Two stranding network volunteers, Mark Tanski, KBC student, and Jennifer Rasche, KBC registration specialist, drove the screaming pup to Soldotna where they met a rescue team from the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.

“Other than being in a cold (you have to keep it cold for the otter) SUV with an otter pup who screamed the entire time, Mark and Jenny made it safely back to Homer and the otter pup made it to the ASLC,” Boege-Tobin said.

At the Alaska Sealife Center, the otter was placed in a new unit called the I.Sea.U, a play on Intensive Care Unit. The center reports the otter pup is doing well, “eating 35 percent of her body weight daily from a bottle, and interacting with enrichment items.”

The otter is between 6 and 8 weeks old and weighs a mere 8 pounds.

The I.Sea.U was designed for sea otters; however, its first residents were two walrus calves recently transported to their new homes at the New York Aquarium and the Indianapolis Zoo on Oct. 10. After a quick reconfiguration, the new animal care space was transformed into a sea otter nursery that can be viewed by visitors to the center through one-way windows. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine placement for the otter. Its stay at the center is expected to be short. Alaskans wishing to see the otter are encouraged to visit before the end of October, according to a report from the I.Sea.U.

“This truly was a community effort,” Boege-Tobin wrote in an e-mail.  Several came out to block or redirect traffic when the otter was in the road, many students, faculty and staff came out while we were at KBC to check on the pup and even airport safety came by on several occasions to ask if they needed help.

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