Daily Archives: October 15, 2008

Fishing for an alternative — Salmon task force ponders commercial permit buyout



By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Discussion of a Cook Inlet commercial fishing permit buyback program at a meeting of the Joint Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force last week ranged from the caveat that any such program would have to include voluntary participation from fishermen to speculation on ways to extinguish the fishery — whether fishermen wanted to be bought out or not.

The bipartisan legislative task force met Thursday in Anchorage with Bruce Twomley, commissioner with the Commercial Fishing Entry Commission.

The task force was formed by the Legislature last spring in response to dwindling salmon returns to rivers in the Susitna River drainage. A Cook Inlet commercial fishing permit buyback program was one of the options the task force was charged with considering, under the idea that reducing the number of commercial fishermen in the inlet would allow more salmon to return to rivers in the northern district.

“There are some very frustrated people from some of their experiences,” said Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla. “I’m speaking of, in this case, sportfishermen. They’re some of my neighbors and friends.”

That result of a buyback on Northern District salmon runs is not a foregone conclusion, however. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, posed the question to Twomley: Would a Cook Inlet permit buyback program increase salmon returns to the Susitna drainage?

“I don’t see how. There isn’t a direct correlation there,” Twomley said. “I mean, the notion of limited entry is it gives managers one variable that they know is under control — they know there’s going to be a certain number of units of gear fishing, and that can help them plan for the fishery.”

It’s the decisions made by in-season fisheries managers that have an impact on salmon returns, not the limited entry commission determining how many permits are in operation, Twomley said.

“We’ve got only limited tools, and our tools give us some limited control over the number of units of gear that can be out there, but all in-season regulations of what those fishermen can do is left to the Board of Fish, and I’m pretty far removed from that,” he said. “So I would not see something we did about the numbers having an immediate effect, because it’s up to people on the other side of that equation.”

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, added that the decisions of in-season fisheries managers are based on meeting in-river escapement goals. Limiting the number of commercial fishermen in the inlet through a buyback program wouldn’t mean more fish get past commercial nets, he said.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s 450 drift permits out there and boats fishing or 300, their overall goal is to harvest enough fish where they meet those escapement goals,” Wagoner said. “And so what you would do with a reduction of the number of permits fishing Cook Inlet, you would increase the production per boat that’s fishing Cook Inlet, even after the reduction of permits.”

The issue of whether a buyback program would be an effective means of increasing salmon runs in the northern district got little more discussion. The task force turned its attention to talk of ways a buyback could be accomplished.

Twomley gave an overview of the drift net and set net commercial salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet. He noted the fisheries have one of the highest levels of participation he’s seen, compared to other fisheries the commission has looked at, with 80 percent or more of the permits being fished. The drift net fishery has 571 permit holders, and grossed an estimated $13 million in the 2007 season. The set net fishery had 738 permit holders and grossed about $10.5 million in 2007. Many of those fishing are Alaskans — 70 percent in the drift net fishery and 82 percent in the set net fishery.

“I found that to be substantial and a respectable figure,” he said.

Attaching a price to those permits for the purpose of a buyback program is difficult to do. Twomley explained that the commission estimates the value of a permit by tracking all permits sold among fishermen and averaging those prices. Currently that figure is $33,300 for a drift net permit at $13,300 for a set net permit. But that doesn’t include all the other investments involved in fishing, including gear, boats and fuel.

“The cost of getting somebody to retire from the fishery could be greater, will likely be greater, than the costs of the figures that I’ve given you,” Twomley said.
The task force chairman, Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, noted that the only commercial fisherman who’s testified to the task force on the matter of buybacks estimated he has $1 million wrapped up in the fishery.

“I think it would be somewhat naive of us to think that someone would be rushing in to sell their permit for $33,000,” he said. “I want to caution, if I could, the committee on the value of it. It’s almost a fair market, it’s what you could get for it.”

Twomley said a buyback program runs the risk of going afoul of the state constitution, which, on one hand, stipulates open access to resources, but on another allows a limited-entry fishery with certain provisions. The Limited Entry Act would allow a buyback if its purpose is to create a well-conserved, economically healthy fishery that allows enough participation to protect those who depend on it, he said.

“To be constitutional, a limited-entry system has to impinge on the open-to-entry principle of the constitution as little as possible. If a limited-entry system goes too far and goes over this constitutional line to become too exclusive, unconstitutional … at that point the state has a duty, and under the statute it’s our responsibility, to put more permits back into the water,” Twomley said.

In answering a question from Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak/Mat-Su, Twomley said that limited-entry permits are a privilege granted by the state, rather than a guaranteed right. At the same time, he said a buyback program under the Limited Entry Act would have to be voluntary, even if it were a private effort created and financed by fishermen.

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, floated some suggestions he termed as hypothetical that would get around the statutory provision requiring enough permits be available to protect those in the fishery. What if a buyback program was offered and everyone wanted to sell — would that extinguish the fishery, or would the state be obligated to offer more permits?

“If all the fishermen in a fishery elected to sell their permits, that could end the matter. And if the fishery were gone, that doesn’t create a constitutional issue, I don’t think. …,” Twomley said. “If all of the participants did not so elect, it would pretty quickly run into the problem of a fishery that might look too exclusive.”
Twomley said he didn’t think it likely all fishermen would want to sell.

“I have known some of those people, and the last thing they want to do is get out of the business. Their families have been in it for years and years,” he said.
Doogan also wanted to know what leeway the Legislature had in revoking the permits of those who didn’t want to sell.

“I’m not proposing this, I simply want to know whether that is an option by itself or an option in conjunction with buying some of the permits and simply removing the privilege of those who choose not to sell,” Doogan said.

Twomley answered that the Legislature has reserved the power to eliminate or modify permits without compensation.

“We’d have to decide whether we wanted to,” Doogan said. “Apparently we have the authority, and the question would become whether or not the Legislature has the desire to extinguish a fishery all or in part by revoking permits.”

Stoltze hypothesized that banning gillnets in the inlet, either through the Legislature or the public by way of the initiative process, might get around the constitutional challenges of a buyback program.

“By initiative, under a conservation measure, could there be a banning of gillnets? That wouldn’t be restricting the permits, just the means and methods (of fishing),” Stoltze said.

It’s theoretically possible, Twomley said, but the findings showing such a move was in the interest of conservation would have to be sound. He suggested consulting the attorney general for a final determination of the issue.

Stoltze speculated that an initiative seeking to ban gillnets might affect the value of commercial permits to the point where fishermen would want to sell.

“That’s not far-fetched. I’ve had people talk about that and I’ve done my best to ramp down that type of sentiment — for now,” Stoltze said.

He said there’s a lot of pent-up frustration over the situation in the northern district and the lack of resolution to it through the legislative process.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Johnson said he understands the topic is contentious, and left the door open for further exploration of the issue.

“We don’t know how many people would step forward if we were to offer a program in Cook Inlet,” he said. “I certainly don’t think we know the effect of it if we moved down that road.”

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Filed under commercial fishing, Cook Inlet, Legislature, salmon

Fishing for an alternative — Salmon task force ponders commercial permit buyout



By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Discussion of a Cook Inlet commercial fishing permit buyback program at a meeting of the Joint Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force last week ranged from the caveat that any such program would have to include voluntary participation from fishermen to speculation on ways to extinguish the fishery — whether fishermen wanted to be bought out or not.

The bipartisan legislative task force met Thursday in Anchorage with Bruce Twomley, commissioner with the Commercial Fishing Entry Commission.

The task force was formed by the Legislature last spring in response to dwindling salmon returns to rivers in the Susitna River drainage. A Cook Inlet commercial fishing permit buyback program was one of the options the task force was charged with considering, under the idea that reducing the number of commercial fishermen in the inlet would allow more salmon to return to rivers in the northern district.

“There are some very frustrated people from some of their experiences,” said Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla. “I’m speaking of, in this case, sportfishermen. They’re some of my neighbors and friends.”

That result of a buyback on Northern District salmon runs is not a foregone conclusion, however. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, posed the question to Twomley: Would a Cook Inlet permit buyback program increase salmon returns to the Susitna drainage?

“I don’t see how. There isn’t a direct correlation there,” Twomley said. “I mean, the notion of limited entry is it gives managers one variable that they know is under control — they know there’s going to be a certain number of units of gear fishing, and that can help them plan for the fishery.”

It’s the decisions made by in-season fisheries managers that have an impact on salmon returns, not the limited entry commission determining how many permits are in operation, Twomley said.

“We’ve got only limited tools, and our tools give us some limited control over the number of units of gear that can be out there, but all in-season regulations of what those fishermen can do is left to the Board of Fish, and I’m pretty far removed from that,” he said. “So I would not see something we did about the numbers having an immediate effect, because it’s up to people on the other side of that equation.”

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, added that the decisions of in-season fisheries managers are based on meeting in-river escapement goals. Limiting the number of commercial fishermen in the inlet through a buyback program wouldn’t mean more fish get past commercial nets, he said.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s 450 drift permits out there and boats fishing or 300, their overall goal is to harvest enough fish where they meet those escapement goals,” Wagoner said. “And so what you would do with a reduction of the number of permits fishing Cook Inlet, you would increase the production per boat that’s fishing Cook Inlet, even after the reduction of permits.”

The issue of whether a buyback program would be an effective means of increasing salmon runs in the northern district got little more discussion. The task force turned its attention to talk of ways a buyback could be accomplished.

Twomley gave an overview of the drift net and set net commercial salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet. He noted the fisheries have one of the highest levels of participation he’s seen, compared to other fisheries the commission has looked at, with 80 percent or more of the permits being fished. The drift net fishery has 571 permit holders, and grossed an estimated $13 million in the 2007 season. The set net fishery had 738 permit holders and grossed about $10.5 million in 2007. Many of those fishing are Alaskans — 70 percent in the drift net fishery and 82 percent in the set net fishery.

“I found that to be substantial and a respectable figure,” he said.

Attaching a price to those permits for the purpose of a buyback program is difficult to do. Twomley explained that the commission estimates the value of a permit by tracking all permits sold among fishermen and averaging those prices. Currently that figure is $33,300 for a drift net permit at $13,300 for a set net permit. But that doesn’t include all the other investments involved in fishing, including gear, boats and fuel.

“The cost of getting somebody to retire from the fishery could be greater, will likely be greater, than the costs of the figures that I’ve given you,” Twomley said.
The task force chairman, Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, noted that the only commercial fisherman who’s testified to the task force on the matter of buybacks estimated he has $1 million wrapped up in the fishery.

“I think it would be somewhat naive of us to think that someone would be rushing in to sell their permit for $33,000,” he said. “I want to caution, if I could, the committee on the value of it. It’s almost a fair market, it’s what you could get for it.”

Twomley said a buyback program runs the risk of going afoul of the state constitution, which, on one hand, stipulates open access to resources, but on another allows a limited-entry fishery with certain provisions. The Limited Entry Act would allow a buyback if its purpose is to create a well-conserved, economically healthy fishery that allows enough participation to protect those who depend on it, he said.

“To be constitutional, a limited-entry system has to impinge on the open-to-entry principle of the constitution as little as possible. If a limited-entry system goes too far and goes over this constitutional line to become too exclusive, unconstitutional … at that point the state has a duty, and under the statute it’s our responsibility, to put more permits back into the water,” Twomley said.

In answering a question from Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak/Mat-Su, Twomley said that limited-entry permits are a privilege granted by the state, rather than a guaranteed right. At the same time, he said a buyback program under the Limited Entry Act would have to be voluntary, even if it were a private effort created and financed by fishermen.

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, floated some suggestions he termed as hypothetical that would get around the statutory provision requiring enough permits be available to protect those in the fishery. What if a buyback program was offered and everyone wanted to sell — would that extinguish the fishery, or would the state be obligated to offer more permits?

“If all the fishermen in a fishery elected to sell their permits, that could end the matter. And if the fishery were gone, that doesn’t create a constitutional issue, I don’t think. …,” Twomley said. “If all of the participants did not so elect, it would pretty quickly run into the problem of a fishery that might look too exclusive.”
Twomley said he didn’t think it likely all fishermen would want to sell.

“I have known some of those people, and the last thing they want to do is get out of the business. Their families have been in it for years and years,” he said.
Doogan also wanted to know what leeway the Legislature had in revoking the permits of those who didn’t want to sell.

“I’m not proposing this, I simply want to know whether that i
s an option by itself or an option in conjunction with buying some of the permits and simply removing the privilege of those who choose not to sell,” Doogan said.

Twomley answered that the Legislature has reserved the power to eliminate or modify permits without compensation.

“We’d have to decide whether we wanted to,” Doogan said. “Apparently we have the authority, and the question would become whether or not the Legislature has the desire to extinguish a fishery all or in part by revoking permits.”

Stoltze hypothesized that banning gillnets in the inlet, either through the Legislature or the public by way of the initiative process, might get around the constitutional challenges of a buyback program.

“By initiative, under a conservation measure, could there be a banning of gillnets? That wouldn’t be restricting the permits, just the means and methods (of fishing),” Stoltze said.

It’s theoretically possible, Twomley said, but the findings showing such a move was in the interest of conservation would have to be sound. He suggested consulting the attorney general for a final determination of the issue.

Stoltze speculated that an initiative seeking to ban gillnets might affect the value of commercial permits to the point where fishermen would want to sell.

“That’s not far-fetched. I’ve had people talk about that and I’ve done my best to ramp down that type of sentiment — for now,” Stoltze said.

He said there’s a lot of pent-up frustration over the situation in the northern district and the lack of resolution to it through the legislative process.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Johnson said he understands the topic is contentious, and left the door open for further exploration of the issue.

“We don’t know how many people would step forward if we were to offer a program in Cook Inlet,” he said. “I certainly don’t think we know the effect of it if we moved down that road.”

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Filed under commercial fishing, Cook Inlet, Legislature, salmon

Right at home — CES assistant fire marshal a familiar face


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Interacting with the community is a large part of the fire marshal’s job at Central Emergency Services, and therefore a major hurdle for anyone stepping into the position.

There’s a learning curve to all of it — conducting building inspections, dealing with other fire and safety agencies, doing outreach in schools, being a media contact, and even the routine facets of a new job, like learning your co-workers’ names and where to go to grab a quick lunch.

That wasn’t a problem for Brad Nelson, the new assistant fire marshal at CES. Getting to know the community is the easy part of being new to the job, as long as he remembers which station he’s going to every day — CES on Binkley Street — and doesn’t succumb to old habits and drive a few miles up the road to the Alaska State Troopers E Detachment post on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Nelson may be new to the CES uniform, but he’s not new to the central peninsula, having been a trooper here from 2001 to the beginning of 2007, some of that time with a K-9 unit, Kazan.

“Ever since we left we always wanted to get back down here,” Nelson said of he and his wife, Rachel. “We loved being here. You name it, we loved it.”

Nelson left the troopers in February 2007 and took a job with Doyon Universal Services on the North Slope doing “you name it,” he said, including being a medic and fire technician. He and his family, which now includes 2-year-old son, Lincoln, and another baby on the way, have been living in Palmer. When the assistant fire marshal position with CES came open this summer, Nelson saw it as a chance to branch further into the fire services field, make the most of his outgoing personality and move back to the peninsula.

“Not only do I get to do the firefighting, which I love, but the fire marshal is involved in all aspects of it,” Nelson said. “It’s the best of everything. I get to go out into the public, which I love to do — I’m not shy in any way, shape or form.”

Fire Marshal Gary Hale wasn’t shy about what he thought of Nelson — he was hired a mere half hour after the job interview.

“I needed somebody who could get off the truck running,” Hale said. “He’s the man. He has a very upbeat and aggressive attitude, which comes along with his credentials. There hasn’t been a task he hasn’t been able to handle or tackle.

“Being familiar with the area is a huge plus, and knowing a lot of the people prior to leaving. People wanted to know, ‘Did you hire Brad?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said. ‘You won’t go wrong. He was the most upbeat individual. You won’t be sorry.’ And that’s the truth.”

After 19 years as fire marshal, Hale is looking toward retirement in a few years and wanted someone he could train to take over the position. He’s sure Nelson is the right choice. So sure, in fact, that when Nelson was wanted for another position in CES, Hale put his foot down.

“I said, basically, ‘Over my dead body. It took this long to get him and you want to steal him for me?’”

Nelson already has a background in firefighting from his time with Doyon and in the Alaska National Guard. He has fire marshal-specific training he still needs to get, like evaluating building plans, but he’s already been put to work teaching a fire extinguisher safety class and the public relations aspects of his job.

“He jumped out of frying plan and into the fire and has had no difficulty,” Hale said.

Nelson’s first week on the job included CES’ annual Fill the Boot fundraising campaign for muscular dystrophy.

“It hasn’t stopped,” Nelson said. “There’s never been a moment where I’m thinking, ‘Man, there’s nothing to do.’ It doesn’t happen. We haven’t been able to stick to a schedule yet. Not a single day.”

That’s fine for Nelson. Organized chaos is a good environment for his “adult ADD,” he said.

And the central peninsula is a good environment for Nelson and his family. He said he and Rachel were hit by that realization at the exact same time when they came down for the job interview.

“When we got out of the car, we said, ‘Yep, this feels right. We’re both home,’” he said. “I’m just so excited to be down here, it’s not even funny.”

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Filed under CES, Soldotna

Complex halibut allocation plan OK’d

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council on Oct. 4 approved a plan to divvy up available halibut in two Alaska regions among commercial and charter fleets.

The council voted 10-1 for the plan in Southeast’s 2C and Southcentral Alaska’s 3A, hoping to set to rest halibut tussles between commercial fishermen and guided recreational anglers. The vote followed three days of often impassioned testimony from both sides, with Kachemak Bay charter boat operators asking the council to not limit their clients to one halibut.

The sole council member voting no, Ed Dersham, said he could not support the plan because it “does not meet the test of fair and equitable.” He is the operator of Dersham’s Fishing Charters in Anchor Point.

The ruling would impact the allocation of halibut caught on charter boats, which in turn causes loss for the thousands of guided recreational anglers who don’t own boats or know dangerous bay waters, a local group says. It would not impact private skiffs and fishermen.

Rex Murphy, of Winter King Charters and a member of the Charter Halibut Task Force, said the multitiered motion with its many amendments was confusing and disappointing. In the end, it was the opposite of a “simple” ruling the task force had requested.

“The bottom line is at certain levels of abundance, the motion proposes different charter-angler limits,” Murphy said Monday. “In Area 3-A, we would be looking at either a two-fish limit or a two-fish with one under the 32-pound limit, what we call the minnow rule. In times of medium abundance, it would either be the minnow rule or a one-fish bag limit. In times of low abundance we would have a one-fish bag limit. In times of super low abundance we would have a one-fish bag limit with modifications by the council.”

The minnow rule is one fish any size and one fish under 32 inches. A 32-inch fish is 11 pounds, head off and gutted, Murphy said.

The council wanted to reach a decision that wouldn’t involve revisiting the halibut allocation issue each year, Murphy said. The Charter Halibut Task Force had recommended that when abundance is low, that all sectors take reductions, Murphy said.

Commercial catch numbers for the 3A area in 2007, including Cook Inlet and Kodiak waters, was 25.9 million pounds of halibut.

Guided recreational anglers brought in 79,560 fish in waters from Anchor Point to Homer in 2006, according to information supplied by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer, for 2006.

The task force is still studying the council’s ruling for ramifications, Murphy said. It will not go into effect for at least two years, having now to go to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval, then to the Secretary of Commerce.
Ocean Hunter Charters Capt. Keith Kalke feels the council leans toward commercial fishing interests.
“That’s the fox guarding the hen house,” he said.

Only one member of the 11 voters on the council is a charter boat operator while six are commercial fishermen.

In reality, charter boat operators are something of a glorified taxi driver, Kalke said, for the many who can’t afford to buy their own fishing vessels. Cutting to one halibut for charter boats – not private boats – would create some hazardous situations, he said. Inexperienced people would be heading out on rough waters to get their catch. It’s also discriminatory against individual anglers when everyone should have access to federal waters and halibut jointly owned by all, he said.

“The waters throughout the Gulf and Cook Inlet are dangerous waters. A lot of people don’t feel safe trying it. We’re the safest outlet for fishing. A lot of people can’t afford to buy their own boats,” Kalke said.

There’s also concern that charter boat operators from 2A, in times of lower halibut allocation numbers, would move over to 3C. That would stress harvests in Kachemak waters, Murphy said, and trigger allocation reductions.

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Filed under Cook Inlet, fishing

Polar mystery rocks! Class wrapped up in missing artifacts case






By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

An excited, boisterous group of eighth-graders in the first-period language arts class at Kenai Middle School became suddenly subdued Thursday when Assistant Principal Vaughn Dosko arrived with a police officer.

Dosko apologized for the interruption, then pulled aside co-teachers Cyndi Romberg and Allan Miller to explain he had just received a rather disturbing e-mail from the London Museum. The students in the class, who had just been discussing an upcoming writing project, made no pretense of minding their own business.

As some of the students eyeballed Officer Mitch Langseth, Dosko read the e-mail aloud; it said, in essence, that Kenai Middle School was in possession of museum property that had been taken without proper authorization, and that the museum wanted the property returned immediately.

INTERPOL, the international criminal police organization, had asked the Kenai Police Department to dispatch Officer Langseth to make certain that the transfer of property took place.

The property in question was an emperor penguin egg, preserved from a 1911 Antarctic expedition. According to the e-mail, the egg had been packaged with an assortment of polar rocks in a wooden crate and shipped by the National Science Foundation to the school to help the students with their study of polar science and provide them with more information for their writing project.

Only the day before, the students had arranged the rocks, the egg and other related items in a display case in the hallway just outside the classroom. When the students and teachers followed Dosko and Langseth out to retrieve the egg, they discovered inside the locked case an empty space where the egg had been. A few of the polar rocks also were missing.

Although some of the students were immediately skeptical, wondering aloud whether this was just an elaborate ruse perpetrated by Miller and Romberg, an in-class investigation took place. Officer Langseth openly questioned students as their worried teachers scrambled to provide helpful evidence.
With the students’ help, Langseth determined that the last time anyone had seen the egg in the case was 2:45 p.m. the previous day. It was also clear that the fingerprints of nearly every member of the class could be found on the glass of the case. Who then, Langseth wanted to know, could get into the case without breaking it?

Principal Paul Sorenson became a suspect because he was an avid rock collector and had a key to the case.

“He was really, really interested in it!” called out one student.

Dosko himself was a suspect because he loved birds and also had a key.

Another student suspected school custodians, “because they have keys to everything.”

Also called into question were several teachers, including Miller and Romberg. And one student even brought up the notion of a conspiracy against Miller by someone he might have angered at the NSF.
Just before class ended, Officer Langseth wrapped up the display case with a ribbon of yellow crime tape, and Dosko encouraged the students to keep their eyes and ears open for information that might lead to the recovery of what Miller had termed a “priceless” artifact.

Even if the whole egg disappearance was just a prank, Dosko said, no one would be prosecuted if the egg was returned by the end of the school day.

“No questions asked,” he said.

The truth, however, was that most of what the students had been told during first period was a lie.
The rocks were really polar rocks and had really been sent to the class several weeks earlier by the NSF, which had provided the grant money for this English/science/Quest amalgam that 12 schools in Alaska were running in conjunction with 12 schools in Tasmania, Australia.

The emperor penguin egg, on the other hand, was a model, and its theft was a hoax, which the students would discover only after being worked up a little more the following day. After more questions and accusations from students Friday, Debbie Harris, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District arts specialist, wandered into the classroom with a bag containing all of the missing items.

“She came in and said, ‘Oh, hey, I’m returning these,” as if her possession of the items was no big deal, said 13-year-old Madison Cunningham.

Harris claimed that, since she was going to be helping the class with the artwork on their writing project, she “borrowed” the rocks and the egg to do some sketches. She had been out of the building on Thursday when all the fuss had occurred.

Krystal Hamman, 14, who later called Miller the “best fake crier” for his Thursday performance, said that his demeanor changed completely upon Harris’ arrival Friday.

“Mr. Miller started giggling like a school girl when she came in,” she said. “And then they told us everything.”

Hamman and Cunningham said the class was mad at first.

“They’re all role models, and they’re not supposed to lie,” Cunningham said.

But she acknowledged that, even though the teachers had been “tricky” and “kind of mean,” they had created a “cool experience.”

Once they stopped laughing, Miller and Romberg explained they had been trying to introduce the students to the idea of a polar mystery, which was what their writing project with Tasmania would entail.

The project is based on a 2005 pilot program in Australia that produced a book entitled “Hidden Secrets of Skull Island,” which was written entirely by sixth-grade students and is replete with student artwork. At the end of the book is a photograph of all the students who worked on the project and a listing of their names.

Key to the “Skull Island” book and these current efforts is the use of polar science both as an integral part of the mystery and an opportunity to educate readers. Generally speaking, Miller will guide the science aspects of the project, Romberg the language/writing aspects, and Harris the artistic aspects.
According to a press release, the ultimate goal is to use art and creative writing to foster an increase in student engagement in science and technology, and establish exciting new ways for teachers to explore all three disciplines.

For the current effort, 12 books will be created, at first online. The best of these e-books will be turned into hard copies and published. The progress of the books’ creation can be viewed on a project Web site, found at http://iem.tmag.tas.gov.au/.

Of the 12 Alaska elementary and middle schools involved, two hail from the Kenai Peninsula: KMS and McNeil Canyon Elementary near Homer. Of the 10 others, four are in North Pole, four in or near Fairbanks, and two in villages near Bethel.

The KMS students will be working with students at Woodbridge District School, sending sections of their book back and forth with the goal of completing the project by December, when schools in Tasmania dismiss for summer vacation.

Hamman said she was looking forward to the writing portion of the project. “I’m used to writing on my own, but I’m looking forward to meeting new people in an educational way,” she said.

Cunningham, who said that on Friday she was “kind of disappointed” that her class would not be involved in “a whole CSI thing,” is ready now to start on the mystery.

“The first day, I went home and said, ‘Mom, guess what! We’re going to be writing a book!”

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Filed under education, science

Polar mystery rocks! Class wrapped up in missing artifacts case






By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

An excited, boisterous group of eighth-graders in the first-period language arts class at Kenai Middle School became suddenly subdued Thursday when Assistant Principal Vaughn Dosko arrived with a police officer.

Dosko apologized for the interruption, then pulled aside co-teachers Cyndi Romberg and Allan Miller to explain he had just received a rather disturbing e-mail from the London Museum. The students in the class, who had just been discussing an upcoming writing project, made no pretense of minding their own business.

As some of the students eyeballed Officer Mitch Langseth, Dosko read the e-mail aloud; it said, in essence, that Kenai Middle School was in possession of museum property that had been taken without proper authorization, and that the museum wanted the property returned immediately.

INTERPOL, the international criminal police organization, had asked the Kenai Police Department to dispatch Officer Langseth to make certain that the transfer of property took place.

The property in question was an emperor penguin egg, preserved from a 1911 Antarctic expedition. According to the e-mail, the egg had been packaged with an assortment of polar rocks in a wooden crate and shipped by the National Science Foundation to the school to help the students with their study of polar science and provide them with more information for their writing project.

Only the day before, the students had arranged the rocks, the egg and other related items in a display case in the hallway just outside the classroom. When the students and teachers followed Dosko and Langseth out to retrieve the egg, they discovered inside the locked case an empty space where the egg had been. A few of the polar rocks also were missing.

Although some of the students were immediately skeptical, wondering aloud whether this was just an elaborate ruse perpetrated by Miller and Romberg, an in-class investigation took place. Officer Langseth openly questioned students as their worried teachers scrambled to provide helpful evidence.
With the students’ help, Langseth determined that the last time anyone had seen the egg in the case was 2:45 p.m. the previous day. It was also clear that the fingerprints of nearly every member of the class could be found on the glass of the case. Who then, Langseth wanted to know, could get into the case without breaking it?

Principal Paul Sorenson became a suspect because he was an avid rock collector and had a key to the case.

“He was really, really interested in it!” called out one student.

Dosko himself was a suspect because he loved birds and also had a key.

Another student suspected school custodians, “because they have keys to everything.”

Also called into question were several teachers, including Miller and Romberg. And one student even brought up the notion of a conspiracy against Miller by someone he might have angered at the NSF.
Just before class ended, Officer Langseth wrapped up the display case with a ribbon of yellow crime tape, and Dosko encouraged the students to keep their eyes and ears open for information that might lead to the recovery of what Miller had termed a “priceless” artifact.

Even if the whole egg disappearance was just a prank, Dosko said, no one would be prosecuted if the egg was returned by the end of the school day.

“No questions asked,” he said.

The truth, however, was that most of what the students had been told during first period was a lie.
The rocks were really polar rocks and had really been sent to the class several weeks earlier by the NSF, which had provided the grant money for this English/science/Quest amalgam that 12 schools in Alaska were running in conjunction with 12 schools in Tasmania, Australia.

The emperor penguin egg, on the other hand, was a model, and its theft was a hoax, which the students would discover only after being worked up a little more the following day. After more questions and accusations from students Friday, Debbie Harris, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District arts specialist, wandered into the classroom with a bag containing all of the missing items.

“She came in and said, ‘Oh, hey, I’m returning these,” as if her possession of the items was no big deal, said 13-year-old Madison Cunningham.

Harris claimed that, since she was going to be helping the class with the artwork on their writing project, she “borrowed” the rocks and the egg to do some sketches. She had been out of the building on Thursday when all the fuss had occurred.

Krystal Hamman, 14, who later called Miller the “best fake crier” for his Thursday performance, said that his demeanor changed completely upon Harris’ arrival Friday.

“Mr. Miller started giggling like a school girl when she came in,” she said. “And then they told us everything.”

Hamman and Cunningham said the class was mad at first.

“They’re all role models, and they’re not supposed to lie,” Cunningham said.

But she acknowledged that, even though the teachers had been “tricky” and “kind of mean,” they had created a “cool experience.”

Once they stopped laughing, Miller and Romberg explained they had been trying to introduce the students to the idea of a polar mystery, which was what their writing project with Tasmania would entail.

The project is based on a 2005 pilot program in Australia that produced a book entitled “Hidden Secrets of Skull Island,” which was written entirely by sixth-grade students and is replete with student artwork. At the end of the book is a photograph of all the students who worked on the project and a listing of their names.

Key to the “Skull Island” book and these current efforts is the use of polar science both as an integral part of the mystery and an opportunity to educate readers. Generally speaking, Miller will guide the science aspects of the project, Romberg the language/writing aspects, and Harris the artistic aspects.
According to a press release, the ultimate goal is to use art and creative writing to foster an increase in student engagement in science and technology, and establish exciting new ways for teachers to explore all three disciplines.

For the current effort, 12 books
will be created, at first online. The best of these e-books will be turned into hard copies and published. The progress of the books’ creation can be viewed on a project Web site, found at http://iem.tmag.tas.gov.au/.

Of the 12 Alaska elementary and middle schools involved, two hail from the Kenai Peninsula: KMS and McNeil Canyon Elementary near Homer. Of the 10 others, four are in North Pole, four in or near Fairbanks, and two in villages near Bethel.

The KMS students will be working with students at Woodbridge District School, sending sections of their book back and forth with the goal of completing the project by December, when schools in Tasmania dismiss for summer vacation.

Hamman said she was looking forward to the writing portion of the project. “I’m used to writing on my own, but I’m looking forward to meeting new people in an educational way,” she said.

Cunningham, who said that on Friday she was “kind of disappointed” that her class would not be involved in “a whole CSI thing,” is ready now to start on the mystery.

“The first day, I went home and said, ‘Mom, guess what! We’re going to be writing a book!”

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Filed under education, science

Dressed for success — Shoppers showing support for Palin




By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Gov. Sarah Palin’s legions of supporters are proud of her bid to be the next vice president of the United States, and they want to show it.

Several retailers on the central Kenai Peninsula want to help them make that message clear, so they’re stocking up on a type of merchandise they’ve never carried before: political endorsements.

T-shirts, buttons and even candy endorsing the Palin-John McCain bid for the White House are being sold in stores in the area.

“They’re actually doing very well,” said Camberly Jackson, assistant manager of Thompson Log Gift and Jewelry in Soldotna. “People are coming in and buying them and sending them out of town to family.”

The store carries four styles of Palin T-shirts: one that says, “Our Mama Beats Your Obama,” another that says, “McCain-Palin, Alaska’s Ticket,” a shirt with Palin’s quote about hockey moms, pit bulls and lipstick, and another saying Alaska is the coldest state with the hottest governor.

Jackson said the store got its first shipment of shirts in September and has had to reorder more — 24 of each style of shirt — two times.

“They sell very well,” she said.

Thompson Log Gift and Jewelry carries a wide variety of Alaska-related shirts and merchandize, but the Sarah stuff is a first, in that it endorses a political candidate.

“That would not be something we would probably advertise, but, you know, because the governor is such a big thing for the state,” Jackson said. “They all seem to do well, just anything that says ‘Palin’ on it, pretty much.”

Jackson said the store will continue to sell the shirts as long as there’s demand for them.
“We’ll see how she does in the election. It just depends, I guess,” she said.

Sweeney’s in Soldotna has Palin shirts, buttons and candy for sale.

“We got the T-shirts in the middle of September. We got some and we’ve reordered, so I would say they’re doing OK, especially the dark colors,” said owner Mike Sweeney.

Sweeney said he promotes voting, but not usually a specific candidate. Unless you count a window display he had in the early 1990s, promoting himself as a candidate for the Legislature. That was a spoof, however, with him running on a platform of benefits for seniors and tax breaks for clothiers.

The governor is another exception.

“Palin, with her being the governor of Alaska and there’s a lot of interest in her, so I thought, why not?” Sweeney said.

Thompson Log Gift and Sweeney’s order their shirts from Alaska Serigraphics in Anchorage. David Powers, owner, said the company created the shirts to supply retailers, and also sells them over the counter in Anchorage.

“In the first three weeks, four weeks, it was crazy,” he said. “We couldn’t do our own business because we were selling so many over-the-counter Sarah retail shirts. It was terrible, but terrible in the good way.”

He estimated they sold 1,000 shirts over the counter in the first two weeks the shirts were available after Palin was named McCain’s running mate.

“We had one of our best months of the year when it should have been one of our slowest months,” he said.

The company sends the shirts all over the country and world. Sales have slowed somewhat as “Sarah has become kind of old news up here,” he said, but they’re still popular.

“It’s such a novelty, and it’s one moment in Alaska’s history, so I think it’s pretty neat,” Powers said.

Alaska Serigraphics has capitalized on other notable Alaska events, as well. They’ve created shirts commemorating Mount Augustine’s eruption — “Kick ash” — and shirts about Binky the polar bear attacking people at the Anchorage Zoo. They’ve also done shirts about the Exxon oil spill and donated the money from sales to the Cordova fishermen’s fund, and donated money from sales of Sept. 11 shirts to the Red Cross.
“For Sarah, we’re not donating it to Sarah,” Powers said.

Alaska Serigraphics also makes shirts promoting Democratic candidate Barack Obama — “Barack the Vote” — and a shirt that says “WASP” in blue glitter — Women Against Sarah Palin.

Those haven’t been as popular, however.

On Monday, Harold Cockroft, of Soldotna, walked out of Trustworthy Hardware in Soldotna wearing a blue “Our Mama Beats Your Obama” shirt. He said his wife, Ida, told him to get Sarah shirts, which he bought at Homestead Jewelers and Gifts in Soldotna.

“I like Sarah, absolutely. Don’t you?” Cockroft said.

He’s proud to display his support for the governor and bristles at the opposition she’s received in the media.

“People are trying to make her out to be something she’s not,” he said.

He said he’s received nothing but positive comments when he’s worn his shirt.

“Nobody hit me or anything yet,” he said. “They better not, or I’ll get Sarah on their butt.”

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Filed under business, Gov. Sarah Palin