Monthly Archives: December 2009

Costly count — Brown bear census worth the trouble?

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Larry Lewis, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Brown bears plus easy , human-supplied meals, like garbage and pet food, quickly create a problem. When bear-human interactions decrease, so do calls for increasing hunting opportunities. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game manages brown bears on the peninsula conservatively, not knowing how many there are. That may change if a census of bears is carried out.

Redoubt Reporter

At 800 or more pounds, with jaws that can snap a moose leg and claws able to slice skin with a mere graze, brown bears inevitably command attention, especially when there’s one rummaging through neighborhood garbage, busting into a chicken coop or, worst of all, attacking a person.

On the Kenai Peninsula, attention to brown bears is growing along with interactions. Brown bear sightings are up, the frequency of bear maulings has risen, and the number of animals shot in defense of life and property has increased in recent years. In 2008, 39 brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula were killed by humans in some means other than allowed hunting — DLPs, vehicle collision, etc. That’s the second time in three years that number has topped 20.

Seeing more brown bears and having more run-ins with them leads to a perception that the bear population is increasing, as well. Any brown bear interaction these days tends to be followed by the sentiment that Fish and Game should expand hunting opportunities of brown bears on the peninsula to control what is perceived to be a growing population.

But an increase in bear interactions doesn’t necessarily mean there are more bears. It may just mean there are more bears coming in contact with humans. Settlement, development and recreation also are increasing on the peninsula, with people encroaching into areas that have previously served as bear habitat. Add an opportunity for an easy meal for bears — such as unsecured garbage, bird feeders, livestock or fish carcasses — and it’s a recipe for trouble.

“Wherever there are increasing populations, like there is on the Kenai Peninsula where the public population is increasing in certain areas, you’re going to have more interactions with critters anyway. But those interactions are going to be quite noticeable when they involve a brown bear,” said Tina Cunning, subsistence and federal issues coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

On the other hand, there may well be more bears. Fish and Game biologists have estimated the peninsula population of brown bears at 250 to 300. Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with Fish and Game, has said he’s seen indications that the bear population has increased over the last decade. But it’s a long leap to go from perceptions and indications to a higher, healthy population figure that warrants expanded hunting opportunities, especially with Fish and Game’s conservative approach to game management.

When human-brown bear interactions spike on the Kenai, calls for more hunting opportunities rise, and Selinger is left to wade into those debates with the same unsatisfying response — no one knows how many brown bears there are.

“The biggest answer that the public demands with brown bears on the Kenai — and from other agencies and from media outlets on down the line — is how many bears are on the Kenai? And the bottom line is, we do not know. We never have known. We have never conducted a census on brown bears on the Kenai.” Continue reading


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40 going on timeless — Santa is Kenai man’s Christmas tradition since teenage years

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Forty years of playing Santa means Kelly Bookey, of Kenai, now gets to make Christmas jolly for his grandkids. From left are Jett Pace, 8, Alexis Marquis, 3, Corvin Bookey, 6, and Alden Bookey, 9.

Redoubt Reporter

After 40 years of playing the big guy in the red suit, Kelly Bookey has his Santa routine down.

He knows how to coax answers out of the reluctant, and to not expect miracles when someone plops a 1- or 2-year-old in his lap.

“Babies, they’re fine with Santa until they hit about 1 year old, then they don’t like Santa again until they’re about 3. ‘There’s a strange old fat man sitting there.’ They’re not sure about him,” Bookey said. “I’ve had infants weeks old to up to 80-year-olds sitting on my lap.”

He’s learned how to diffuse the inevitable few kids who like to act tough and challenge the big guy’s authenticity.

“You always get one or two that say, ‘You’re not the real Santa Claus.’ I say, ‘If I’m not the real Santa Claus, I guess you don’t need anything for Christmas.’ Then they say, ‘Well, maybe you are.’ They hedge all bets there.”

Even after all these years, the experience still gets to him. Part of it is the endless parade of supercute kids who are superexcited to see him. Part of it is the endless variety they bring. Many ask for whatever cool toy or new-fangled electronics is en vogue that shopping season.

“A lot of them want whatever the top seller is that year. A few years ago it was Tickle-Me Elmo. It just changes, whatever the trend is going on. There was a lot of ‘Dora (the Explorer)’ this year. And (Nintendo) DS game players.”

With kids, nothing is ever routine.

“Every place you go is different, every kid is different, and they can ask for the weirdest things. I got a weird one yesterday. Kids bring me cookies and their list all the time. But yesterday a little boy, maybe 5 or 6, brought a bag of cookies, his list and a quarter. And I’m looking at this quarter and ask, ‘What’s this for, buddy?’ He said, ‘That’s to help you pay your elves.’ The kid’s smart, he knows who to bribe,’ Bookey said.

“And I had a little girl, about 4. All she wanted was a blue flower. Nothing else. I (tried) everything. Her grandmother was there trying to figure it out. All she wanted was a blue flower, and she was adamant about it. ‘A blue flower.’” Continue reading

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Family enjoys present of son’s health — Swimmer having seizure created near-grave incident

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Vicki Leach. Liam Leach, 17, recuperates at Providence Alaska Medical Center in early December after having a seizure and nearly drowning at the Nikiski pool.

Redoubt Reporter

Since he was a little kid, Liam Leach has loved doing two things — swimming and climbing trees.

Out of the two endeavors, Liam’s mom, Vicki Leach, of Soldotna, figured the tree climbing would be the thing to hurt him. On Dec. 4, it was the swimming that almost ended his life. Yet his love for swimming also helped save it.

Liam, 17, is autistic. He needs structure and consistency in his life, and swimming has been one of his fixations since he was little.

“He loves the water — loves it. So we very early taught him to swim because he always really loved the water,” Vicki said. “And tree climbing. You would have thought that would be the thing he’d get hurt at, but it totally wasn’t.”

Liam swims at the Nikiski pool several times a week, churning through lap after lap after lap.

“He swims 150 laps. And a lap is for him is down and back. For me it’d be 300 laps, but I’d be dead at two,” Vicki said.

As a reward after every 50 laps, he swims down to the 12-foot bottom of the deep end of the pool and sits for a bit, enjoying the feel of the water pressure. While he was down there Dec. 4, Liam had a grand mal seizure.

The seizures are a lifelong but infrequent condition. He can go months without having one. In this case it just happened at the worst possible time.

As his body seized, the involuntary reaction was to take a sharp intake of breath. Being underwater at the time, Liam’s lungs filled with water, essentially drowning him almost instantly.

Liam’s teacher, Jen Tyler, realized what had happened and jumped in after him. The lifeguard on duty, Rod Ritchie, also dove in. Kathy Gardner, who was at the pool working with a group from her Alaska Aquatic Therapy business, also recognized the situation. She had been Liam’s occupational therapist until just a few months ago, Vicki said. Continue reading

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Homing in on goal — Soldotna graphic designer launches fundraiser to build art school in Philippines

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Les Nelson. Les Nelson, executive director of Ferdinand Center for the Creative, sits with an underprivileged girl during a free lunch program for street kids in Caloocan City, part of Manila, Philippines, on Nov. 6.

Redoubt Reporter

Sometimes, home is a choice. Other times, especially for kids, home is an imposition.

Growing up, Les Nelson’s home was by his parents’ choice on the central Kenai Peninsula, with a house in Soldotna and school in Nikiski. As an adult, he’s chosen somewhere as vastly different as it is vastly distant — the Philippines.

A main factor in that choice is to help those who haven’t had a say in where they call home, and end up living in situations no one would purposely choose for them.

Nelson has embarked on an effort to benefit disadvantaged youth in the Philippines, those who are underfed, uneducated and in same cases living on the street, with no resources to improve their situations and, therefore, little chance of ever doing so.

Nelson hopes to construct an art school in Camarin, Caloocan City, part of Manila, Philippines, that will give youth a chance to have a career, stability and some choice in how their lives progress. To do so, Nelson is seeking support from his old home to help build his new one, and has launched a campaign to raise $50,000.

“I think we’re all neighbors,” Nelson said. “What happens in one city in one part of the world affects people all over.”

Nelson got interested in the Philippines about three years ago through an Internet correspondence with a photographer who documents life in the country — children living on the street, youth trapped in the sex industry and impoverished farmers in rural areas. A graphic artist and photographer himself, Nelson noticed Ralph Matres’ work on the photo-sharing Web site Flickr and was captivated by the images.

After striking up a friendship, Nelson went for a visit in October and November 2008 to help film a documentary. He saw the beauty of the country and culture for himself, and also the debilitating poverty in which some people live. He was particularly struck by the kids, who were friendly and upbeat, even living in abject poverty. Nelson saw an extended family of 13 people living in a hut about the dimensions of a king-sized bed, and others who weren’t lucky enough to even have that.

In the overcrowded Philippines, there is little chance of finding a job that pays a living wage without having a college degree, Nelson said. But for kids born in poverty, they may not get even an elementary education, much less the opportunity to attend college. Continue reading

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Meet me on the Internet — Online social networking Web site facilitates face time and screen time

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories examining social technology use on the central Kenai Peninsula.

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club. Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club members pause for lunch while on a hike in September. The club has taken its organization and communication online, in hopes of better connecting with current members and meeting up with new ones.

Redoubt Reporter

In Alaska, the great outdoors still has the mystique of being a realm beyond technology, despite proliferating cell phone towers, all the Global Positioning System units, ultraviolet water sterilization kits and other gizmos marketed to outdoorsmen.

Heading into the backcountry of the Kenai Peninsula is one of the few popular activities available these days that doesn’t require an electrical outlet, battery backup, wireless signal coverage and practical knowledge of keypads and operating systems. But as in other aspects of Western society, those things are playing an ever-increasing role in how people interface with Mother Nature these days. They may not be necessary, but they are getting harder to avoid as technology beats a bath into even the most low-tech of activities.

The Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club has been trekking along for about 18 years now. Members meet once a month at the Albatross and plan out activities. Most are outdoor adventures done at a leisurely pace — hikes, cabin camping, mountain biking, ski trips, etc. And some are indoor pursuits — movie watching, meeting for dinner — shared by people who also enjoy being outdoors.

Over the years the group has functioned like countless other social networks, by word of mouth. One member suggests an activity and calls around to other members to recruit participants. Or a newsletter is sent out, or, later, an e-mail. The group has grown by members telling their friends about it, coaxing others to come out and give it a try.

That method has its advantages. It’s personal, requires human contact and has potential for enacting the guilt factor, since it’s hard to say “no” to an in-person onslaught of, “Oh, come on. What else do you have to do?”

But it’s not very practical. It’s time-consuming to track people down and contact all club members to pass on updates or schedule changes. It’s easy to lose track of who has been told what, when. And it’s difficult to reach new people beyond one’s usual social sphere.

Club members on a hike to Juneau Falls in December.

As is typical for social groups like the Outdoor Club, membership and club activity have waxed and waned over the years. They’ve tried different methods of organization and communication, which have also waxed and waned, like newsletters, announcements in the media and an e-mail list. A lack of efficiency in communication may not be solely to blame for lulls in participation in the group, but it probably didn’t help, either.

“All we had was pretty much an e-mail list when folks joined the Outdoor Club. Really, though, we didn’t have any way to communicate,” said Tracie Howard, an Outdoor Club member.

A few years ago the club ventured onto the Internet, utilizing a photo-sharing site that allowed them to post pictures from past activities. It was a nice way to archive some of the things they’ve done and share memories amongst members, but it didn’t do much to help organize future outings or draw in new members.

“It gave people the opportunity to see pictures of activities that we did. We always knew it wasn’t ideal. We wanted to find a Web site where we could have a calendar, photos, have people communicating, maybe advertising things that were coming up — events above and beyond just Outdoor Club activities,” Howard said. Continue reading

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Once in a blue moon — Phenomenon has nothing to do with color, everything to do with time

By Naomi Klouda

Photo provided. A blue moon isn’t really a function of color. It’s related to time —having two full moons in one month.

Homer Tribune

While a blue moon consistently gives poets fodder and feeds the imagination of stargazers, its presence is simply a scientific marker for a rotating Earth that, by its own clock, ignores the Julian calendar.

And only once in every 20 years, the blue moon appears on New Year’s Eve, as it will this year.

“The moon is out of phase with the days — for it to make its complete cycle it’s about 28 days. It doesn’t coincide with our month, and that’s why it is out of sync with our Julian calendar,” explained retired high school science teacher Bob Hartley. “It’s simply the occurrence of two full moons in one month.”

The moon brings with it heightened energy for tides and ushers in new weather patterns. This year’s tide will be minus 4.5 feet, the lowest of the month, at 8:18 a.m. Dec. 31. High tide that day will be 20.8 feet at 1:37 p.m., though it isn’t the month’s highest. Continue reading

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Poker play — sometimes ice fishing success isn’t in the cards

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

There was a blizzard warning in effect for Cooper Landing when we got to Hidden Lake just before first light. My buddy loaded the sled while I made sure I had plenty of hand warmers, my propane heater and portable shelter.

The same day someone else on the lake lost his shelter in the wind. But I was still packing mine — even if I had to bury it in packed snow to keep it in place. It was my first year ice fishing and it wasn’t exactly a scene from “Grumpy Old Men.”

Once we got to the spot, we rushed to set up in the storm. There’s a big difference between how fast you can set up a shanty in the garage and how fast you can set it up on a lake, fighting the forces of nature in gigantic beaver mittens. I hurried inside the shelter, took off my mittens, sank into my camp chair and, before I had my first drink of brandy, there was a bite. I reeled up a tiny kokanee. He was not hooked badly so I quickly unhooked him and sent him back down the hole nose first. Bless and release, as my girlfriend called it, minus the blessing.

“I got one!” I yelled out through the shelter without getting up.

“What is it?” my buddy yelled back from 10 feet away to my right.

“Silver,” I yelled back.

“Probably kokanee,” my buddy yelled.

I had entered the annual Soldotna Trustworthy Hardware Ice Fishing Derby in hopes of winning the “Strait Flush” category, which required catching the greatest overall weight of five species of fish — rainbow, char, pike, lake trout and kokanee. Since I had caught the first two species easily, I figured the last three would happen much the same. What I didn’t realize is ice fishing is a lot like poker.

I kicked myself and wondered if I’d get another kokanee.

“It was only 6 inches!” I shouted back.

“That’s not bad for a kokanee,” my buddy hollered.

“A card laid is a card played.” First rule of card games.

Another few minutes passed and I got another bite. It was at the same water level as the first fish I had caught. I called my buddy inside to identify the blue-streaked silver bullet with a bitten tail. He said it was a nice-sized kokanee. Two species left and I would have a straight flush! Continue reading

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