Monthly Archives: October 2009

Bear death under scrutiny — Investigation into roadside shooting continues

By Jenny NeymanPhoto courtesy of Russell Hepner. Unidentified hunters stand near a brown bear shot alongside the Sterling Highway near Cooper Landing on Oct. 3. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports the incident is still under investigation.

Redoubt Reporter

Three weeks after seeing a brown bear shot by the side of the Sterling Highway near the Russian River Ferry, Jerry Holly said the incident is still eating at him, and he wants to know why the situation developed as it did.

“I’ve never seen such a fiasco in my life as this was. I don’t know what other words to use, other than just an absolute joke,” Holly said. “I have no trouble with hunting and I’m an avid hunter myself. But if that was hunting, I’m a jet pilot. That’s just absolutely ridiculous.”

Bruce Woods, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife in Anchorage, said the incident is still under investigation, and he can’t release information about it until the investigation is concluded.

Holly, a contractor in Soldotna, said he couldn’t imagine how the situation didn’t violate some sort of regulation or law, considering the multiple threats to public safety involved.

Holly and his wife were driving to Cooper Landing the afternoon of Oct. 3. As they passed a bend in the highway bordering a treeless slope down to the Kenai River, they saw the area mobbed with people — cars parked along the side of the road and in a pull-off area just before the slope, and people with cameras standing along the guardrail looking down at the river.

Must be a bear, Holly figured. Being a longtime central Kenai Peninsula resident, since 1958, and an avid hunter and fisherman, he’s seen enough bears that he wasn’t motivated to stop and join the crowd. An hour and a half later, after shooting scenic pictures for a photography class assignment and picking up a Kenworth dump truck from a job site his construction company was working at in Cooper Landing, Holly and his wife headed back to Soldotna.

As they neared the same highway bend, they saw it still choked with people. An Alaska State Troopers car with two troopers was on the scene this time, attempting to manage traffic. Troopers motioned for traffic to stop, with Holly in the dump truck at the head of the mounting column of traffic in the left-hand lane, and his wife in the car behind him.

About 100 feet in front of him, people started backing up from the guardrail and heading for their cars.

“So I go, ‘Aha, here comes Mr. Bear,’” Holly said.

It was a good-sized, male brown bear, Holly said. Fish and Game has described it as a subadult male.

“He steps up on the road, looks over my direction and troopers’, looks at the people backing up. They decide to run. That triggered Mr. Bear and he goes about maybe 10 or 15 feet toward them, and I mean a bear can move. He was not going on no mission here, he just took off on a little bit of a gait,” Holly said.

The bear stopped, turned and walked back along the guardrail toward where Holly was parked, then turned and looked across the road at the 75- to 100-foot rocky slope leading up to tree line, Holly said. He started heading up the slope, and troopers turned on their siren, probably to encourage the bear to leave the area, Holly figured.

About that time, two hunters in camouflage carrying rifles came running along the guardrail from the pullout where traffic was parked.

Holly is a longtime rifle and bowhunter, a member of the National Rife Association and taught a youth competitive rifle club for nine years. He’s supportive of hunting, but was incredulous that these men were going to shoot under these conditions, he said.

“It was embarrassing to watch that, totally embarrassing. The ethics of a bowhunter are so much different than this. I mean, you don’t even take a shot unless you’re totally confident and sure that you’re going to place that arrow. And these guys are running and dropping a knee, and all these people, all these tourists and all these cameras around,” Holly said. “Anybody trying to get a shot off when you’re running and your heart’s pumping, it’s not only dangerous, it’s poor sportsmanship. I can’t think of enough adjectives to tell you what that does to your aim. You don’t want to be placing bad shots.”

Troopers were standing next to the hunters as they took aim at the bear, which had paused on the edge of tree line, Holly said.

“I thought maybe at this point that they had actually given them permission, or maybe they called for these guys. I was really amiss as to where these guys even came from,” Holly said. “They (troopers) certainly didn’t prevent these guys from dropping to a knee.” Continue reading


Filed under bears, hunting, outdoors, public safety, wildlife

Baby steps — Girl’s condition improves with brain surgery

By Jenny Neyman

Emily Jacobs Web

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Marcia Jacobs looks at a book of Disney fairies with her daughter, Emily, in their Soldotna home Friday. Emily suffers from Chiari malformation of the brain and had to undergo brain surgery earlier this month to relieve pressure on her brain stem. Jacobs said Emily has been doing better since they got home Oct. 13.

Redoubt Reporter

At 2 years old, Emily Jacobs can count to 14. She can name all the Disney fairies. She can tell you about the sun being up and going down. She can point out a shark — “aaah!” — and a kitty — “so cute.” She can look at a syringe and tell you it’s for medicine — “icky.”

What she can’t yet do isn’t measured in terms of cognitive or educational milestones, like counting to 20 or writing the alphabet. It’s more basic than that.

She can’t swallow thin liquids without choking. She can’t toddle down the hallway without resembling a pinball careening into the walls. She can’t quite sleep through the night without waking up in pain. She can’t look forward to a childhood without the very real possibility of needing major brain surgery.

In June, Emily was diagnosed with Chiari malformation of the brain, where space in the lower rear portion of the skull is smaller than normal. Some people live with the condition symptom-free for their entire lives. But in Emily’s case, the base of her brain is compressed and her cerebellum is putting pressure directly on the top of her brain stem. The pressure has restricted cerebrospinal fluid flow around her brain, and the excess pressure has forced a hole in her spine where the fluid is leaking out into her spinal column.

Emily has been sick almost from birth, showing signs of increased intracranial pressure that her mother, Marcia Jacobs, of Soldotna, recognized all too well. Jacobs’ first child, Anjuli, died of brain cancer in 2001 at 4 years old.

In May, Jacobs took Emily to Children’s Hospital in Seattle, where Anjuli was treated. Doctors told her Emily would need brain surgery to remove part of the base of her skull to relieve the pressure. It’s a massive, risky surgery, involving taking patches of bone from elsewhere in the skull and cauterizing the cerebellar tonsils, a portion of the cerebellum shaped like the tonsils in the neck, at the base of the brain. The risk of infection, paralysis and even death are greater the younger the patient is, so Emily’s doctors wanted to wait until she was 3 to try it. She turned 2 on June 10. Continue reading

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Haunting memories — ‘Nantiinaq’ sightings, spirits led to desertion of Native village

By Naomi KloudaPhoto provided. Malania Helen Kehl, Nanwalek’s eldest resident, remembers the unsettling events that led to the desertion of Port Chatham on the southern Kenai Peninsula.

Homer Tribune

Malania Helen Kehl, Nanwalek’s eldest resident, is frequently called upon around the village to impart her memories of how life used to be on this southernmost tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

Among her remembrances are medicines used to heal the sick and ways of preserving sea lion meat in barrels for winter. She also is one of the last to tell the ghostly story of how the village of Port Chatham came to be deserted; why the abandoned town was shunned, and those who once lived there vowed never to return.

Kehl was born Jan. 25, 1934, at Port Chatham, then a small village founded at the edge of a peaceful moorage. The village once offered shelter for many people, including Capt. Nathaniel Portlock’s ship on his 1786 Alaska expedition. But when Kehl was a baby, the family abruptly moved away from Chatham, leaving the house and every board of its frame behind.

What frightening situation caused John and Helen Romanoff to take their children and flee to Nanwalek?

“We left our houses and the school, and started all new here,” Kehl said in a recent interview, speaking in her traditional Sugt’stun through translator Sally Ash. “There was plentiful land here for gardening and people. My parents built a house on the beach.”

What had frightened Kehl’s parents hadn’t been a single event. Over a “long period of time,” a Nantiinaq (Nan-te-nuk) — or big, hairy creature — was reportedly terrorizing villagers. And Kehl also told of the spirit of a woman dressed in draping black clothes that would come out of the cliffs.

“Her dress was so long she would drag it,” Kehl said. “She had a very white face and would disappear back into the cliffs.”

The goose-bumped terror felt when people encountered these spirits was nothing compared to what happened to Kehl’s godfather. He was working on a boat in 1931, when someone or something hit him over the head with a winch. The blow reportedly killed him instantly.

Kehl isn’t the only one to tell of strange events at Port Chatham. Port Graham Elder, Simeon Kvasnikoff, said he remembers when Nantiinaq was blamed for the disappearance of a gold miner.

“This one guy over there had a little place where he was digging for gold,” Kvasnikoff said. “He went up there one time and never came back. No one found any sign of him.” Continue reading

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Cheers to fall — Central peninsula breweries tap into special beers

Editor’s note: Thanks to Kassik’s, Kenai River and St. Elias for kindly sharing their craft, time and knowledge for this story, and to Bill Howell, home brewer and adjunct professor of a beer appreciation class at Kenai Peninsula College, starting in January, for lending his palate and opinions. Hey — reporters get to have a little fun now and again, too. Cheers!

By Jenny Neyman

beer Kenai River brews Web

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai River Brewing Co. has new beers out for fall, including a Winter Warlock, left, and a Skilak Scottish.

Redoubt Reporter

Fall flowing into winter can bring seasonal changes of which Alaskans are not too fond — slippery roads, increasing darkness, higher heating bills. But for those who enjoy craft beers, the turn in seasons is to be celebrated on the central Kenai Peninsula, because that’s when local brewers start pouring their specialty, experimental and labor-of-love-intensive beers.

Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop, Kenai River Brewing Co. and St. Elias Brewing Co. all brought seasonal beers on tap this October, with more planned in November and December. In the summer, brewers hustle to keep up with increasing demand, making sure the supply of staple, popular, familiar brews don’t run dry. Being busy is a good problem to have, but it means brewers have little time or tank space to devote to experimental projects, new recipes or more labor-intensive creations.

So for brewers, summer is for indulging the growing mass appeal of craft beers, whereas fall is where they can really let their creativity flow. And it often flows into more robust, potent beers.

beer St. Elias Bill Zach Web

Bill Howell, left, and Zach Henry, brewer at St. Elias Brewing Co. in Soldotna, discuss Henry’s new seasonal ales Saturday. Fall and winter is when brewers have a chance to indulge their more creative sides.

“A big reason I put these kinds of beer on in the wintertime is because I have time to brew them,” said Doug Hogue, of Kenai River Brewing Co. in Soldotna. “In the summertime, we’re brewing our standard beers that are in distribution, and then with selling them out the door, it’s just so hard to do any kind of a specialty batch. So we have to take advantage of it in the winter. It’s nice when we can do some of these bigger ones that we can tuck back, and then if we want to bring them on in the summertime, we have that opportunity. And being like a bigger-alcohol beer, it’s easier to drink in the wintertime, I think. Because you’re just sitting around the fire drinking a little bit of beer.” Continue reading

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Hollowing Halloween — Local sculptor to hone talents on giant pumpkin

By Jenny Neyman

pumpkin carving 08 Web

Photo courtesy of the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Tlingit carver Benjamin Schleifman creates a Native design in J.D. Megchelson’s giant pumpkin last year at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

Redoubt Reporter

A jack-o’-lantern won’t  do for this job. An extraordinary pumpkin requires an extraordinary design.

That’s the attitude Kenai sculptor Joy Falls will use to approach the 319-pound pumpkin she’ll be carving at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center this week.

“I’m a sculptor and it will be sculptural. Kind of a 3-D character. It’s too wonderful a pumpkin to just make a jack-o’-lantern out of it,” Falls said.

Beyond that, though, she wouldn’t tip her hand about what design she’ll be creating.

“I think you’d better be surprised. You’ll just have to come take a look,’ she said.

The pumpkin was grown by master horticulturist J.D. Megchelson, of Nikiski, who has been producing giant pumpkins for the Alaska State Fair — and winning state titles for his efforts — for years.

An off growing season this year resulted in a smaller-than-usual pumpkin for the state fair weigh-off. Well, small by Megchelson’s standards. It’s a mere 319 pounds, versus previous years’ pumpkins that have tipped the scales at over 500 pounds.

Having a somewhat smaller specimen may actually be beneficial for Falls, though, since it’s got a more rounded, typically pumpkinlike shape and smoother outer skin than the more giant, giant pumpkins generally do. Continue reading

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Almanac: Ready to rumble — Kenai was grounds for Evel vs. Awful, Peninsula Clarion vs. Cheechako News

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

The comparisons were obvious and understandable. Evel Knievel, famed daredevil motorcycle rider, planned to jump over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho on Sept. 8, 1974. The previously unknown Awful Knawful, on the other hand, planned to jump over Beaver Creek in Kenai three weeks later, on Sept. 29, 1974.

Knievel planned to make his jump in a two-wheeled, steam-powered vehicle that he had painted red, white and blue and dubbed the X-1 Skycycle. Knawful, whose budgetary considerations forced him into a slightly lower-tech operation, planned to make his jump on a three-wheeled, specially designed tricycle. Both would take off from a ramp — Knievel’s aimed skyward, and Knawful’s pointed down.

For publicity, Knievel hired Bob Arum’s company, Top Rank Productions (which usually promoted boxing matches), to put the event on closed-circuit television and to arrange all the financing for the jump itself. Knawful employed his press agent, Royce Adams, to get the word out, and subsequently a brief article promoting the jump appeared on the front page of The Cheechako News three days before the event.

The Cheechako promo ended with this ringing endorsement from Adams: “This is no joke. A special ramp is being built for the jump.”

Knievel hired aeronautical engineer Doug Malewicki to build the X-1 Skycycle, which was powered by an engine built by former Aerojet engineer Robert Truax. After a test launch in 1972, Truax built a second Skycycle, dubbed the X-2, which is the vehicle Knievel climbed into on Sept. 8, two years later. Knawful used assistants, too. He employed Joe Ross as his engineer, and had Harry Axson, Jay Lietzke and Mike French construct a 64-foot-long, 20-feet-high wooden ramp from which to launch his attempt.

Knievel launched at 3:36 p.m., Mountain Daylight Time. As a huge television audience watched, the steam that powered the Skycycle engine was superheated to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and the force of the blastoff created immediate problems.

The drogue parachute deployed too soon because the bolts holding its cover stripped out, and the subsequent drag did not allow the rocket to land properly, even though the X-2 made it the full three-quarters of a mile across the canyon to the north rim. Instead, the chute caused the rocket to drift backward, and it landed on the riverbank on the same side from which it had been launched.

Knawful launched at about noon, Alaska Daylight Time. In front of a crowd that may have been generously estimated at 300 onlookers, Knawful got rolling. Continue reading

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Filed under Almanac, history, homesteaders

Science of the Seasons: Winding waterways — Streams don’t stick to the straight and narrow

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

meander Swanson 012 Web

Photo courtesy of David Wartinbee. A section of the Swanson River in early spring shows common asymmetrical meander patterns, as well as a number of crescent-shaped old “oxbow” channels. Some are old oxbows, while a fairly recent cutoff is shown in the upper portion.

Last week I flew over the Caribou Hills and spent some time looking at the headwaters of Deep Creek and the Ninilchik River. Along the way I took a couple pictures of stream meanders in another area and I got to thinking about what that picture was telling me. Meander patterns are found in rivers and streams all over the world, so there must be some things they all have in common.

Meanders are the undulations of a stream back and forth across an imaginary line that goes straight downhill. Generally, the slower a stream moves, because of a shallow gradient, the more frequently the stream meanders. Of course, that is assuming the substrate material and discharge rates are uniform.

When the stream makes a loop to one side, crosses the downhill line and makes a loop back to the other side, it is called the meander length. Faster rivers have longer meander lengths than slower rivers. It turns out that this meander length is somewhat predictable and is usually 10 to 14 times the bank-full width of the stream. So, if we know how wide the stream would be during high water, we can take a fairly accurate guess about how far downhill we have to go to find a completed meander cycle. If we really want to get into predictive hydrology, there are also general formulas for calculating the theoretical curvature of the meanders.

Theoretically, meanders should be fairly symmetrical when flowing through uniform substrates, along a uniform gradient. However, neither of these conditions are often found in nature, so the meanders aren’t often symmetrical, either.

Asymmetry in meanders seems to be the rule rather than the exception. This asymmetry is believed to be caused by various substrate changes along the way, or variations in discharge volumes. This means that a tree stump or a large rock can easily cause the asymmetry that is so common. On top of that, once meanders start to become asymmetrical, that seems to breed even more asymmetry and our predictive formulas kind of go out the window.

The ultimate result of asymmetrical meander growth occurs when a meander turns back on itself and cuts into the original stream channel. Now the water flows straight past the old meander and leaves a looped section of stream with little or no water flowing through it. These old, curved channels are called oxbow lakes or oxbow channels. Continue reading

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Filed under ecology, Kenai River, science, science of the seasons