Daily Archives: October 17, 2012

School board hears pleas — Employees rally for pay, health care benefits

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. LaDawn Druce, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, leads rally participants in a chant during a demonstration in front of the George A. Navarre Borough Building on Monday, before a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.

Redoubt Reporter

The mood outside the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District offices in the George A. Navarre Borough Building at 5:30 p.m. Monday was festive, at times feeling more like a school field trip than a rally to demonstrate the district employees’ willingness to stand up for better pay and health care benefits in ongoing contract negotiations, to the point of being willing to strike.

A tent set up behind the parking lot housed a table full of snacks — cookies, chips, beverages and hot dogs fresh off a grill. A vehicle parked nearby with its hatchback open was stuffed with signs for rally attendees to choose from, with slogans such as, “Fair Contract Now!” “Stand up for Schools,” “Pay it Forward,” “World Class Staff,” “Students are our priority” and, “Honk if you love teachers.”

LaDawn Druce, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, and Margie Warner, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, welcomed the couple hundred rally participants, some of which came by school bus from Seward and Homer.

Two representatives of the Matanuska-Susitna School District’s classified association also attended to show solidarity with their KPBSD colleagues.

Druce leads participants in a few practice chants before taking to Binkley Street in front of the Borough Building.

“Mat-Su feels your pain. We were 400 plus days without a contract, so we know exactly what you’re going through, and we totally agree that you deserve a fair contract, a cost of living wage (increase), and we’re here to support you in any way that we can,” said Lorie Miner, the Mat-Su classified association president.

Ron Fuhrer, president of the National Education Association-Alaska, also attended.

“NEA-Alaska wants you to know that we support KPESA and KPEA members and, unfortunately, this has to occur because of flat funding from the state the last three years, which is unacceptable for the future of our students,” he said. “… The bottom line is, nothing else is flat. The costs increase. We need money from the state Legislature.”

Rally participants were there to make a statement to district administration, the community and the KPBSD Board of Education, meeting inside, that employees want a quick and fair resolution to ongoing contract negotiations, currently in arbitration. The negotiating teams for KPEA and KPESA are proposing that district salaries be linked to the

Participants waved at passing traffic from 5 p.m. to the start of the school board meeting at 7 p.m.

Consumer Price Index for Anchorage, to make sure they keep up with inflation, and that health care costs be split, with the district paying 85 percent and employees 15 percent.

Rally attendees wanted the statement to be seen and heard, so Druce, true to her teacher background, led the crowd in a few practice cheers before sending them to march up and down Binkley Street.

“OK, here we go, here’s some chants. Ready? I always wanted to be a cheerleader, this is my moment. When I say ‘Union’ you say ‘Power.’ Union,” Druce called.

“Power!” the crowd answered.

“OK, that’s excellent. Very good, you’re learning,” she said, to whoops from the crowd.

An hour and a half later, when the board of education meeting convened in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Chambers, the mood was much different. Gone were the jokes, smiles and enthusiastic waves to passing motorists, replaced by emphatic pleas for a resolution to contract negotiations, told in personal stories of financial challenges and tinged with a sense of frustration over not feeling valued and adequately compensated by the district. About 40 people addressed the board, both in person and in the form of letters read by colleagues.

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Beluga aids science — Students help with necropsy of whale found off Nikiski

By Naomi Klouda

Photo courtesy of Dr. Debbie Boege-Tobin. From left, Mark Tanski, Anthony Davis, Dr. Debbie Boege-Tobin, Dr. Kathy Burek-Huntington, Nicole Abeln, Jennifer Anderson and Rachael Rooney stand with a beluga the group will necropsy, as it arrives in Homer.

Homer Tribune

An adult beluga whale male found floating in Cook Inlet on Oct. 4 by the crew aboard the M/V Perseverance is the third dead whale found this summer.

The Cook Inlet Spill Prevention Response tug was underway in Nikiski Bay when Charlie Parish and his crew found it.

“They were in between rig runs, in the course of a day’s work they travel to the platforms to drop off supplies,” said Mike Watson, CISPRI operations manager. “It was simply floating, they saw it and looked it over. It didn’t appear to be dead very long.”

Parish reported the beluga death to the National Marine Fisheries Service stranding network.

“They asked us if we would be willing to recover the whale. The boat has a crane and a large work deck on back, so they were able to load it aboard and brought it to the OSK dock in Nikiski,” Watson said.

Barbara Mahoney, the assistant stranding coordinator for NMFS, called for a necropsy. Kachemak Bay Campus assistant professor of biology Debbie Boege-Tobin and her class were able to drive to Nikiski beach to assist the veterinarian pathologist Kathy Burek-Huntington in the necropsy.

“We were lucky enough that CISPRI reported the whale, and lucky still again that they had the equipment and skills to put it on their deck,” Mahoney said.

If the crew hadn’t brought the beluga to shore, it would have floated the rough Cook Inlet currents until perhaps eventually getting beached. By then, it would be too far decomposed to be useful to the studies looking into what is stressing the endangered Cook Inlet beluga pod.

The Cook Inlet whales, identified as a genetically isolated stock, were listed as endangered in 2008. Their population was estimated to be as many as 1,300 in the late 1970s. Harvest of the whales was stopped in 1995, but their population has continued to decline. The NMFS’s population estimate in June 2011 was 284, down from the June 2010 estimate of 340. The decline has slowed, but the population still has not begun to grow, despite having the added protections — in designation of critical habitat area, for example — that an endangered listing entails.

“We’re looking for causes of death, and overall health of the whales,” Mahoney said.

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Big Sit takes flight — Keen Eye Birders, refuge, put Alaska on bird-a-thon map

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Toby Burke, biologist with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, points out a yellow-rumped warbler to Ken Tarbox, center, and others from the Keen Eye Birders during a Big Sit bird-a-thon at Skilak Lake on Saturday.

Redoubt Reporter

According to the official rules, the Big Sit bird-a-thon is a noncompetitive event.

Still, that didn’t stop the Keen Eye Birders from hypothesizing ways to distinguish themselves from the participating groups in 41 other states across the country, as well as seven other countries, all seeking to identify as many birds as possible from a 17-foot-diamater circle in a one-day event over the weekend.

The Keen Eye Birders designated their viewing circle on the shore of Skilak Lake, at the Lower Skilak Boat Launch. Though they kept eyes, binoculars and ears peeled during their vigil, from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, there are only so many species to be seen in Alaska this time of year, when many migratory birds have already headed south.

“There are some (species) left in Alaska. A lot of the waterfowl are still here — they’re leaving now — and the trumpeter swans are coming through,” said Ken Tarbox of the Keen Eye Birders, at about 1 p.m. Saturday. “We’ve got 23 species so far, but there will be places in the Lower 48 that will have 100-some species.”

Alaska Big Sit participants may not have much chance of posting the highest number of species identified on the designated day — held annually the second weekend of October, with groups choosing either Saturday or Sunday to participate — but they might separate themselves in other ways.

For instance, they perhaps have seen the most dogs in one day, situated, as they were, at the edge of a boat launch with consistent traffic of

Birds weren’t the only creatures at the boat launch for the Big Sit. The refuge held kids’ activities, which drew a good-sized crowd.

sportfishermen launching boats throughout the day, most with a four-legged passenger in their party.

“We’re just sitting here, watching the people, boats and dogs, and some birds,” Tarbox said.

They could very well be the only participating group to get snowed on, as flakes began to fall in the afternoon.

They might be the only group to have a bird nearly land on one of the birdwatchers, when a pair of gray jays — known for their boldness in filching

picnic crumbs and food scraps from campers — found the cookies lying out next to Tarbox’s chair a little too tempting to resist. One dive-bombed the cookie container from its perch atop a sign just behind the birding group, and only aborted its descent at the last second when its trajectory took it a little too close to Tarbox’s head and shoulder.

And they’ve got a good shot at having the youngest participant.

Two gray jays make themselves easy to count, landing on a sign just behind the Big Sit bird watchers.

“We’re claiming the youngest birder on the Big Sit day this year, nationwide. We’ve got one born there on Sept. 27, so we put binoculars to her eyes,” Tarbox said.

“I don’t know, Ken. If you make that a competition, you’ll have women giving birth,” said Toby Burke, a biologist with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which jointly sponsors the Skilak Lake Big Sit event with the Keen Eye Birders. His baby daughter was the youngster of mention. “Do you really want to encourage that?”

Even though the international Big Sit event doesn’t give prizes to groups for recording firsts, onlies or mosts, it’s difficult to pluck all the sense of friendly competition out of birders. That’s part of the fun of birding, after all — seeing how many species one can identify, whether it’s from casual backyard surveys, far-ranging birding expeditions or a lifelong, travel-, time- and expense-intensive passion to add to one’s “life list” of bird sightings.

“I enjoy the people, I enjoy being out and I enjoy just learning more about birds. You’re never too old to learn,” said Linda Story, of Soldotna, who has been involved with the Keen Eye Birders since the group’s inception about 10 years ago.

She classifies herself as a novice birder, primarily watching the visitors to her bird feeders at home. But she enjoys any opportunity to participate in birding group outings and events, like the Big Sit, she said.

“I love going and watching birds. I’m not someone who keeps a list or does that sort of thing, but hanging out with this bunch, I get more and more interested,” she said.

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Old Duck Hunter: Care to spare — Appreciate hunting dogs? Prepare to have home expand to ensure enough pups to go around

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Steve Meyer. Red, an Irish setter, has fit in easily with the rest of his new hunting and home pack, after being adopted from the Kenai Animal Shelter.

There are several reasons one might want to have a spare dog. Of course, if you just really like dogs, then you don’t really need more than that as a good reason to have spares. But in the world of hunting dogs, where oftentimes their performance in the field is the only reason their two-legged hunting partner has any success, it is a bit different.

Someone once said, “They cannot think, they cannot reason, but they can suffer,” when talking about hunting dogs. I remain unconvinced that they cannot, at least in a very primeval way, reason. I’ve seen it too many times in hunting dogs working out problems and seemingly “reasoning” for themselves. I suppose one could argue that until hell freezes over, or at least until we’ve solved the brown bear explosion on the Kenai Peninsula. There is no arguing that dogs suffer, that oftentimes they will not obviously show it and that as their “thinking” partners, we need to pay attention.

After hunting my first English setter, Winchester, in the rugged shale country pursuing Whitetail ptarmigan, it became clear that it wasn’t a matter of if he injured himself, it was a matter of when. These big running dogs attack the country they hunt with intensity that I’ve not seen matched in another domestic living animal. Their prey drive, to find the game centuries of breeding has told them is their mission in life, is astonishing. This desire is seen in many hunting dog breeds. Good Chesapeake retrievers and Labs (and a multitude of others that would get too lengthy to list) are virtually unstoppable on retrieves. Freezing water, breaking ice, swift currents — pick the circumstance and they will go to the point of near death to complete the task at hand.

Back before the setters, my hunting partner and I each had a chocolate Labrador retriever, Jack and Gunner. Jack is one of those dogs who operated on the edge of nowhere. His heart, it turned out, was much bigger and much stronger than his body could take. One day Jack bailed off a high rock cliff in the high country and injured himself. During his recovery it was discovered he had a bone spur, an injury that had a very small chance of success to correct with surgery, and a high probability of leaving him more severely crippled than he already was. With medication and (he loves this) regular back massages, he is happy and gets around home pretty well. But he was never going to hunt again.

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All’s fair view in love, war — Kasilof neighbors get up-close show of bull moose skirmish

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Chelsea Ann Woolcock, http://www.chelseasconfidentcreations.com. Bull moose compete for the attention of a nearby cow in a neighborhood off of North Cohoe Loop Road in Kasilof on Sunday. The moose sparred for a half hour to 45 minutes in easy view of homes and the road.

Redoubt Reporter

Living in a high moose traffic area off North Cohoe Loop Road in Kasilof for the last two and a half years — and in Alaska for 17 — the thrill of seeing moose up close has lost a little of its excitement for Chelsea Ann Woolcock.

That’s bound to happen eventually, when most times she opens her deck door to let her dog out at night there’s a moose within 5 feet of her house.

“This last spring I think the same cow and baby (that are in the neighborhood this year) were in the road and I had to drive slowly while they were running right in front of me. It’s cute and cool but you get so used to it it’s like, ‘Really? I’ve got to get to town. Run in the woods, already,’” Woolcock said.

But Sunday, moose in her neighborhood gave her a renewed sense of awe as she witnessed two bulls spar with each other for a half hour to 45 minutes.

“It was really cool. I was really excited. I couldn’t hardly sleep last night, I kept thinking about it. I didn’t want to come home but I finally left them alone to do their thing,” she said.

Woolcock runs her own graphic design business, Chelsea’s Confident Creations, from home on Fairway off of Cohoe Loop. She was driving home about 6 p.m. Sunday when she saw two bulls, about 4 years old, she estimated, in a neighbor’s yard, slamming their antlers into each other. She figures they were competing for a cow in the area.

Eventually the jousting match broke up, one bull stopped for a snack, while the other headed into the woods in the direction the cow had gone, Woolcock said.

“We see a lot of moose around here, but you don’t get to see stuff like that a lot,” she said.

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Almanac: Cooper Landing pioneers didn’t skimp on cozy craftsmanship

By Clark Fair

Photos courtesy of the Cooper Landing Historical Society. A Forest Service construction crew takes a break in their temporary cook shack along Upper Russian Lake in 1951.

Redoubt Reporter

The three 60-something Cooper Landing men posed for a photograph in the temporary cook shack they had erected along the shore of the northern end of Upper Russian Lake. The roughly rectangular structure was open in front, enclosed with canvas and aluminum on the other three sides, and roofed with log rafters and wooden planks.

Hanging from the log supports were two trout, their bellies slit and guts removed. Behind the men were shelves of mainly canned food and dry goods, cooking supplies, and a calendar for June 1951.

The men — Jack Lean (holding a rifle), Frank Towle (holding two metal plates) and Bill Parchins (holding a coffee cup) — were taking a break from the construction of a Forest Service cabin near the lake. They were building it from native spruce logs, and although it has undergone some renovations over the years, it is the same reservation-only cabin that greets hikers at Mile 12 of the Russian Lakes Trail today.

But it was not the first cabin on this backcountry lake.

Jack Lean (standing) assists Bill Parchins and Frank Towle in the construction of the Forest Service cabin on the Upper Russian Lake in 1951.

Upper Russian Lake, which is split from end to end by the boundaries of the Chugach National Forest to the east and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to the west, was already occupied when construction of the recreational cabin began.

In fact, one of the residents of an earlier cabin on the lake made this notation in her journal on June 30, 1951: “This is our 36th wedding anniversary. Cooked a chicken for the Forestry Crew … and they ordered a case of beer from town.”

In 1939, Luke and Mamie Elwell homesteaded a 40-acre parcel across the lake from where the Forest Service would build 12 years later. There they built their home, which doubled as a hunting and fishing lodge. Visitors came to the Elwells’ lodge from around the world to fish for trophy rainbow trout or to be guided by Luke after big game.

The Elwells, in the their late 40s when they arrived at the lake, hailed from Ohio, where they had met

The Forest Service cabin on Upper Russian Lake gets some visitors in the winter of 1972, showing its ongoing popularity for recreational use.

and eloped at the age of 20, according to Mamie’s great-niece, Abby Everett Tignor, in a fall 2005 Women in the Outdoors article. They shared a love for outdoor adventures, Tignor said, and by the early 1920s they had departed the Midwest for Alaska. Near Fairbanks, they purchased a 160-acre gold-mining claim, which they worked for several years before making sojourns in other remote parts of the territory.

By the time they moved to Upper Russian Lake, they were seasoned veterans of outdoor living. For their first cabin, they used native spruce for the walls and had most of the rest of their building supplies flown in. According to Tignor, Mamie laid the wooden floors, built and hung the doors, and made carvings of local scenes around the ceiling.

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Plugged In: Hard look at what it takes for a good show

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

I had fun writing this week’s article. In addition to our usual tips, tech discussions and camera suggestions, I decided to critique my own autumn-themed photos that remain on exhibit at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center through the end of October.

Taking inspiration from the Redoubt Reporter’s “redoubtable” editor, who regularly and hilariously chronicles her own pratfalls, I tried to take a dispassionate look at my own photo exhibit and whether it fulfilled my intent. I gave myself a B grade.

Mounting a coherent photo exhibit takes quite a bit of prior preparation and thought. This week, I’d like to step through my own process in preparing this exhibit and evaluating whether my intent was fully realized by the photos on display. I’ll only critique my own portion of the exhibit, not the other fine photos in this exhibit by Bill Heath, Rick Cupp and Sue Biggs.

Because digital photography seems so quick and easy, there’s always some unspoken but inherent pressure on photographers to exhibit a great deal of fresh new work in a solo show. In other art forms, like oil painting or sculpture, 12 or so new works is considered a major show. Photo show audiences, though, seem to expect many more pieces.

Realistically, it’s unlikely that anyone will produce several dozen strong images on a consistent basis every year while avoiding cliche. Indeed, Ansel Adams, America’s premier landscape photographer and photographic technician, famously commented that he was lucky to produce a dozen good images a year. First and foremost, I believe, any photographs exhibited publicly should be images that are artistically and technically excellent.

It helps, too, to have images that are pleasing to the eye. Although some modern critics might argue otherwise, beauty is not in itself an artistic sin. Plato, whose philosophy equated truth with beauty, would likely agree that visually pleasing images are to be preferred, all else being equal. So, that’s the first problem, assembling enough good and visually pleasing new work to mount a satisfying show.

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