Monthly Archives: June 2010

One fish, two fish, red fish, new fish — Smolt project monitors Kasilof River

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Dyed sockeye smolt are transferred to a bucket to move them upriver for a mark-recapture study. The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association has conducted a smolt study on the Kasilof River for the past 30 years.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

This time of year, anglers generally take to the water with the hope of bringing in the bag limit of three sockeye salmon per day. Joe Nichols sets his expectations a little higher. For him, a good day’s catch could be between 10,000 and 100,000 sockeye.

“It’s kind of a thrill to see how many there will be,” he said.

Nichols, working as a seasonal intern, has been monitoring a smolt live trap at the confluence of the Kasilof River and Crooked Creek. As young fish make their way from Tustumena Lake and its drainages down to the salt water of Cook Inlet, they are collected, counted and released. It’s part an annual enumeration study that started in 1980, conducted by the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association.

“You never know what the count will be until you get to the trap,” Nichols said. “So one of my favorite parts is scooping them out and counting them down.”

Nichols, who hails from the East Coast, heard about the internship while attending Mansfield University in Pennsylvania.

“My major is fisheries biology and I had a tutor who participated in this a few years ago. He told me about it and how much he liked it,” he said. “I know I want to work with fish, but I’m not sure in what way, so I thought this internship would be a good way to get an idea of what I want to do.”

Smolt soak in an anesthetic solution.

Twice a day — 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. — Nichols ventures out to the trap in a small boat, raises the device from the riverbed and using a small dipnet, counts the swirling cloud of finger-length silver streaks contained within the live box.

“It’s real hands-on,” he said. “I really like being out in the field working with fish rather than just sitting in a lab somewhere. I’ve learned a lot about salmon and their life cycle.” After Nichols records his catch, he releases all but a handful of the smolt. A few are held for more detailed analysis back at his field camp in Crooked Creek State Park. Nichols brings back one of every 150 sockeye smolt counted in the trap. Continue reading

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Test fishery may see state funds — Cost-recovery flap draws attention to shortfall

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

There isn’t much agreement between differing perspectives on a set-net fishery operated in June by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to generate money to support a test fishery in July that helps estimate the Upper Cook Inlet sockeye run. Even the terminology is debated.

Fish and Game calls it a cost-recovery fishery.

“You mean, a fundraiser?” said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, which sent a strongly worded letter June 16 to Board of Fisheries members, Gov. Sean Parnell and Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd, expressing multiple concerns and objections to the annual revenue-generating fishery after becoming aware of its existence for the first time June 15.

One of the few areas of consensus about the cost-recovery fishery seems to be that no one much likes it. Commercial fishermen have objected to it for several reasons. When it was held in July, sandwiched between commercial openers, fishermen complained that the cost-recovery fishery was taking salmon out of their nets.

“It would be a crime if the (cost-recovery) fishery by set-netters went on during the regular commercial fishery,” said Brent Johnson, one of the two fishermen who participated in the cost-recovery fishery this year, which was operated by Icicle Seafoods through a bid process with Fish and Game. “If you have a (cost-recovery) fishery adjacent to your site the day before you’re fishing, fish swim back and forth, so the fish are taken right out of your fishery.”

It’s now held in June, typically starting June 15, but that causes concern among commercial fishermen that the cost-recovery fishery could delay the start of the commercial season. If 50,000 sockeye make it past the sonar counter in the Kasilof River between June 15, when the counter starts recording data, and June 20, the season can open anytime after June 20. With the cost-recovery fishery, thousands of sockeye that could count toward that 50,000 are instead caught and sold before they reach the river.

“Some of them (commercial fishermen) are even opposed to the cost recovery, they just don’t like other people out fishing early,” said Pat Shields, Fish and Game assistant manager of Upper Cook Inlet commercial fisheries.

Johnson said he’d like state money to fund the Upper Cook Inlet July test fishery, as was done in the late 1970s when the test fishery started, rather than Fish and Game paying for it through cost-recovery means. Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, has said he expects the matter to be discussed in the upcoming session.

“Ideally, I think the Legislature should fund the fishery. That’s what I always thought. If they need to raise more taxes, then tax people more,” Johnson said. “Those allocation battles are old and have deep angst on both sides. I can’t think of any constructive thing that I can say about it. It’s one of those social issues where government and people need to work together to solve a problem. If you’re going to have that test boat, it needs to be funded. If you don’t like this way of funding it, come up with a different one.”

Fish and Game also would rather have the test fishery funded through the Legislature.

“Those funding requests I’m sure will go in for the 2011 (legislative) season, and with the new awareness of the cost-recovery fishery, hopefully that’s something that could be funded,” Shields said. “It might help allay a lot of people’s fears, that we would have general funds to run the test fishery rather than having to run the cost-recovery fishery to do it,” Shields said.

That’s about where agreement ends, especially with sportfishing interests opposed to the cost-recovery fishery. KRSA has several questions and points of contention with the program. Some of which were answered, and some not, Gease said, in the resulting uproar when people noticed set nets in Cook Inlet near the mouth of the Kenai River outside the commercial fishing season. The cost-recovery fishery was closed at midnight the evening of June 17.

“We want to thank the Legislature and Board of Fisheries and the senior department staff for taking prompt action on the issue, which resulted in the closure of the most egregious element of the program, which was the set-net fishing at the mouth of the Kenai River. We want to thank the commissioner and senior staff, who took time to make themselves accessible and provided answers to most, but not all, of the questions we had regarding the activity,” Gease said.

Shields said that a higher price per pound this year allowed Fish and Game to raise the money needed for the test boat — $50,000 — from less fish in the cost-recovery fishery. The fishery wasn’t ended in direct response to complaints, he said, but they were certainly heard.

“There was some concern raised about it. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t exceed the goal, especially with the concerns that were raised, but we thought that we would be near the goal by the end of the third day and that would be a good time to bring it to an end, and that’s exactly what happened,” Shields said. “Anytime we make decisions here we usually get user-group feedback and the department doesn’t want user groups of any flavor to believe that they make the decisions, in other words that we stopped the fishery because they were unhappy. There’s no doubt about it we heard the calls, but the fishery came to an end primarily because we thought we’d be near our cost-recovery goal.” Continue reading

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Filed under commercial fishing, fishing, Kasilof, Kenai River, salmon

Testing the waters on fishery funding — Upper Cook Inlet sockeye test fishery has cast about for money in 30-year history

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

A cost-recovery fishery involving set nets stretching into Cook Inlet a few miles south of the mouth of the Kenai River in June, picking off sockeye headed for the Russian River sportfishery and some specimens of the late-returning early run of Kenai kings, netted a hefty dose of controversy, along with the money needed to operate an important sockeye test fishery scheduled for July.

But there may be a silver lining for those opposed to funding the July test fishery through the June cost-recovery fishery, as the ruckus raised has caught the attention of legislators, who may agree to fund the test fishery with state money, rather than the Alaska Department of Fish and Game catching and selling fish to pay for it.

“We’re gonna discuss it when we get back to Juneau,” said Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski. “It’s an issue that comes up every year. Should we be paying for it? A number of us think that we should be paying for it. So we’ll work on it and try to get it funded into the budget and eliminate this type of problem from happening again.”

Counting on the run sockeye numbers

In 1978, Fish and Game began an offshore test-fishing project to provide an in-season estimate of the returning sockeye run to Upper Cook Inlet in July. Through a sealed bid process, Fish and Game contracts with a drift gill-net fishing boat, which fishes six sites stretching from Anchor Point across Cook Inlet every day in July. Fish and Game uses the catch data from that test boat and by about July 20 comes up with an estimate of the sockeye run strength. That estimate has far-reaching consequences on the management of the commercial, sport- and personal-use sockeye fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet.

“It gives us an indication of the total run and of the run timing of sockeye salmon that are entering the inlet. It’s kind of a heads-up for what’s going to happen later in the month, and many decisions are based upon that,” said Pat Shields, Fish and Game assistant manager of Upper Cook Inlet commercial fisheries.

For instance, if the returning run of Kenai River sockeye is estimated at less than 2 million fish, management plans call for restrictions on fishing. If it’s more than 2 million, fishing opportunities can be liberalized.

“It’s very important to the department to assess the run strength so we know ahead of time which of these management plans that we’ll likely end up following, because they’re pretty big changes when the run is less than 2 million versus more than 2 million Kenai River sockeye salmon. It’s an important tool. That’s why we’ve been willing to conduct the cost-recovery fishery and believe it’s important to generate those funds for that important research program that we conduct in July,” Shields said.

Fishing for funding

From 1978 to 1986, funding for the test fishery was provided by the Legislature through state general funds. But a drop in oil revenue in the mid-1980s caused the state to scale back on money for general-fund projects. Fish and Game was authorized to catch and sell fish — called cost-recovery fisheries — to pay for its test fisheries. The fish harvested as part of a test fishery are sold, but for the Upper Cook Inlet sockeye test fishery, that only generates about one-third of the money needed to fund the test boat — about $23,000 of the $75,000 project — leaving a gap of $50,000.

A supplemental cost-recovery fishery effort was begun to make up the funding shortfall. At first, a cost-recovery fishery in Bristol Bay generated funds for the Upper Cook Inlet test fishery, but the practice of catching and selling fish from one part of the state to support a test fishery in another region began to stir up complaints in the late 1990s, so Fish and Game nixed the practice in its standard operating procedures on test fishery projects.

In 2002, a cost-recovery fishery in Upper Cook Inlet began, which this year was a source of heated controversy in June. When the Cook Inlet cost-recovery fishery began, drift boats were used in an effort to harvest fish from all stocks, rather than targeting returns on just one or two rivers. But the catch rates weren’t great enough to balance the higher costs of using drift boats, so Fish and Game decided to use only set-net fishing.

As the fishery works now, the department uses a sealed bid process to contract with a fish processor, which commits to paying a set rate per pound for fish. The processor then contracts with fishermen, setting a separate rate per pound that the fishermen will be paid. A limited-entry permit isn’t required to participate in the fishery, but the fishing slots do end up going to commercial fishermen, since they’re the ones who already have the gear and set-net sites.

The cost-recovery fishery used to be held in July, catching and selling fish from the same Upper Cook Inlet sockeye run that the test fishery was monitoring. Cost-recovery openings were sandwiched in between regular commercial fishing openings, but that proved unpopular with commercial fishermen and not profitable enough, Shields said. Some fishermen weren’t keen to do a cost-recovery fishery during the regular fishing season. The rate per pound fishermen got for cost-recovery fish was sometimes lower than the regular rate paid during a commercial opener. And fishermen with set-net sites neighboring the cost-recovery sites would grumble that fish were being taken from their nets.

“Sometimes the commercial fishermen weren’t as gung-ho to go out and fish, and just issues associated with not making our cost-recovery goal caused us to try to look at the program and go, ‘Is there another way that we can be more successful in meeting our cost-recovery goal?’” Shields said.

In 2008, Fish and Game started operating the cost-recovery fishery in mid-June. The start date is typically June 15, which coincides with the date the Kasilof sonar counter starts recording data. That helps managers monitor sockeye escapement in the Kasilof, so if the run comes back low, the cost-recovery fishery can be stopped. And the earlier-season fish fetch a higher price per pound, so less fish are needed to reach the $50,000 cost-recovery goal, Shields said.

Crossing the Blanchard Line

In the past few years, the cost-recovery fishery came and went with little fuss. This year, however, brought a change — Icicle Seafoods won the bid with a higher price of $2.25 per pound. Previously, Inlet Fisheries had gotten the cost-recovery bid and used set-netters around the Blanchard Line, halfway between the Kasilof and Kenai rivers.

Icicle contracted with two fishermen — Brent Johnson, whose set-net site is near Corea Creek, south of the Kasilof River and about 10 miles north of Ninilchik; and Gary Hollier, whose site is off of Kalifornsky Beach Road about two and a half miles south of the mouth of the Kenai River, and farther north than any of the fishermen Inlet Fisheries had used.

Johnson’s site is out of the public’s eye, and he conducted his part of the fishery without a hitch, getting 30 cents per pound from Icicle for the fish.

“This year Icicle won the bid. That’s the processor I sell to. I heard they got the bid, I called and said, ‘Hey, I hear you’re looking for fishermen.’ They said they are. I said, ‘I’m your guy,’” Johnson said. “It’s only 30 cents a pound for me, so I’m doing it more as a service to Fish and Game. I didn’t know it was going to go wild.”

At that rate, he ran his nets conservatively, sticking with a skeleton crew of just his wife and three sons.

“We were allowed start on the 15th so, being fishermen, as soon as midnight clears we figure it’s the 15th so you’re on the beach. I said, ‘Stick out a net and see if there’s fish.’ There was a lot of debris and seaweed around, and you don’t want to be picking seaweed out of your net for 30 cents per pound,” Johnson said. “They put one net out, got some fish, so we put nine nets out 24 hours a day. We had to quit at midnight (the evening of June 17). We caught, I think, about 15,000 pounds. We were jazzed with it.”

In three days, the cost-recovery fishery netted 3,899 sockeye and 48 king salmon, with Johnson’s site hauling in most of the catch — about 2,900 sockeye and 45 kings. Hollier brought in less fish — about 1,000 sockeye and three kings, but netted by far the most attention. The first day his nets were in the water the site raised alarm throughout the community, especially among sportfishermen, and it wasn’t long before Fish and Game’s phone was ringing with people demanding to know why someone was set netting near the mouth of the Kenai outside of a commercial opener.

“It was the fisherman that was near the Kenai River that was more visible, and some folks saw that activity going on out there and called to find out what that was, and I guess that’s when the cost-recovery program became more visible to people that were unfamiliar with it or unaware that it was going on,” Shields said. “People asked, ‘Well, are you trying to hide this?’ And the answer is ‘No.’”

The processor contract goes out to competitive bid, and the program has been going on since 2002, so it’s not a secret, Shields said. Johnson said he was likewise surprised at the uproar this year.

“The thing has gone on for years. It moved four miles closer to the Kenai River with the gear that moved up there, and all of a sudden it’s a terrible thing because you’re four miles closer to the Kenai? Is that the difference?” Johnson said.

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Journey to historic understanding — Mormon teens trek to learn heritage

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Erik Massey. From left, Aaron Swanson, Oluf Hartvigson, William Jackson, Mark Weggeland and Camberly Jackson lead a procession of youth on a pioneer re-creation trip through the Caribou Hills in early June.

Redoubt Reporter

It’s one thing to learn about the pioneer settlers of the American West in a classroom or textbook — looking at pictures of their rudimentary equipment and meager supplies; reading statistics of how many traveled, how far they went and how many didn’t make it; hearing stories of the adventures they had, but also the challenges faced and hardships endured.

It’s quite another thing to re-create that journey and walk in the pioneers’ shoes, as 105 teenagers and about 40 adult chaperones with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did on a four-day trek through the Caribou Hills from June 2 to June 5.

Well, technically, most walked in tennis shoes. But modern footwear was one of the few elements of the trek that wasn’t kept as authentic to the pioneer era as possible.

“We wanted the kids to be able to fully appreciate and be in the spirit of the trek in order for them to fully understand what the pioneers went through. It’s a great way for our youth to be able to appreciate and understand what our pioneer ancestors did for us, and it gives everybody a chance to get out and enjoy each other’s company,” said William Jackson, who, along with his wife, Camberly, coordinated the youth activity.

From left, Estelle Carlson, Kiana Anderson, Courtney Lewis and Haylee Swanson pull a handcart in the rain along a dirt road in the Caribou Hills in early June as part of a pioneer trek put on by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Early members of the Mormon Church in the U.S. migrated West from 1846 to 1868, coming from the East Coast, and some originally coming from Europe, to settle in the Salt Lake area of Utah. At first, the pioneers used horses, mules and ox-drawn carts. But as the numbers of travelers increased and resources dwindled, homemade handcarts became the common standard of transportation. To celebrate that heritage, the Mormon Church organizes youth treks that duplicate many of the conditions faced by the pioneers. Treks have been held in Alaska for several years now, Jackson said.

“It was a very, very arduous journey with tremendous hardships, deaths and births — a lot of things happened on these treks across the country. We are celebrating and honoring our pioneer heritage by having the youth in our church kind of re-enact these treks,” he said.

From left, Scott Carlson, Jeff Hamberger, Josh Hamberger and Jordan Jones haul a chunk of beetle-killed spruce to camp to be cut up.

Including this year, the Kenai Peninsula stake of the church — including Kodiak and Cordova as well as peninsula communities — has had two treks, one every four years.

“We had a lot of help but it was just a monumental undertaking. It requires a ton of preparation. We worked on it right up until the minute we left,” Jackson said.

Participating youth, ages 14 to 18 from throughout the peninsula stake, are asked to bring period-specific clothing, in many cases making it themselves.

“We wanted them to dress as close as possible to the pioneers, but being reasonable,” Jackson said.

From left, Oluf Hartvigson, Chris Thomas and Mark Forbes use a two-person, cross-cut saw to cut the wood, which was donated to people in need.

Comfortable footwear and modern-day rain gear were allowed. “We had sewing days so they could get together and make shirts and aprons and everything. And the guys did it, too.”

Going without modern apparel was a jolt for some of the teens.

“It was really interesting. It made me appreciate what the pioneers had to do because it was hard. We wore dresses with aprons and skirts that went all the way to the floor and we wore bonnets. It was new, definitely a challenge at the beginning to get used to all that stuff. It was fun, though,” said Courtney Lewis, of Soldotna, who will be a junior in high school this fall.

The other main rule of the trek was an even bigger leap away from today’s society — no technology or modern-day conveniences allowed.

“They were unplugged from society. That was a big stickler of ours,” Jackson said. “I went to all the wards (churches) in the area and told them we were not going to allow anything — no radios, stereos, cell phones, iPods, cameras. We wanted them to be able to unplug from society and experience the outdoors and experience life.” Continue reading


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Free play — AK Free Fuel strikes a chord with 1st album

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Chris Beach, left, and Pete Jackson of AK Free Fuel play at the Clam Shell Lodge in Clam Gulch on Friday. The band is having a CD release party this weekend at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.

Redoubt Reporter

Recording an album is a trial by fire that many bands don’t attempt until they’re well-established in their existence — they know themselves and each other as musicians, know their sound and what they want to do with it on an album, or at the very least know the instruments they play.

AK Free Fuel saw no need to wait. Nuson Smith, Pete Jackson and Chris Beach had only been playing together about a year when they decided to head into the studio this winter. They were still getting to know each other, much less the sound they could create. For that matter, Beach was still getting comfortable being a bass player. But what better way to speed that along than to throw themselves into the creative process?

“It taught us a lot — how to record, it taught us a lot about each other. It forced us to get better because now we have a product, we need to back it up. We have to play somewhat similar to what we’re putting out there (on the album),” Jackson said.

With their first album being released this week, self-titled AK Free Fuel, they’re already thinking about heading back for round two.

“We have lots more material. It could be seasonal — every spring we try to release one. It would be a good goal for us because it’s how we increase and get better and see where the music goes,” Jackson said. “And it’s from the first year. It’s like baby step. We just took our first step as a band, and we captured it.”

Nuson Smith

This summer AK Free Fuel is making the performance rounds across Southcentral, playing the central peninsula, Homer, Anchorage and Wasilla.

“It’s always growing. As far as our sound, we’re always experimenting,” Beach said.

None more so than Beach, a Midwest transplant to Alaska who spent time in Skagway and Kotzebue before settling with his family on the central peninsula and joining AK Free Fuel last year. Though he’s been playing guitar for about 30 years, this is his first experience in a band.

“Life gets in the way, you know? Jobs, family. I lived in Kotzebue for 10 years. There’s no place to play there,” Beach said. “It’s been awesome. It’s tough because I’ve got four kids at home and a job during the day and this one at night. We are literally working seven days a week. But otherwise it’s great — beyond my expectations. I was just happy to be playing in a garage somewhere. This has been awesome.”

The first incarnation of AK Free Fuel formed about two and a half years ago, but the original bass player quit suddenly, and just as suddenly Smith and Jackson were asking Beach to experiment with a new instrument, as well as the new band.

“Here he has this ability to play guitar and we really threw him to the wolves. Our bass player quit in the middle of a gig and we had gigs booked. So we were like, ‘Hey man, we’re going to steal two strings from you, give you four heavy ones and we need you to graduate,’” Jackson said. “He was like, ‘I guess.’ He was real nervous. Didn’t know a single song. I would just give him a description of what we’re gonna do. He wasn’t ever a bass player.”

“I am now,” Beach said.

“Yeah, he is now, that’s right. And it is awesome, too,” Jackson said.

As a bass player, Beach has been more about substance, form and function than embellishment or showing off. That’s allowed the band to stretch in new directions. As a three-piece rock band, it can be difficult to venture into an experimental dynamic, Smith said. They’ve got to make sure the core rhythm of a song is covered before they can go off on any tangents. But with Beach, they’ve got a stable platform that Smith and Jackson can launch themselves from in a way they couldn’t do before.

“Since Chris got in the band as the bass player, it really set us off because he was able to bring a lot to the band. He’s got a lot of rock ’n’ roll history and knowledge,” Jackson said. “The bass player we had before was using a lot of effects, not really something structured. He was playing licks. I played acoustic at the time, so I was holding down the fort with rhythm. I didn’t play much lead. With Chris, because of the strength of his bass line, it allows me to go places with the lead. I don’t have to always play the rhythm because he’s holding that down. He’s playing my key and his (Smith’s) beat. He’s the link between us.” Continue reading

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Winging In: Rare visitor gets 1st look

By Sean Ulman, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Sadie Ulman. The Wilson’s phalarope poke around a pond on the Chickaloon flats recently.

The Kenai Bird List has a new member. Wilson’s phalarope will be filed under extremely rare once Sadie’s photographs are officially confirmed.

Stumbling on a pair of the striking, black-white-and-red striped shorebirds in the final week of our spring season, we produced the first sighting on the Kenai Peninsula of this odd Alaska visitor and added it to the top of our relatively minor project and life lists.

Proud to be a part of earning a significant Alaska observance dot for Chickaloon flats, I reflected on how such a chance sighting is dependent on fortuitous timing.

Setting out to camp six miles northeast on the Chickaloon River, we underestimated the impact of 50-pound packs. Attempting to cross the slough that snakes around the cabin I felt pounded down, as if by a mallet, into soupy mud. After I frantically crawled to safety, we packed light bags and planned a more reasonable day trip to the river. That swap scheduled a return trip that night, which is when we discovered the pair erratically feeding among three lesser yellowlegs on a remote pond. Bushed from the long trek, our binoculars packed to ensure smoother hiking, the phalaropes were like a mirage in the sun-splashed pool. Under 8×30 vision details tightened — black legs, black mask, the female’s salmon-washed flanks and white Mohawk. Snapping several photos (significant sightings require photographic evidence for verification), Sadie enjoyed her favorite type of birding moment — correctly identifying a bird the first time she has ever seen it in the wild.

Rarely wandering off our plots, this was our first extended scouting adventure. Returning to the location two days later we failed to find the long-legged phalaropes. Speculating that the nomadic pair was stopping over rather than nesting on the flats, it would seem that so many timing elements would have to align to allow the unforgettable encounter. What if we hadn’t napped beside the river or napped for more than a half hour? Or wandered around the river’s bend in search of two footprints of razed cabins? Or if Sadie had decided to retrace our steps rather than lead us back south to the wetter marsh edge? I suppose choice may play some role in chance.

Later that week it was hard to not consider the function of timing in birding when we conducted nest checks and happened to be present midhatch for a mew gull and a semipalmated plover chick kicking out their shells.

Back in town benefiting from showers and groceries while re-acclimating to cars, computers and conversation, I find myself tempted to peek back at the season so far.

Midseason report

  • Best bird besides Wilson’s phalarope: Semipalmated plover.

We scantly spotted this species last summer. However, this spring the big-eyed bulky shorebird made almost every daily list after May 15. We trapped one, found two pretty nests (each with four eggs arranged with tops touching in the center, like a flower) and saw three hatched chicks. The parents’ broken wing-splayed tail displays were such a show that I often obliged the stressed bird by following it away from the nest.

  • Most underrated bird: Bonaparte’s gull.

It’s my opinion that gulls get a bad rap in the birding world and are cast off as annoying or noisy or because they all look the same. This sharp, ashen-headed, crimson-legged, shrimpy gull was hard to ignore with its ternlike calls. It was seen about every third day and viewed as a bonus to our daily counts.

  • Best game: Rummy 500. Current score — Sadie 3,520 to my 2,910.
  • Best meal: Monster mashed potatoes (fried sausage and mushrooms) with biscuits and gravy and Mae Ploy sauce.
  • Best new field item: BakePacker stovetop oven.

This was a close call. Hand-crank radio, water filter and soccer ball all received votes, but the best meal wouldn’t have been possible without baked biscuits. And besides providing delicious desserts like brownies and pear cake, this item spelled the monotony of oatmeal and granola for breakfast every morning.

  • Most essential item of gear: Lacrosse hip waders.

Last year I ripped through my hip and chest waders prior to halfway through the project. This season Sadie sprung a leak in her chest waders on day three! Putting on my durable waders every day is as consoling as my morning cup of coffee. Comfort in the field is paramount to morale. Continue reading

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Almanac: Divergent paths wind back together

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story about the lives of Soldotna twins, Kristy (Lancaster) Leslie and Jennifer Dene Lancaster-Jackson. Last week, part one explored the twins’ childhood, including becoming the first twins born in Central Peninsula General Hospital, and surviving the tragic accident that took the lives of their mother and older sister. This week, part two focuses on the twins as adults — and the divergent lives they have chosen to live.

By Clark Fair

Photo by Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter. Jennifer Dene Lancaster-Jackson (left) and Kristy (Lancaster) Leslie pose for a photo recently.

Redoubt Reporter

Kristy and Jennifer Lancaster began life only 15 minutes apart and seemed early on to do nearly everything in tandem. They were typically photographed together, they were dressed alike (Kristy often in blue, Jennifer in green) and they attended public school together — usually in separate classrooms to make it easier for teachers to tell them apart.

Once, when they were in fourth grade, they swapped classrooms on April Fool’s Day, but when Kristy’s teacher, Mr. Dover, sent Jennifer to the chalkboard and noticed a scar on her hand where Kristy had no scar, he promptly spilled the beans to Jennifer’s teacher, Ms. Jelacic, who was none too pleased at having been fooled.

And it was easy to confuse the two — both with full heads of brunette hair that fell past their shoulders, with green eyes set in oval faces, and with the same lean body type — one always within 5 pounds and half an inch of the other.

As they grew, they even exhibited some of the same behavior, good and bad: Both began smoking cigarettes before they were teenagers. Paradoxically, both also enjoyed running and participated in cross country in the years before high school. While Jennifer also played softball for several years, Kristy focused more on running, participating in the junior Mount Marathon race in 1986, 1987 and 1989, and finishing fifth overall in her final attempt.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Dene Lancaster-Jackson and Kristy (Lancaster) Leslie. Jennifer Lancaster, above, and Kristy Lancaster in their senior pictures.

Both girls also began working at about age 13 or 14. And both moved in with boyfriends during their senior year of high school.

However — despite their many similarities — by May 1992, when they crossed the stage in the Skyview High School gymnasium to collect their diplomas, they had begun to exhibit important differences, as well.

Jennifer, who had enjoyed watching her truck-driver father perform maintenance on the family snowmachines and three-wheelers, decided that she wanted to work on engines, too. Seven months after leaving high school, she enrolled in diesel mechanics at AVTEC in Seward and in 1993 became only the third female in the school’s then-24-year history to graduate from that program.

“My teacher there said I was mechanically inclined,” she said. “I think it was just in me, I do. It was something I went for. I got all straight A’s. I rebuilt three engines. I enjoyed it.”

Afterward, she worked for a few months at Buddy’s Garage off Kalifornsky Beach Road, but then returned to her previous job as a maid at the King Salmon Motel until just before the birth of her daughter, Jessica, in January 1995.

Jennifer’s boyfriend at the time was Jon Jackson, a 1986 graduate of Kenai Central High School and Jennifer’s husband today. They had gotten together when Jennifer was 19 and married when she was 27, just after the birth of their second child, Jacob.

Kristy continued to work and to live with the boyfriend she had moved in with during high school. Like Jennifer and Jon, Kristy and her boyfriend would live together for many years before getting married, and would also produce two children — in this case two boys.

But a dark side also began to emerge in Kristy. Even as she worked at various jobs — Sizzler and Save-U-More, among others — she began a dangerous slide into alcohol and substance abuse that would frequently land her name in the newspaper’s police and court reports, and would result in numerous arrests, nine overdoses, six long stints in treatment programs, lost trust among family and friends, and eventually a broken marriage and the loss of custody of her sons.

After her first son was born, she said that she suffered from postpartum depression and began to cope by popping pills.

“I don’t like to blame it there,” Kristy said. “I mean, I’m a big girl. I made my own choice. But I had postpartum, and I started getting hooked on pills to begin with, and then it was just a ripple effect. I started blacking out, breaking the law, 86’d from every doctor’s office. I was doing those oxys (Oxycontin), buying those off the street, shooting those up. I was living in jails and treatment.” Continue reading


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Cowchip Triathlon offers wet, wild time

By AdriAnna Newberry

Photos by AdriAnna Newberry, for the Redoubt Reporter. Darius “Toad” Martin won the 10-and-under age group in the Cowchip Triathlon.

For the Redoubt Reporter

The 2010 Solstice Festival at the Diamond M Ranch in Kenai opened with a crowd as light as the rain. But the misty drops did not put a damper on the enthusiasm from participants in the main event of the day.

At 1 p.m., about 10 children in various states of swimsuits and shorts grabbed inner tubes and lined up to start the second annual Cowchip Triathlon. The 10-and-under race consisted of two laps around a long pool filled 2 feet deep with water, followed by two laps around a cow pasture on bikes and finishing with a single lap run around the same pasture.

Participant Tyle Owens

Spectators gathered around the pool and cheered on all the kids as they splashed laps around the floating pink balloons used as dividers. Yellow balloons marked a pathway down to the bikes, and more balloons charted the course through the field. Some confusion resulted as the first swimmers finished when no one was certain which way to go. It was quickly sorted out with a wave to the side, and the bikers took off across the grass.

When they were partway through the first lap, probably thinking they couldn’t get any wetter after the paddle, the misty rain turned heavy. While parents and friends ducked under canopies, the children doggedly pedaled and ran to the finish line, one father running along grinning to meet his racer with a towel at the ready. The timekeepers wrote on increasingly soggy paper and did their best to shield clipboards by holding them tight in between races.

The first finisher overall was Karl Danielson. He and Chase Warren were the only registrants for the 11- to 16-year-old group and had asked to race at the same time as the younger kids. The official winner for the 10-and-under group was Darius “Toad” Martin.

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Plugged in: Out of your depth — photography and Gestalt

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

We can learn a lot about composing good photographs from Gestalt psychology, sometimes known as depth psychology.

Gestalt is primarily a scientific examination of how human perception, including visual perception, works within the brain. It’s a form of experimentally validated psychology that examines how the human brain recognizes patterns and the “big picture” from incomplete, often subconscious, information. These include the fundamental principles of visual perception.

Gestalt psychology has many serious real-world applications, such as designing better aircraft instrument panel layouts and human-computer interfaces. The U.S. Army uses Gestalt concepts to understand how some soldiers become adept at intuiting the presence of ambushes and IED booby traps from a few subconscious cues. During World War II, the U.S. Navy handpicked geologists as anti-submarine warfare officers because their dry-land geology experience also gave them the skill to “see,” despite fragmentary data, where U-Boats lurked in a very large ocean.

Aside from avoiding ambushes and sinking U-Boats, Gestalt is also an excellent tool for understanding and improving the composition of your photographs at a deeper level than simple “do-this, don’t-do-that” suggestions.

For photographers, Gestalt provides a proven guide to the most basic principles of how people visually perceive and then mentally interpret the world around us all. Composition is simply the strongest way of seeing a particular subject, and composition “rules” are made to be broken under the right circumstances. However, they often provide insight into a better way to compose your photograph.

Let’s look at a few basic principles of human visual perception and how they might broadly affect how you compose a photograph.

  • Totality — Our minds blend the perceptions of our senses and our life experiences into a totality that integrates both our physical perceptions of something and our resulting mental interpretations. Unless our cognition and mental processes are fragmented, basically psychotic, our minds need to see each component as part of a larger, overall context. Where the big relationships are not clear, our minds try to fill the void by projecting our own thoughts, desires and fears. That’s one reason why ambiguous photographs often result in widely varying but powerful emotional impacts for very different sorts of people.
  • Interpretation — There’s usually a predictable correlation between our conscious perceptions and experiences and how our brains interpret them. Here’s an obvious example. Our eyes can detect part of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum. We call that visible light. The light waves we can see do not have any inherent color. We see different wavelengths as different visible colors because our brains have evolved to see longer wavelengths as red, medium ones as green, and shorter wavelengths as blue. We call someone “color blind” when their brains interpret visible light differently than the great majority of us. Color is simply a mental process inside our brains.
  • Partial perceptions — Our minds try to construct larger patterns from partial perceptions. Figure 1 shows the classic example where our minds tend to see a triangle being formed by the three partial circles, even though no triangle actually exists.
  • Closure — Our minds tend to “see” elements of an image that our vision does not actually perceive in order to complete a regular figure. Figure 2 is just a series of disconnected lines but our minds complete the image and we perceive it as a rectangle.
  • Stability — Our minds prefer a stable arrangement of picture elements that attract and hold the eye, rather than causing it to shoot off the image. That’s one reason why images composed using the Rule of Thirds, Figure 3, tend to appear calm and pleasing to many people. Continue reading

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Ready, setnet — Kasilof fishery starts slowly

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Sockeye salmon are known for putting up a good fight. All their twisting and wiggling once caught in a gillnet can lead to a big tangle when trying to get them out.

Redoubt Reporter

Bright orange buoys and floating white cork lines dot the surface of Cook Inlet from the shore to one mile out toward the horizon. Up on the sand an impromptu town appeared a week ago, but there are tents and shanties instead of houses and buildings, and four-wheelers are the primary vehicle traveling to and fro. Like many towns that spring up overnight, those taking up impermanent residence on the north and south sides of the mouth of the Kasilof River are there seeking a common resource — sockeye salmon preparing to make their annual return to fresh water.

“Nowadays you have to be a lawyer to understand the sportfishing regulations, plus it’s elbow to elbow, so I gave it up years ago. Instead, this is how I’ve been getting my salmon for the last 10 or 12 years, at least,” said Tom Patmor, of Clam Gulch.

Patmor and his 76-year-old fishing partner, Al Steele, set up camp on the south side of the Kasilof River all last week to take part in the personal-use set gillnet fishery, which opened June 15 and runs until June 24.

Tom Patmor and Al Steele of Clam Gulch pick fish from their net last weekend during the setnet fishery.

Before the fishery opened, Patmor drove a series of stakes in the sand onshore, as well as out in the mud of the inlet at low tide. Pullies and running lines are attached to these stakes, with a gillnet added the morning of the opener. Patmor knows from experience it is important to stake a claim long before fishing begins.

The fishery — open to Alaska residents only — can become contentious prior to the start. People from all over the state come to take part, but fishing is restricted to within one mile north and south of the Kasilof River mouth, and there must be a minimum distance of 100 feet maintained between gillnets.

“Everybody gets all bunched up. It was better when they used to let us fish all the way down,” Patmor said, referring to a few years ago when the fishery was not restricted to so near the mouth.

Still, Patmor said that those who had gathered this season were getting along, for the most part. By far the bigger concern has been that the salmon were not showing up in abundance. Several tides had only brought in fish in the single digits or low teens.

Patmor prepares his set gillnet before putting it in the water.

“It started out really slow,” he said. “Twenty to 30 fish is more the average, and I’ve hauled up as much as 96 in one net before.”

Fishing not far from Patmor was Ralph Calkins, of Kasilof. Setnetting is his preferred means of filling his freezer, since once his gillnet is set in the water, there is little work to do for six hours until it is pulled back in.

“You have to be aware of what your gear is doing, but it’s not like dipnetting when you’re just standing there the whole time and it’s hard on your back,” he said. “This is just brief periods

Kyle Ferguson, of Kenai, guts a fish caught south of the Kasilof River.

of work, mostly when you’re rigging up or rigging down, and even then everyone pitches in to get it done. Between that, it’s just playing horseshoes, drinking beer, taking naps — basically just relaxing.”

Calkins said he also appreciates the opportunity to meet new people and rekindle old friendships.

“I like this fishery because it’s very casual,” he said. “It has a real neighborhood feel. You get to know the people next to you, and also see people you already know from the area that you wouldn’t normally spend time with if you weren’t down here fishing with them.”

Kyle Ferguson, of Kenai, was taking part in the set gillnet fishery for the first time this season, but like the more seasoned personal-use fishermen, he said he was finding it an enjoyable experience.

“I had no idea how it was all going to work,” he said. “I just figured there would be a system in place, and seeing all the pullies and lines, it is a perfected system, but it’s not difficult at all.”

Like Calkins, Ferguson said he enjoyed the leisure time with family and friends the fisher

All salmon caught in the fishery must have their fins clipped and their harvest recorded before being concealed from plain sight.

y afforded him.

“I really like it,” he said. “There’s lots of ways to get fish, but the camping aspect is what I find really enjoyable. Being able to camp and hang out with everybody really makes the overall experience.”

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Culinary connoisseurs won’t settle for standard fare at fish camp

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Lisa Ferguson, of Kenai, watches while Deb Hayes, of Kasilof, cooks breakfast using her wok over a campfire last weekend at the Kasilof beach during the personal-use setnet fishery.

When some people think of eating meals around a campfire, it’s often hotdogs and beans out of a can that come to mind.

Not for Deb Hayes, of Kasilof, and Lisa Ferguson, of Kenai. They take camp cuisine to new levels of flavor during the week they cook, eat and live on the beach south of the Kasilof River while taking part in the personal-use set gillnet fishery.

“Who says you can’t go gourmet just because you’re camping? I wouldn’t make anything I didn’t really want to eat,” Hayes said.

The two women come well-equipped to prepare their meals, far from kitchen counters, gas-powered stoves and sinks with running water. Underneath a large tent they set up tables to do their prep work, and they bring coolers of meat, vegetables, fruits and a variety of herbs and spices.

“There’s a huge difference between the fresh and the dried stuff,” Ferguson said while unpacking some dill. “Fresh is the best.”

Hayes carries a tackle box with many of her cooking utensils and spices, so she is sure not to forget anything important. There are a few pots and pans packed in which to cook, but the vast majority of meals are made right on a grill. Either that or cooked in a wok laid on top of a makeshift stove fashioned from a 50-gallon drum that’s been cut in half, with windows in the side to keep feeding wood even while food is cooking.

“I really like my wok,” Hayes said. “We can do just about anything with it. We can stir fry in it, deep fry in it, and what’s really good is when making a whole meal, you can keep some items warm by pulling them to the side, while still cooking other things right in the center of it.”

In the morning the two women use the wok to prepare a hearty breakfast of ham-and-cheese omelets, with a side of thick-cut bacon and a hash-brown mixture made up of potatoes, sausage, mushrooms and peppers. These are cooked after the wok is amply lubricated with several pats of real butter, rather than a low-calorie imitation spread.

“You’ve got to have lots of butter,” Ferguson said. “I don’t use anything artificial at all.”

After setting their nets with their families, they take a midmorning snack break to cook cheese crisps, made by melting a blend of cheeses into a quesadilla and topping if off with homemade salsa.

A typical lunch may be barbecued pork ribs and chicken with a side of homemade coleslaw and pasta salad. Or possibly a hamburger, but their burgers are far from traditionally prepared.

“Burgers are still one of my favorites,” Hayes said. “We cook seasoned meat, toast the buns and then add grilled New Mexican green chiles, pineapple, smoked Gouda cheese and top it off with some fresh avocado.”

If all of this seems extravagant, their morning and mid-day meals pale in comparison to what Hayes and Ferguson put together for dinner.

“We’ve made a Thai chicken and coconut curry soup, and we had some really good fajitas with onions, peppers, shrimp and beef. We’ll take turns and make it a real group thing,” Hayes said.

“When we get together there’s no stopping us,” Ferguson added.

The pinnacle of their camp cuisine comes when the two reap the benefits of being so close to the water of Cook Inlet and prepare fresh-caught sockeye salmon.

“It’s always a treat cooking that first salmon of the season,” Hayes said.

Freshly cooked salmon is one of the highlights of camping so close to where the sockeyes are caught on the Kasilof beach during the personal-use setnet fishery.

After pulling a still-squirming sockeye from the net, the fish is quickly dispatched, gutted, filleted and thrown over a campfire without ever touching the inside of an ice chest. After the succulent pink meat is pulled from the flames, Ferguson finishes the fish with a cucumber yogurt sauce, heavy with the fresh dill she packed. A side dish of sautéed summer squash completes the meal.

“Mmmm,” Hayes said. “Salmon is good out of the freezer, but fresh salmon is way better. It’s so good to eat something you know was just alive and swimming 30 minutes ago.”

While the women do the majority of the cooking for their clans, they said they’re not above helping haul in and clean a catch, but they have their priorities while in fish camp.

“I like gutting and processing fish,” Ferguson said. “But I wouldn’t leave something burning in the wok to go clean a fish.”

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Same strokes, different folks — Rowers find different appeals in 1 sport

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Novice rowers compete in a soggy Splash and Dash event Saturday in Soldotna, put on by the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association.

Intermittent downpours Saturday afternoon made the “splash” part of the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association’s annual Splash and Dash event apropos, but didn’t send any of the 16 or so novice participants dashing for cover after the second race of the day on West Mackey Lake.

“Yeah, let’s go again,” was the consensus among the rowers after their second 1,000-meter sweep rowing sprint race across the lake.

After getting drenched in the first sprint and drying off a little during a break in the weather for the second race, the rowers were ready to go at it one more time, even as the skies opened up again while they were loading into their eight-person sculls.

“The rain started during our first race and it only rained during that first race, and then the second race was dry. Now we’re wet again, but it’s still fun,” said Natalie Goodrich.

The Kenai Kids team edges out a boat sponsored by Central Peninsula Hospital in a novice sprint race Saturday held on West Mackey Lake by the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association.

Central Peninsula Hospital sponsored a team, which showed up in matching blue scrub shirts and caps. Although, as chilly weather set in, some augmented the uniform with extra jackets and hats.

Kenai Kids Therapy in Soldotna also fielded a team, which is how Goodrich ended up on the water. One of her co-workers, Pat Springer-Hann, is a member of the rowing club and an organizer of the annual Splash and Dash.

“I did a learn-to-row event last year because I work with Pat. I had a lot of fun and a race sounded like more fun,” Goodrich said. “It’s just kind of a new challenge and it’s a unique sport. Not everybody has had a chance to even watch rowing, so getting a chance to actually do it is very cool.”

A team from Central Peninsula Hospital is decked out for Splash and Dash sprint races in matching scrub shirts and caps.

Trisha Zurbrugg, of the Kenai Kids team, had actually been well-acquainted with rowing in the past. She rowed in college in Washington seven years ago and was pleasantly surprised to learn there was an active rowing club in the Soldotna area after she moved to the area.

“I just wanted to get back out on the water,” Zurbrugg said. “I joined the team, so that’s how fun it was. It was exciting to be back in it — the camaraderie and just healthy, fun people.”

Rowing appeals to different people for different reasons, Springer-Hann said, and that’s part of

A family of ducks on West Mackey Lake dresses the same, as well.

the reason why the club holds the Splash and Dash each year. It’s a fundraiser to help cover the costs of coaching and equipment — one decked-out, eight-person scull can cost up to $40,000 — but it’s primarily a way to expose curious newcomers to the sport.

“I love the rhythmicity of it. I grew up dancing and I think I have some musical inclinations, so the rhythmic part of it is what speaks to me,” Springer-Hann said. “I also really enjoy the camaraderie of a boat moving down the water all in unison, but that kind of goes back to the rhythmicity of it. For me, that’s what it is, but it’s different for everybody. We’ve got some very athletic newcomers, and for them it’s the athleticism that is required.”

Springer-Hann got into rowing at the behest of a friend when the central peninsula club was still meeting on Cohoe Lake in Kasilof.

“A friend of mine told me I would do it. I’m a follower, man,” she said.

About a year before she first tried rowing she had seen an eight-man, 62-foot boat in a friend’s yard in Cooper Landing.

“Being from landlocked Idaho, I’d never seen them before. When the opportunity came up to row on Cohoe Lake, I went to check it out. It was tons of fun, and I love the water. I love being on the water, I love the sound of the water, I love to watch the water. That’s what’s in it for me,” she said. Continue reading

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