Moose malaise is only skin deep

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A cow moose afflicted with infectious cutaneous fibromas has been seen in Kasilof lately. The “warts” are caused by a virus and are generally harmless.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A cow moose afflicted with infectious cutaneous fibromas has been seen in Kasilof lately. The “warts” are caused by a virus and are generally harmless.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Moose never look regal in the spring. They’re scrawny and lean from the long winter without fresh forage and scruffy while shedding their ragged-looking cold-weather coat. But one young cow lingering in Kasilof lately has an even more unappealing presence.

“They’re called infectious cutaneous fibromas,” said John Crouse, a wildlife biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, in regard to the dry, hairless, apple-sized tumors dangling from the moose’s body.

Actually a virus, fibromas affect nearly all species of the deer family and have been documented in white- and black-tailed deer, mule deer, fallow deer, red deer, roe deer, Sika deer and caribou, in addition to moose.

“The ‘warts’ can be anywhere from golf ball sized up to volleyball sized, and they can have just one or be covered in them,” Crouse said. They may also grow in individual tumors or in large clumps of them.

As a virus, fibromas are spread from moose to moose via direct contact with an infected animal, contact with an object that a moose with a burst wart has rubbed on, or by insect bites.

“It’s not too big a deal for them or their long-term health. Usually it’s the younger animals under 2 years old that get them, and it will clear up after a few months,” Crouse said, although on rare occasions some tumors can develop in sensitive areas, such as around the eyes and nose or in the armspits, and affect the animal’s sight, breathing or movement.

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View from Out West: Spring in your continued step —  ‘Tis the season for keeping it up, not just waking up

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair Clark Fair poses on a ridgeline high above the Cottonwood Creek Trail terminus in August 2013.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair
Clark Fair poses on a ridgeline high above the Cottonwood Creek Trail terminus in August 2013.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Once upon a time, my plans for spring were portended by failures from the preceding autumn. However, for the past few years, I am happy to say that this pattern of behavior has changed.

Autumn on the Kenai Peninsula usually arrives in two waves — starting with the often beautiful, crisp wave that features frosty mornings, clear blue skies, brightly turning leaves and the welcome death of biting insects. That’s followed by the sodden, browning, wetter wave that features decaying organic matter, grayer skies, ephemeral snows and a softening of sound that heralds winter. Over much of my life, it was during this second wave that I began to abandon my outdoor-adventure goals and set them aside for next year.

Unfortunately, “Wait ’til next time,” often meant, “Just forget about it.” While teaching high school English in Soldotna from 1988 to 2008, much of my “planning for next year” amounted to little more than wishful thinking. Those “saved” treks — climbing Mount Ascension, for instance, or finding a way up Mount Alice and returning to the high country above Cottonwood Creek Trail — usually wound up unrealized and saved again and again, like items on a to-do list that are never crossed off, due largely to a deeply ingrained blueprint of seasonal behavior.

Once fall arrived I began to fatten up for winter like the bears of the Kenai. I slowed my metabolism and grew slothful as I mostly hunkered in my den, waiting for waning sunlight to wax, for snow to melt once more from the trails, and for the energy of springtime to jump-start my diminished battery and provide the impetus to push me out the door.

Each spring I eventually emerged from dormancy to lumber off in search of adventure, but doing so was not easy. Hibernation always exacted a price — the pain associated with overcoming muscle atrophy and increased bulk.

I then exacerbated that pain by starting most summers too fast.

One of my first targets each year, usually on a warm weekend in mid- to late April, was the Slaughter Gulch trail in Cooper Landing. I felt exhilarated — between the panting pauses that punctuated my pathetic pioneering — to return to alpine terrain, briefly unfettered by lesson planning and grading, and breathing nonclassroom air. And as I shambled back to my van at the trailhead, smiling and usually muddy and wet, I was consistently unprepared for the aftermath — my knees would lock up during the drive home, the soles of my feet would become hamburgery, and for two or three days my hamstrings and quadriceps would be sensitive to the lightest touch.

On Monday, I’d hobble about the high school, grimacing on the stairs, fearful of bumping a thigh against a student’s desk. On Tuesday, the grimaces became slight winces, the hobbling more of a clumsy shuffle. By Wednesday, I was miraculously healed and swimming once again in denial concerning my lack of proper conditioning.

At the end of that full week of sitting at my desk, snacking on doughnuts in the teachers’ lounge and nursing my wounds, I would re-attire myself in Weekend Warrior regalia. I’d set aside Saturday or Sunday to assault more topographic contours, typically Skyline Trail or Hideout Hill, whichever appeared most snow-free. And so it went, punishing weekend after punishing weekend, until the school year ended in late May and I was liberated from my self-imposed sedentary life.

By the time June arrived, hiking uphill and down hurt less or not at all, and I was moving on to longer and more adventuresome treks — training, I probably claimed, for the bigger trips to come. But I kept postponing the major outings, waiting for perfect weather or a perfect opportunity. In other words, stalling for a time that almost never arrived.

After I retired, however, things changed (although I’d be lying if I said they changed right away). I joined the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club. I got back in shape under the ministrations and patience of trainer Darin Hagen. I also altered my mind-set. No more sloth. No more painful transitions with the seasons. No more sitting on my ass all winter.

Eventually, I was hiking year-round, often on snowshoes during the winter. I was skiing more often. I make longer treks on my mountain bike. And I started running for the first time since my college days.

Alaska opened up to me.

Yvonne Leutwyler approaches the final climb to the summit of Mount Ascension in July 2013.

Yvonne Leutwyler approaches the final climb to the summit of Mount Ascension in July 2013.

With much-appreciated pretrip advice from Pete Sprague and the accompaniment of Yvonne Leutwyler, I finally summited Mount Ascension. Accompanied by Tony Eskelin and Tom and Stephanie Kobylarz, I finally crossed Skilak Lake again and climbed above the terminus of the Cottonwood Creek Trail. With Yvonne and my brother, Lowell, I pounded up Pioneer Peak in Palmer. And with the assistance of inside information from a Seward resident, I at last learned the location of the Mount Alice trailhead and ventured up its rocky spine.

Now, instead of pocketing my plans in the autumn and digging them out with the lint in the spring, I’m planning constantly, seeking adventure regardless of the season. Each season, I’ve learned, holds special promise. (Of course, nonsnowy winters, high winds and extra-rainy summers can provide unwelcome challenges, too, but generally I’m much less interested in excuses than I used to be.)

The summit of Mount Alice is revealed as Jenny Neyman and Patrice Kohl crest another rise in August 2013.

The summit of Mount Alice is revealed as Jenny Neyman and Patrice Kohl crest another rise in August 2013.

Here in Dillingham now, I’ve struggled a bit more to get out as consistently and to be as fit as I’d like. We live on the second story of an apartment building. We have one car. The area has only three recognized trails, few roads and no public gym or recreation center. But those are just excuses. Such obstacles force us to think unconventionally. We seek access, or create it, where none appears to exist. We look for alternate means of transportation — kayaks, packrafts, friends with motorized boats and wheeled vehicles.

And we save money to shell out for trips to places beyond our reach.

Near Dillingham is the largest state park in the nation — Wood-Tikchik, the crown jewels of which are the series of five interconnected freshwater lakes that feed the Wood River and part of the most productive red salmon fishery in the world — Bristol Bay. North of those five lakes lie a half-dozen more, the most northern of which is Nishlik. This summer, rafting and fishing, camping and hiking at Nishlik is on our radar, among other things.

We’ve also discovered a dry ridge that will give us access to hills lying across stretches of wet, spongy tundra and winding watercourses. We’re eager to access this “gateway” and to explore new mountaintops and peer beyond them into new valleys.

But when next fall arrives, we won’t fret about what we haven’t accomplished. And we won’t worry about waiting out the long winter. We’ll ski across snowy marshes, fish through the ice of area lakes, explore on snowshoes the brushy confines of meandering salmon streams — searching, always searching, and ever in motion.

I’m not interesting in slowing down anytime soon.

Clark Fair, a resident of the Kenai Peninsula for more than 50 years, is a lifetime Alaskan now living in Dillingham.

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Drawn to moviemaking —  Cartoonist creates ‘Moose the Movie’ Alaska-themed spoof

Images courtesy of “Moose the Movie”

Images courtesy of “Moose the Movie”

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Sooo, there’s this half man, half moose, and a kid in a tin hat, some squirrel hunters, an overly aggressive redneck and his overly chilled-out brother, a troupe of mimes and a mountain pirate who is plenty piratey but lives inland due to his probable fear of the water.

Oh, and a Wasilla cartoonist who decides to become a moviemaker and created a supernatural creature feature-slash-comedy for DVD release that is now so popular it’s being shown in movie theaters across Alaska and the Lower 48.

That last part is real. The cartoonist is Chad Carpenter, author of the Tundra comics, and the creature feature is “Moose the Movie.” He got the idea on a drive home from Fairbanks about two years ago that it’d be fun to make a full-length movie.

“I thought, ‘If I want to make one of these in Alaska, what would be kind of a fun creature? And I thought a carnivore is too easy. A bear or a wolf, that’s too easy.’ So I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be kind of fun to make a moose the bad guy?’ And that’s where the half man, half moose came up and I thought, ‘Ah, a moosetaur,’” Carpenter said.

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Plugged In: Stay sharp when buying high-end lenses

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

In preparing this series, I tested quite a number of Micro Four-Thirds single-magnification prime lenses and ultrawide-angle zoom lenses, finding several that are both optically good to excellent and relatively affordable.

Ultrawide-angle zooms are difficult to design and manufacture compared to lenses with more moderate magnifications. Corner sharpness, in particular, tends to fall behind. Producing one at an affordable price is a minor miracle.

I’ve never particularly liked medium-wide-angle lenses optically equivalent to a 28-mm lens on a traditional 35-mm film camera. Somehow, their field of view and perspective never looks quite right to me, yet ultra-wideangle lenses with a 35-mm equivalent of 18 mm to 24 mm produce images that I often find powerful because of the exaggerated foreground perspective. Your personal taste, and hence your mileage, may vary.

When comparing the optical effects of an M 4/3 lens, simply multiply its focal length by two to get the 35-mm equivalent. Olympus lenses do not include any optical image-stabilization hardware because that’s built directly into Olympus’ camera bodies. Both Panasonic and Olympus lenses are image-stabilized when mounted on Olympus bodies, but Panasonic camera owners will likely be happier using Panasonic lenses that include optical image stabilization built into each lens.

There are at least four ultrawide-angle zooms currently available for M 4/3 cameras. Of these, I’ve found that Olympus’ older, 9- to 18-mm ED zoom is the sharpest affordable option. It’s even quite sharp when used at 64-megapixel resolution. This is an older lens, originally designed for use with moving mirror Four-Thirds dSLR cameras, so this lens requires an Olympus MMF-2 or MMF-3 adapter for fully automatic operation with current M 4/3 cameras. This relatively large lens remains available both used and new. I know that I won’t part with mine.

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LNG phase wait and see — Fieldwork collects data toward decision on Alaska LNG project

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A crew works on collecting soil samples near Autumn Road in Nikiski during fieldwork last October. Crews are ramping up an even busier season of fieldwork to gather data for the Alaska LNG project.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. A crew works on collecting soil samples near Autumn Road in Nikiski during fieldwork last October. Crews are ramping up an even busier season of fieldwork to gather data for the Alaska LNG project.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

There are a lot of questions about what would be the largest construction project in the state, and possibly the country — chief among them, whether it will come to fruition. But the beginning of another season of fieldwork on the Alaska LNG project will generate more information to start filling in those unknowns.

The project is in the Pre-FEED — Front End Engineering and Design — phase, where various studies and sampling are being conducted to see whether the concept dreamed up in 2013 is going to be feasible in the future. The project calls for a gas treatment plant on the North Slope, about 800 miles of pipeline to Nikiski with offtake points along the way to give Alaska communities access to gas, and a liquefaction plant, storage tanks and a marine terminal in Nikiski to ship the gas off to market.

Fieldwork began in 2013, continued in the spring, summer and fall of 2014 and according to Jeff Raun, downstream advisor for the LNG project at an open house in Niksiki last week, will be even busier this year.

Crews did 24 bore holes onshore and about 10,000 acres of fieldwork last year and expect to do around 80 bore holes and closer to 20,000 acres this year. They need to find out about soil conditions, subsurface stability and any potential underground hazards, such as boulders or buried manmade structures.

“These studies will help inform the placement and design associated with the major components of the facility — tanks, process equipment (etc.),” Raun said.

Testing is being done in Cook Inlet, as well, along the route the pipeline is expected to cross, from near Tyonek on the west side to Nikiski.

Several other environmental analyses are happening concurrently, adding to what will be, when all is tested and done, an exhaustive knowledge base of the ecology and seismography of the Nikiski area.

“Identification of wetlands, obtaining permits to do the work, nesting migratory birds, raptors, cultural resources. On the marine side we will have marine observers scanning the horizon for protected mammals and other species of interest,” Raun said.

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Renewed views — Spring for a chance to shake off winter

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A greater yellow leg patrols the shore of Peterson Lake in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A greater yellow leg patrols the shore of Peterson Lake in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

By Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter

The underbelly of cumulus clouds still glowed with the grapefruit coloring of the setting sun as our car bumped down the final mile of dirt road. Gravel crunched under our tires as we came to a halt on the shoreline of Peterson Lake in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. We feared we wouldn’t make it before dark, or by arriving so late in the day our site would be claimed. The latter turned out to be true.

In the place we intended to camp a greater yellow leg was standing his ground, glowering down his long beak at us and bobbing his head in agitation. “Tew-tew tew!” he repeated, but seeing we weren’t dissuaded by his disparaging greeting, he flew off after having his shrill say.

We had the place to ourselves.

I stepped from my vehicle and my lungs seemed to sing as much as expand in the fresh air. Like many Alaskans do after a long (and this year not very enjoyable) winter, my wife, 2-year-old daughter and I had come to experience rejuvenation — the kind that can only result from time spent in nature during the seasonal rebirth of spring.

“What do you want to do first, set up camp, get a fire going, or explore a little bit?” I asked.

They say the eyes are drawn to what the mind truly desires, and I saw my wife crane her head to look at the canoe tethered to the car’s roof. She had cast her vote without saying a word. We untied the canoe, got the paddles out, donned our life vests and pushed off from shore. The water was as clear as gin, and in the still air of dusk, the surface of the lake was a large, flat expanse of glass. The only ripples came from our paddling and wake.

We scanned the horizon, and despite it being nearly 10 p.m., we realized we weren’t the only ones feeling the manic enthusiasm that strikes in spring, with each day getting longer than the previous. Three dark shapes moved briskly along the eastern shoreline. It looked like waterfowl of some sort. We altered our course in that direction.

A male and female of goldeneye ducks pair up at Peterson Lake.

A male and female of goldeneye ducks pair up at Peterson Lake.

As we got closer we saw three Barrow’s goldeneye ducks, one female with a short orange bill and brown head, and two very agitated male suitors. The drakes were in full, crisp, black-and-white breeding plumage, their steep foreheads rolling back to long manes that gave off a purplish iridescence in the slanting, late-day sun.

“One, two, three,” my daughter counted.

It was one too many at a time of year when courtship called to the birds and bees. Somebody would have to leave their party.

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Drinking on the Last Frontier: Cheers to new home — Kenai River Co. building brewery

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Doug Houge, one of the owners of Kenai River Brewing Co., kicks back at what will be the site of the new brewery near the “Y” in Soldotna. The expanded facility should open next May.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Doug Houge, one of the owners of Kenai River Brewing Co., kicks back at what will be the site of the new brewery near the “Y” in Soldotna. The expanded facility should open next May.

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

The growth of craft brewing, both in Alaska and across the U.S., continues to amaze. The Brewers Association has published the 2014 statistics for American craft beer, and the numbers are staggering. Craft beer sales now make up 11 percent of all beer sales nationwide by volume (up from just 5 percent in 2010) and 19.3 percent by dollars spent (up 22 percent since just last year). More than 22 million barrels of craft beer were produced last year, by 3,418 craft breweries. The number of craft breweries has doubled since 2010, with 615 opening last year, while only 46 went out of business. Small brewers employed more than 115,000 people in 2014. While sales of AB-InBev and MillerCoors products are stagnant or dropping, craft beer sales continue to grow at a rapid pace. By every standard, the future of craft brewing in the U.S. is bright.

Here in Alaska, we’ve seen much the same trends. Established companies like Alaskan Brewing and Anchorage Brewing have completed major expansion projects. Haines Brewing Co. just broke ground on a new brewery. Resolution Brewing opened in Anchorage and several other new breweries in various locations across the state seemed poised to join the ranks of the Brewers Guild of Alaska and begin supplying their communities will fresh, locally produced craft beer. And now Soldotna is joining in the brewery construction boom.

As is obvious to anyone who has visited it recently, Kenai River Brewing Co. outgrew its current location quite some time ago. When it opened in May 2006, the brewery occupied only half its building. In early 2012, it expanded to occupy the entire building and opened its current taproom. However, space is still at a premium, with several storage containers located behind the building holding cans waiting to be filled, and no room remaining on the brewery floor for any additional fermentation vessels or expanded equipment. For the brewery to continue to grow, it is obvious that it needs new quarters. The management of Kenai River has been searching for a new location for several months, and it now appears that a suitable one has been found.

Doug Hogue, one of the owners of Kenai River Brewing Co., has announced the purchase of a 1.4-acre parcel in Soldotna, where KRB will build a standalone brewery. The lot is at the corner of 47th and Homestead Streets, behind the new Walgreens being constructed at the intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways. The new building should be easily visible from the Sterling Highway with a sightline between the new drug store and the existing Auto Zone.

Now that the purchase of the land has been finalized, Hogue said that the brewery hopes to break ground in August.

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