Moose get season date updates — Board of Game addresses Kenai hunting regulations

Redoubt Reporter file photo. The Alaska Board of Game updated regulations for moose hunting at its meeting in Anchorage last week.

Redoubt Reporter file photo. The Alaska Board of Game updated regulations for moose hunting at its meeting in Anchorage last week.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

As Alaska Board of Game members heard last week, it’s good news, bad news regarding the moose population on the Kenai Peninsula. The board met March 13 through 18 in Anchorage to consider Southcentral proposals, including several measures related to moose hunting on the Kenai Peninsula.

The board got to peninsula moose measures March 17, starting with a presentation by Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The peninsula is divided into Game Management Units 7, on the eastern peninsula, and 15A on the northwestern peninsula, 15B in the central western peninsula, and 15C in the southwestern peninsula. While moose aren’t going great guns in any of those units — and, therefore, neither is moose hunting — some areas are doing better than others.

“We believe 15A is still in decline. Fifteen B is kind of a wait and see due to the large fire that occurred there, and 15C we believe we’re stable and maybe, possibly increasing slightly. And in Unit 7 we think we are still having declining moose populations,” Selinger said.

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Bear minimum — Board of Game sets new caps on brown bear harvest

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Hunters on the Kenai Peninsula will have a little less opportunity to harvest brown bears following a decision from the Alaska Board of Game on March 17, but have the board’s assurance that, should the population start becoming more of a nuisance, problem bears could be converted to more huntable bears.

The Board of Game met last week in Anchorage to consider proposals for the Southcentral Region, including the Kenai Peninsula. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game requested guidance on its brown bear management strategy.

A 2010 brown bear population census more than doubled the estimate of the number of bears on the peninsula. At the board’s previous Southcentral meeting, in 2012, it liberalized brown bear hunting, in part responding to requests from the public that that the bear population be reduced. According to board Vice Chair Nate Turner, the strategy seems to have worked.

“It really rung loudly in my ears at that Kenai meeting how many people came in complaining about the bears, in their view, terrorizing the neighborhoods,” Turner said. “Didn’t hear anything about that at this meeting. (But) did hear a lot of comments about, ‘Things are better now.’”

The department has been managing hunting to limit the total number of human-caused brown bear mortalities to 70 per year, with no more than 17 adult females. Jeff Selinger, Kenai area management biologist for Fish and Game, told the board the department would like to lower those numbers to 40 total bears per year, and no more than eight adult females, but with the flexibility to liberalize hunting opportunities if bears start becoming more of a problem. For instance, if there’s an uptick in defense of life and property shootings.

“If all of a sudden we have five or six DLPs next year, where we only had two DLPs this year, to me that would be more of a trigger, than just what the number of adult females are, to say we need to increase opportunity again,” Selinger said. “We believe we knocked the population down over the last few years. And what we proposed here is our best estimate of what it would take to stabilize the population.”

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Aiming for hunting experience — Alaska Outdoor Explorations is different class of learning

Photo courtesy of Jesse Bjorkman. Trevor Junkert, Zina Schwenke, Ashana Poage, Mike Hamrick, Justin Cox, Josiah Guenther and Rob Guenther work to skin and butcher a moose taken in December as part of an educational youth hunt. The field trip was a cooperative effort between the Nikiski Middle-Senior High School’s Alaska outdoor exploration class, parents and volunteers.

Photo courtesy of Jesse Bjorkman. Trevor Junkert, Zina Schwenke, Ashana Poage, Mike Hamrick, Justin Cox, Josiah Guenther and Rob Guenther work to skin and butcher a moose taken in December as part of an educational youth hunt. The field trip was a cooperative effort between the Nikiski Middle-Senior High School’s Alaska outdoor exploration class, parents and volunteers.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

The light snow sifting from the December sky made tracking easy. In the soft powder, the pie-plate-sized cloven hooves were a telltale sign a moose had recently passed through the area. The small group followed them to the source — a cow, perhaps 3 to 4 years old, in a stretch of woods off the Marathon Road Escape Route in Nikiski. Jesse Bjorkman chambered a .338 round into his bolt-action rifle, centered the crosshairs of his scope over the vital organs, then squeezed the trigger.

“It was an ethical, clean shot, through both lungs. The moose went about 25 yards then was down,” Bjorkman said.

His harvest — part of a permitted educational hunt — was not accomplished alone, though. Bjorkman was accompanied by several seventh- and eighth-grade students from the Alaska Outdoor Explorations class he teaches at Nikiski Middle/Senior High School, operated with the help of several volunteers, including Michael Hamrick, a hunting guide; Mark Burdick, with Safari Club International; Jerry Peterson, a hunter safety trainer with the state of Alaska; parents Rob Guenther, Reuben Junkert and Matt Scalise; and Alaska Department of Fish and Game area biologist Jeff Selinger and permitting biologist Cyndi Gardner.

The hunt was a culmination of several principles they’ve gone over for weeks.

“The class is very broad but ecology is a big part of it, so the kids had already learned about what moose do in the wild, how they act, their life cycle, how to tell a bull from a cow, things like that. Then, this hunt was kind of the proactive part of the class,” he said.

But even with all the classroom knowledge the students learned, they didn’t jump right from school to field. They also had to complete a hunter education course to participate, so they would be well versed in principles such as state rules and regulations, ethical shooting and hunting practices, and firearm safety.

“Still, the kids don’t get to pull the trigger,” Bjorkman said. “But they do get to direct all aspects of the hunt, from spotting with binoculars and tracking the animal, to determining the range to it, to making the decision on if I should take the shot or not.”

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Plugged In: Photo tips exposed: Make sure light is right

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Proper exposure is the second core principle of good photography, complementing the techniques of sharp focus and crisp detail that we examined last week.

While special circumstances sometimes benefit from soft focus or nonstandard exposure, the norm for most photos remains sharp, well-exposed images.

That’s particularly true for family and travel photos and documentation. It’s worth noting at this point that a final output that appears slightly underexposed is often particularly attractive, with richer, more saturated colors and detailed highlights.

Exposure is affected by three primary factors — ISO sensitivity, lens aperture and shutter speed. Readers of last week’s article may recall that two of these factors, lens aperture and shutter speed, also affect apparent sharpness. Finding the best combination of settings to maximize overall image quality inevitably requires finding the compromise that optimizes all factors for a particular subject and lighting condition.

It’s worth noting that the “P” Program exposure mode found on most cameras will set the camera to more or less balanced settings generally applicable for many situations. Program mode exposure often works fairly well, setting your camera to what the manufacturer’s engineers believe to be good general compromises among the factors affecting proper exposure and sharpness.

Similarly, “Scene” modes often work well for specific circumstances, like brightly lit snow scenes, sunsets or photos at the beach. However, “Automatic Exposure” mode should be relied on for any important photos without enough prior testing by you under similar circumstances to warrant your confidence.

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Strumming Stardom — Students tune in to lifelong learning

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. The Soldotna Stars Guitars group, representing guitar classes at Soldotna High School, perform at Kaladi Brothers earlier this month.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. The Soldotna Stars Guitars group, representing guitar classes at Soldotna High School, perform at Kaladi Brothers earlier this month.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The high school students jamming at Kaladi Brothers Coffee in Soldotna on March 3 might not be rock stars quite yet. But they do play gigs out in public to show off their guitar skills, and the name is halfway there.

“Well, thank you, this was the Soldotna Stars Guitars,” said Kent Peterson, who teaches guitar class at Soldotna High School.

The Stars, then, refers to the school mascot, rather than rock icon status. But who knows? Everybody starts somewhere. Maybe one of the students strumming through a cover of the Decembrists or picking a solo to an Eric Clapton song will be on a bigger stage someday, playing to thousands of screaming fans, having started out entertaining a handful of late-afternoon coffee shop patrons.

And even if not, the students are still getting something from the class — musical experience, confidence in performing and a skill they can enjoy to whatever extent they choose to pursue it.

“Probably part of it is the idea that they’re going to be a rock star. Everyone thinks they’re going to be great, but even if they don’t go to that level, when you sit around and you bring out a guitar, everybody joins in. It’s kind of a little bit of that folk instrument where it just brings people together,” Peterson said.

That’s already been happening at SoHi, now in its first year having consolidated with Skyview High School. Peterson taught at Skyview, and brought guitar class with him to SoHi. His numbers grew this year, to two classes with about 30 students overall.

“I think with it being new at Soldotna High School this year we got a lot of new kids,” he said. “And also I think some of the kids have been playing in the hall during lunch, and other kids have been hearing that. So, if they play a little bit of guitar, they’re like, ‘Awesome, I want to play with other people, too.’”

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Kenai vets get Choice in care — New VA program expands health care options for veterans

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Representatives from the Veterans Administration in Alaska had good news to share at a town hall meeting Thursday evening at Kenai Peninsula College — veterans on the Kenai Peninsula eligible for VA health care now have more options to receive timely, localized care, and even have a free way to get to that care.

The meeting was to explain the changes that came with the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

The Choice program offers just that. In the past, veterans eligible for VA benefits generally had to receive their care directly from a VA facility, which could mean a lot of traveling and waiting in areas where VA facilities are limited or understaffed to meet demand. With the Choice program, eligible veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, or if the VA isn’t able to provide care within 30 days, can obtain care in the private sector, with the VA pitching in to cover the bill, as much as it would if a VA clinic was providing the care.

Susan Yeager, director of the Alaska VA Healthcare System, said that the purpose of the program is to give the VA time to increase its capacity to meet patient needs, and in the meantime, give vets better care.

“When this bill was passed, for Choice Act, the idea was that it was a three-year pilot, allowing the VA to build up their staff, so that at the end of three years the VA has enough staff so that veterans can get the care they need, when they need it, at a VA,” she said.

Alaska is one of three states, Hawaii and New Hampshire being the other two, where all vets eligible for VA health benefits can utilize the Choice program. To do so, a vet would call the number on their Choice card and request to see a private-practice provider. The VA’s vendor for the program, Tricare, is currently creating a network of preferred providers in the state. But even if a provider isn’t part of the arranged network, Tricare can contact that provider and try to negotiate a rate at which the VA will compensate for services.

Initially, it was difficult to get private providers to be willing to work with Tricare, because the reimbursement rate was not very competitive, Yeager said. The rate was recently increased, and more providers are joining the network.

“I think we’re going to see more access opening up in Alaska,” she said.

The program is especially well suited here, where access to care is a big challenge. The VA has a shared agreement to use the U.S. Air Force Hospital 673rd at JBER in Anchorage, but doesn’t have its own hospital in the state. And Anchorage is a long way away from most communities.

The VA operates regional, community-based outpatient clinics, including the one in Kenai, which is rated to serve the 2,589 eligible vets on the Kenai that have enrolled for VA services. But even Kenai, and VA services in Homer, can make for a long trip for patients. And in rural areas of the state, accessing a VA clinic can mean a plane or boat ride.

“It’s a big challenge, I think, up here, more than other VAs I’ve seen in the Lower 48, because of our distances and lack of roads. And that’s expensive, too,” Yeager said.

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Trapped in conflict — Dog owners seek trapping restrictions from Board of Game

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Trappers, plus dog owners, plus trails and other public-use recreation areas from Cooper Landing to Seward, equal a contentious situation. One which the Alaska Board of Game will try to solve in its meeting in Anchorage this week.

Public testimony was taken over the weekend regarding two proposals to ban trapping from Cooper Landing to Seward on or within 250 feet of private land, within 250 feet of public trails, trail heads, associated parking lots, roads and campgrounds, and in certain special areas, including beaches along Kenai Lake and the Cooper Landing “organic dump.”

The board started deliberations Sunday afternoon after public testimony wrapped up. It was scheduled to address the trapping ban, as wells as a slate of other Kenai Peninsula proposals and the rest of its business pertaining to the Southcentral Region, sometime before its scheduled adjournment Tuesday. But as of Tuesday afternoon, it looked as though deliberations would stretch into Wednesday.

Testimony came both for and against the proposals. Those opposed spoke of wanting to find a solution among the interested parties, without regulations needing to be involved. Randy Zarnke, president of the Alaska Trappers Association, advocates a mutual voluntary approach the group has used in Fairbanks, where the ATA and dog owners identified two popular recreational areas and hung signs advising trappers not to set traps or snares in the area, and advising dog owners of the importance of keeping their pets on leash.

“It relies on efforts from both sides of the issue, the trappers, and the one group that seems to have the biggest conflict is dog owners. And we offered the mutual voluntary approach to the person who submitted (the Cooper Landing proposal). And it was rejected.” Zarnke said.

Tom Lassard, who has trapped in Cooper Landing since 1987, decided to post similar signs in Cooper Landing this winter, and had trappers in the Seward area do the same, despite communications breaking down between he and Ken Green, the author of the Cooper Landing proposal.

Lassard then requested that Green withdraw his proposal, to no avail. Zarnke told the board that he had hoped the trappers association and Green’s Committee for Safe Public Lands and Trails could continue talking about a mutual voluntary approach.

“We feel like we’ve taken what actions we can to ameliorate, reduce, eliminate problems and conflicts, and we’ve seen no response from the other side,” Zarnke said.

Green said he welcomes continued dialogue, but that Lassard ceased talks when he wouldn’t withdraw his proposal.

“Their idea of working together is a bit different than what ours is,” Green said. “There are two different viewpoints — enforceable regulations or informal or verbal agreements. The ATA supports informal agreements and only informal agreements.”

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