Daily Archives: August 17, 2011

Worms crawl in, cause damage in refuge — Study tracks possible wriggling invasion

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Deanna Saltmarsh holds up a preserved nightcrawler sample, one of several worms she collected this past summer while conducting research on invasive species at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge as part of a graduate project through Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage.

Redoubt Reporter

Anyone who thinks their desk is a mess should see Deanna Saltmarsh’s workspace. It’s one thing to be piled with stacks of paper and associated office debris. It’s quite another to be buried in more than 300 worms.

“I’ve collected 336 worms, to be exact,” she said. “My friends bet me I’d end up being called ‘the worm lady,’ and within the first two weeks that’s what everyone was calling me. I knew it would happen.”

Saltmarsh earned her moniker this summer while conducting field research and collecting samples of earthworms from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge as part of a graduate project through Alaska Pacific University, in Anchorage. She said she is actually more interested in the effects the worms are having on the environment, than in the worms themselves.

“I’m really interested in invasive species in general,” she said.

This may sound confusing to anyone with a green thumb, but Saltmarsh said that while worms in a garden are a good thing, they may not be as beneficial for the environment outside raised beds and planting boxes, for much the same reasons.

In gardens, earthworms aerate the soil, mix organic material into the soil profile and process coarse organic debris into a form that can increase nutrient availability. But these soil-altering abilities also mean that when they successfully invade regions naturally devoid of earthworms, something is likely to change.

“They’re good in an agricultural setting, but not so good in a forest ecosystem,” she said. “They can limit plant species diversity and plant species richness, they can change nutrient cycling to produce more grasses and weeds, and they can lend to erosion by their consuming of the organic material from the forest floor, which can leave bare earth and plants with their roots exposed.” Continue reading

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Filed under ecology, insects, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

She bang — Women on Target acquaint girls, guns

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A Women on Target participant adjusts her French-manicured grip on a pistol during a Women on Target clinic Aug. 6 at the Snowshoe Gun Club range in Kenai.

Redoubt Reporter

A bullet doesn’t care whose finger pulls the trigger, even if the gun manufacturer may not have designed the trigger guard and grip to accommodate inch-long, French-manicured fingernails.

Likewise, firearms instructors at the Snowshoe Gun Club shooting range in Kenai on a recent Saturday afternoon didn’t much care that all their students were women.

It’s not that they didn’t notice. That fact would be hard to miss. Aside from the obvious examples of gender were all the little details throughout the day — pausing to remove a hoop earring that otherwise would get smashed between a shotgun and the shooter’s face, scheduling around kid-shuttling duties, searching for stocks cut down enough to fit comfortably in petite arm spans. And the range sounded a little different, too. There were the same old cracks of guns firing and metallic thunks of bullets blasting targets, but the resulting whoops of success were decidedly higher pitched.

It’s more that gender was irrelevant. The instructors didn’t think their pupils being females made them any less able to learn to shoot, and shoot well, than guys. If anything, an all-women group was a little bit easier to instruct than men.

“The women listen better, to be honest,” said Jay Sjogren, a firearms instructor at the Kenai Police Department. “Most women, at least a high percentage, don’t come out here with a preconceived idea of how they’re going to do it. They don’t have that machoism about them that a guy might.”

Even brand-new students, women who have never even held, much less fired, a gun before, are a welcome challenge. They have no bad habits to break and they are completely open to instruction, Sjogren said, without getting defensive about something their dad may have once showed them, or an idea they got from watching movies or TV shows.

“Just learning to do it right from the get-go. It lends the ability to learn properly to shoot well,” Sjogren said. Continue reading

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Filed under firearms, hunting, outdoors

Ready, aim, learn — Taking a shot to be taught something new

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

The reporter, on the skeet range. And yes, she actually hit something.

Being self-taught is usually a mark of distinction, a sign of initiative, ingenuity, determination, curiosity, mental acuity and general stick-to-it-iveness.

Usually.

Some areas lend themselves better to individually acquired aptitude than others.

Good: Self-taught musician, artist, mechanic, photographer, fisherman or dog groomer.

Not so good: Self-taught brain surgeon, nuclear submarine engineer or dentist.

The distinction seems to be the likelihood that pain, discomfort and/or death could result from poor performance of the activity.

In many venues, I prefer to be self-taught. (That’s a nice way to say, “Does not play well with others.”) Show me how it’s supposed to turn out, give me a couple pointers, set me off in the right general direction and leave me alone. I will happily lurch forward, tripping over every stumbling block, making every mistake and thoroughly exploring every possible dead end until I finally, blindly head-butt my way into some meager form of barely passable competency.

I taught myself to juggle. (Sort of. If you want your fruit unbruised or any fragile, spherical objects in your possession unbroken, don’t let me near them.)

I learned how to cook. (Charcoaled chicken or lumpy gravy, anyone?)

I can play piano. (Does the easy section of “Für Elise” and the theme from “The Simpsons” count?)

I can make stained glass crafts. (I hope you like straight-edged starbursts, ’cuz that’s all you’re getting.)

Consequently, the pool of my skills set is broad yet shallow. No depths of ability are plumbed, but at least you won’t need arm floaties since I don’t attempt to teach myself anything that would require a lifeguard. I limit my self-directed knowledge procurement to things that may make me want to die of embarrassment when I inevitably bungle them in public, but that won’t make anyone actually die. Continue reading

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Filed under firearms, hunting, outdoors

Seeing red not always trouble — K-Bay algae bloom a nontoxic event

By Naomi Klouda

Photo courtesy of Homer Tribune

Homer Tribune

Bright red streaks in the waters at Tutka Bay last week caused a bit of a fright among local observers, but the radiant blooming algae pose no reason to be alarmed.

A “red tide” or any unusual discoloration of the water doesn’t always signal paralytic shellfish poisoning, explained George Scanlan, the shellfish permit coordinator for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

In this case, the red discoloration is from a bloom of algae that aren’t toxic.

“Red is the color given by the organism itself. It becomes more apparent and spectacular when they are present in large concentrations,” Scanlan said.

Ideal warm temperatures and plenty of nutrients in the water can cause the proliferation of the phytoplankton.

Red tides do not always spell a signal for PSP, though scientists warn those who harvest shellfish to be on the safe side and avoid eating shellfish such as  clams, mussels and oysters that have not been tested for PSP during these periods. In Kachemak Bay, the toxic chemical is not present in seaweed.

“Oyster growers at Kachemak Bay submit a weekly sample for PSP testing throughout the summer. We have a fairly good record of the level of PSP toxin based on those weekly testings,” Scanlan said. “During this time period of bloom, the samples submitted have been clean. The level of the toxin has been either nondetectable or well below the regulatory limit of 80 micrograms per 100 grams of toxin.”   Continue reading

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Filed under ecology, health

Landing lasting memories with fish taxidermy

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Ken Johnson, owner of Fantasies in Fiberglass in Sterling, shows of some of the projects he is current working on. Johnson has been a taxidermist for more than 25 years.

Redoubt Reporter

Ken Johnson put the finishing touches on the massive, 88-pound king salmon in front of him. But he wasn’t gutting it, steaking it out or shaving fillets from its ribs. Rather than focusing attention on the pink meat that would ordinarily comprise the bulk of such a behemoth, his interest was scale deep.

Johnson was carefully adorning glass eyes and putting globs of thick resin in the fish’s mouth, then slowly pulling back on the globs to form teeth identical to that which the salmon had in real life.

“I usually put at least 15 to 20 hours into a fish,” he said. “Painting a king alone can take three hours. It’s a lot of layering with an airbrush to get the colors you’re looking for. I think all taxidermists agonize over panting. Once you start and see it coming along you’re fine, but you have to have an eye for it and have had a lot of practice.”

Practice is one thing Johnson has in spades. Owner of Fantasies in Fiberglass, in Sterling, he has been doing fish taxidermy for more than 25 years. His work is all around town, including displays in the Peninsula Center Mall, the Reel Café, Trustworthy Hardware and the Sportsmen’s Den guide service at Trustworthy.

He got his start from a humble beginning, after making a purchase from a sporting goods store.

“I was in Weatherby’s and saw a book on taxidermy for $3.95, so I bought it. In there it had a section on how to do a skin mount and that’s how I got started. It was just for fun at first,” he said. Continue reading

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Old Duck Hunter: Zero room for error — Set sights before heading to the hunting field this fall

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

Few things match the smell of rotting vegetation. At least, that’s what seems to cause that change in the air in late Alaska summer (read that as the first part of August), when one morning you walk outside and hunting season is literally in the air.

I believe, for the lack of scientific knowledge on the subject and, more importantly, the inability to waste precious hunting time studying it, that it is the signal of the end of the growing season. Instead of shooting up like the proverbial beanstalk, vegetation begins to sag and a change comes over it, causing that delightful smell.

I am probably so far out on my theory that I would be expelled from the scientific community, if I were a member in the first place. Whatever the reason, it is what it is. For me, it’s the sign that tells hunters to quit messing around and get things in order.

Hunters know what I am talking about. It doesn’t matter where you live, at some point in the sunset of summer it just happens. In Alaska it happens early — this year it was 4:30 a.m. July 29 when I took my setter out for his morning walk. It subsequently sent me into an anxious 12-day wait for the opening of upland bird season.

I don’t know how summer got away so fast. It seems as though it just started, and here it is hunting season again. In any event, that means it’s time to check the zero or sight in the hunting rifles. If it is a new rifle/scope setup, then it may take a bit more than the usual couple of shots to confirm what you already know — that it was sighted in fine when you put it away last fall and it probably still is. Continue reading

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Filed under hunting, outdoors

Almanac: Extinguished career — Lights out for Coast Guard lamplighter

By Clark Fair

This old U.S. Coast Guard photo, scanned from the pages of a 1963 Alaska Sportsman magazine, shows Raymond E. Burton of Cohoe in the middle of his lamplighting duties on the Kasilof River in 1962.

Redoubt Reporter

In November 1962, 54-year-old Raymond E. Burton, of Cohoe, received a polite Dear John letter concerning his job as a lamplighter for the U.S. Coast Guard.

According to the January 1963 Alaska Sportsman magazine, that letter, written by Capt. Albert E. Harned, chief of staff for the 17th Coast Guard District, informed Burton that, despite the fact that his “faithful service” had been “completely satisfactory in every respect” for seven and a half years, he was being dropped from the payroll.

Such a termination may seem a rude way to reward faithful, satisfactory performance — especially for the last lamplighter of his kind in the nation — but Burton was not being punished. He was simply a victim of progress.

Marine lamplighting — a navigational aid in America’s coastal waterways and obscure inlets — had changed before, and it was about to change again.

According to a brief article about Burton in the Nov. 12, 1962, Newsweek magazine, the first colonial lighthouse was erected on Great Brewster Island at the entrance to Boston Harbor in 1716. This lighthouse burned a wick in whale oil, which colonists considered progressive compared to the candle-powered lighthouses still being employed in some locations by the British.

Eventually, however, whale oil gave way to kerosene and, more than two centuries later, to electricity. In 1962, when his lamps were extinguished and replaced by battery-powered electric lights, Burton’s services were no longer required. Continue reading

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Filed under Almanac, Kasilof