Alaska Dispatch News
Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three "tender age" shelters in South Texas, The Associated Press has learned.
Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.
Since the White House announced its zero tolerance policy in early May, more than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in a new influx of young children requiring government care. The government has faced withering critiques over images of some of the children in cages inside U.S. Border Patrol processing stations.
Decades after the nation's child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is standing up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers that the government separated from their parents.
"The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it," said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which provides foster care and other child welfare services to migrant children. "Toddlers are being detained."
Bellor said shelters follow strict procedures surrounding who can gain access to the children in order to protect their safety, but that means information about their welfare can be limited.
By law, child migrants traveling alone must be sent to facilities run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services within three days of being detained. The agency then is responsible for placing the children in shelters or foster homes until they are united with a relative or sponsor in the community as they await immigration court hearings.
But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announcement last month that the government would criminally prosecute everyone who crosses the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has led to the breakup of hundreds of migrant families and sent a new group of hundreds of young children into the government's care.
The United Nations, some Democratic and Republican lawmakers and religious groups have sharply criticized the policy, calling it inhumane.
Not so, said Steven Wagner, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services.
"We have specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category," he said. "They're not government facilities per se, and they have very well-trained clinicians, and those facilities meet state licensing standards for child welfare agencies, and they're staffed by people who know how to deal with the needs — particularly of the younger children."
Until now, however, it's been unknown where they are.
"In general we do not identify the locations of permanent unaccompanied alien children program facilities," said agency spokesman Kenneth Wolfe.
The three centers — in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville — have been rapidly repurposed to serve needs of children including some under 5. A fourth, planned for Houston, would house up to 240 children in a warehouse previously used for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Turner said he met with officials from Austin-based Southwest Key Programs, the contractor that operates some of the child shelters, to ask them to reconsider their plans. A spokeswoman for Southwest Key didn't immediately reply to an email seeking comment.
"And so there comes a point in time we draw a line and for me, the line is with these children," said Turner during a news conference Tuesday.
On a practical level, the zero tolerance policy has overwhelmed the federal agency charged with caring for the new influx of children who tend to be much younger than teens who typically have been traveling to the U.S. alone. Indeed some recent detainees are infants, taken from their mothers.
Doctors and lawyers who have visited the shelters said the facilities were fine, clean and safe, but the kids — who have no idea where their parents are — were hysterical, crying and acting out.
"The shelters aren't the problem, it's taking kids from their parents that's the problem," said South Texas pediatrician Marsha Griffin who has visited many.
Alicia Lieberman, who runs the Early Trauma Treatment Network at University of California, San Francisco, said decades of study show early separations can cause permanent emotional damage.
"Children are biologically programmed to grow best in the care of a parent figure. When that bond is broken through long and unexpected separations with no set timeline for reunion, children respond at the deepest physiological and emotional levels," she said. "Their fear triggers a flood of stress hormones that disrupt neural circuits in the brain, create high levels of anxiety, make them more susceptible to physical and emotional illness, and damage their capacity to manage their emotions, trust people, and focus their attention on age-appropriate activities."
Days after Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy, the government issued a call for proposals from shelter and foster care providers to provide services for the new influx of children taken from their families after journeying from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.
As children are separated from their families, law enforcement agents reclassify them from members of family units to "unaccompanied alien children." Federal officials said Tuesday that since May, they have separated 2,342 children from their families, rendering them unaccompanied minors in the government's care.
While Mexico is still the most common country of origin for families arrested at the border, in the last eight months Honduras has become the fastest-growing category as compared to fiscal year 2017.
During a press briefing Tuesday, reporters repeatedly asked for an age breakdown of the children who have been taken. Officials from both law enforcement and Health and Human Services said they didn't how many children were under 5, under 2, or even so little they're non-verbal.
"The facilities that they have for the most part are not licensed for tender age children," said Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women's Refugee Commission, who met with a 4-year-old girl in diapers in a McAllen warehouse where Border Patrol temporarily holds migrant families. "There is no model for how you house tons of little children in cots institutionally in our country. We don't do orphanages, our child welfare has recognized that is an inappropriate setting for little children."
So now, the government has to try to hire more caregivers.
The recent call for proposals by the federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement said it was seeking applicants who can provide services for a diverse population "of all ages and genders, as well as pregnant and parenting teens."
Even the policy surrounding what age to take away a baby is inconsistent. Customs and Border Protection field chiefs over all nine southwest border districts can use their discretion over how young is too young, officials said.
For 30 years, Los Fresnos, Texas-based International Education Services ran emergency shelters and foster care programs for younger children and pregnant teens who arrived in the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. At least one resident sued for the right to have an abortion in a high-profile case last March.
For reasons the agency did not explain, three months ago the government's refugee resettlement office said it was ending their funding to the program and transferred all children to other facilities. This came weeks before the administration began its "zero tolerance" policy, prompting a surge in "tender age" migrant children needing shelter.
In recent days, members of Congress have been visiting the shelters and processing centers, or watching news report about them, bearing witness to the growing chaos. In a letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, a dozen Republican senators said separating families isn't consistent with American values and ordinary human decency.
On Tuesday, a Guatemalan mother who hasn't seen her 7-year-old son since he was taken from her a month ago sued the Trump administration. Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia was released from custody while her asylum case is pending and thinks her son, Darwin, might be in a shelter in Arizona.
"I only got to talk to him once and he sounded so sad. My son never used to sound like that, he was such a dynamic boy," Mejia-Mejia said as she wept. "I call and call and no one will tell me where he is."
Colleen Long contributed from New York.
A wolf and a wolverine spar over food in a video released by Denali National Park and Preserve last week.
The video was captured on a motion sensor game camera on Feb. 9, said Bridget Borg, wildlife biologist with Denali National Park.
Borg said the camera was placed near a moose carcass in the Savage River area of the park, where it was left for the winter until being retrieved last week.
"We were just amazed when we started looking at the videos," Borg said.
Three subsequent videos provide the narrative of one remarkable #wolf vs. #wolverine wildlife encounter! Watch below as a wolverine feeding on a moose carcass is attacked and ultimately chased off by a wolf. #wildlife #science #Denali pic.twitter.com/CbKHD0qDgK— Denali National Park (@DenaliNPS) June 13, 2018
The game camera caught interactions between a wolf and a wolverine that are both vying to feed on the moose carcass. The wolverine can be heard vocalizing as the two scuffle.
Seeing an interspecies interaction at a feeding site is rare, Borg said — the park has deployed game cameras to more than 30 other sites, and biologists had not yet seen two different species in one shot.
"Catching that is really pretty unique," Borg said. "We'll see multiple species feeding at one carcass, but not at the same time."
The camera also caught interactions between other species, like a wolf and fox, Borg said, and more visits from birds than researchers had seen before.
Denali National Park uses Reconyx brand game cameras to withstand cold winter weather, Borg said. She said the use of the cameras is "a cool example (of what) new types of technology can show, in a non-invasive way, about animals."
Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they will seek the death penalty against a Palmer man accused in the 2016 shooting deaths of two people in a Meadow Lakes home.
John Pearl Smith II, 32, is facing federal charges in the deaths of Crystal S. Denardi, 30, and Ben G. Gross, 43, both of Wasilla.
Tuesday's filing of notice of intent to seek the death penalty "follows the decision and directive by Attorney General Jeff Sessions," the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska said in the statement.
In the filing, a June 13 letter from Sessions addressed to Alaska U.S. Attorney Bryan Schroder said "you are authorized and directed to seek the death penalty against John Pearl Smith II."
[Read Tuesday's filing: Notice of Intent to Seek a Sentence of Death]
In 2017, Smith was indicted on 17 charges, including using a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in murder, robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. In a series of armed robberies between September 2015 and June 5, 2016, Smith targeted people who he believed were involved in drug trafficking, prosecutors say.
Federal prosecutors say that if Smith is convicted, his use of a firearm "in furtherance of a crime of violence resulting in murder, and the use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime resulting in murder," justifies a death sentence, along with aggravating factors.
Prosecutors said in Tuesday's filing that Smith's aggravating factors include prior violent felony convictions involving a firearm, and that he undertook "substantial planning and premeditation" before allegedly killing two people, and that he planned to murder at least one witness to the crime.
Alaska law does not allow for the death penalty in state cases. The federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988.
The last time federal prosecutors filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty was in 2009 against Joshua Allen Wade, but it was later withdrawn, said Chloe Martin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Alaska. Wade murdered two women in random acts of violence.
Before that, the last time prosecutors sought the death penalty in an Alaska case was in 1997, in a case against Abram Walter, who was accused of slaying a Ruby postmaster.
Neither Wade nor Walter were sentenced to death.
It is "very rare" for federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty, said Rich Curtner, the federal public defender for Alaska.
"I have handled every potential death penalty case since statehood," said Curtner. "There has only been a handful."
Nobody has been sentenced to death in an Alaska federal case since statehood, Martin said.
ADN reporter Michelle Theriault Boots contributed to this report.
Remember when that tractor-trailer hauling part of a building crashed into an Eagle River overpass? And how it quickly produced an epic Glenn Highway traffic jam and snarled traffic for Anchorage commuters for days?
Turns out there's much more to the story, with strands that connect to a state-owned rocket-launching complex and accusations of government waste and improprieties in awarding a contract. Here's how:
— The truck, when it hit the overpass, was hauling a load destined to become temporary housing nearly 300 miles away at the Kodiak Island rocket complex.
— The winning $11 million proposal to build and tear down that island housing has become the subject of a months-long dispute between a company that lost out on the work and the state-owned Alaska Aerospace Corp., which runs the complex.
— The head of the losing company, which had offered to do the job for $3.5 million less, asserts that the selection process was flawed and wasted public money. The aerospace corporation, he says, picked a more expensive proposal that awarded some of the work to a company linked to a former aerospace corporation executive. That former executive was one of three people who helped the corporation judge the bids.
"This doesn't pass the smell test," said Bernie Karl, the Fairbanks businessman who runs the losing company, Kodiak Narrow Cape Lodge.
Officials at the aerospace corporation say Karl's bid was rejected for the simple reason that it failed to meet their specifications.
The corporation's request for proposals asked bidders to provide everything needed to "assemble, operate and dismantle" the temporary housing.
Karl's proposal included building the housing. But rather than dismantle it, the housing would have stayed in place on private land, for future use, at no cost to the government.
As a result, Karl's bid was considered "non-responsive," said Craig Campbell, the aerospace corporation's chief executive and a former lieutenant governor.
The competing proposal from PRL Logistics, the one chosen by the government, includes $2.2 million to tear down the temporary housing after it's used. For the next big test, the housing may have to be built all over again.
Campbell said he understands if that sounds inefficient.
But the requirement to dismantle the housing didn't come from his agency, Campbell said. Instead, it came from the federal Missile Defense Agency, which is using the rocket launch complex for testing and asked for the housing.
"Philosophically I understand why the taxpayer — and I'm one, too — would prefer to have it only built once," Campbell said in a phone interview. But, he added: "The MDA establishes requirements."
The aerospace corporation is owned by the state and runs the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska, at Narrow Cape near Kodiak's eastern tip. It works with both commercial launch companies and government entities, including the Missile Defense Agency.
The agency has a five-year contract with the aerospace corporation, and it needs to house as many as 210 people near the complex for this year's launch, according to Campbell and the corporation's request for proposals.
The details of the launch are secret, Campbell said.
But a Missile Defense Agency environmental assessment says it's using the complex to test the agency's ability to intercept incoming missiles. The Kodiak site is part of the United States' strategy for knocking down potential attacks from North Korea and other potentially hostile nations.
A year ago, a missile launched from the complex successfully shot down another, incoming test missile that had been launched by a U.S. Air Force plane north of Hawaii.
The aerospace corporation issued an initial request for housing proposals last summer. But it then canceled and reissued it, at the Missile Defense Agency's request, Campbell said.
Both PRL and Karl's company entered bids the first time, with PRL's proposal coming in lower.
Karl's company already owns a 58-room facility on Narrow Cape, near the launch complex. It's been used, on and off, by the aerospace corporation for 18 years, Karl said.
To meet the corporation's need for more space, Karl was going to bring in extra housing units, set them up on his property and leave them there.
Karl asserts that Aerospace corporation staff endorsed the idea of leaving the extra housing in place, without dismantling it. (He could not provide documentation or emails supporting that claim, however — he said the endorsement came in personal conversations.)
The price was the only functional difference between his company's first and second proposals, Karl added. The first time, the company was the high bidder, and the second time it was the low bidder.
But while corporation officials said the first proposal was acceptable, they rejected the second one. Karl said he thinks that's suspicious, given the two proposals' similarities.
He asserted that the corporation is using the dismantling requirement as a pretext to dismiss his second proposal even though it was cheaper. That, he said, would allow the corporation to choose the higher bid, which would benefit a child of the former corporation executive.
The former executive, John Zbitnoff, was one of the aerospace corporation's evaluators for the second round of bids. Zbitnoff used to be a vice president responsible for operations at the Kodiak launch complex, and after leaving that state job, he was re-hired as a contractor, Campbell said.
Zbitnoff's son, Jascha Zbitnoff, is a part-owner of a Kodiak-based company, Brechan Construction. PRL Logistics — the winning bidder for the housing project — said in its proposal that it planned to hire Brechan as a subcontractor, to prepare the site where the housing units would go.
That meant that of the two bids that John Zbitnoff was evaluating, one would have awarded work to his son's company. Karl said that's a problem.
"This is a set-up deal," he said. "This whole deal is so one person could have the bid."
John Zbitnoff and PRL's president, Ron Hyde, didn't respond to requests for comment in response to Karl's accusations. Jascha Zbitnoff, reached by phone, said he played no part in the bidding or selection process, and didn't talk to his father about it.
Campbell, the chief executive of the aerospace corporation, said no one there ever told Karl that he could submit a bid without plans to dismantle the temporary housing, as Karl asserts he was told.
John Zbitnoff, meanwhile, was one member of a three-person evaluation team that examined whether the bids were technically adequate, Campbell said. The team noticed and flagged the fact that Karl's proposal didn't include deconstruction, but it still said the bid was "technically qualified," Campbell said.
The evaluation team, including Zbitnoff, wasn't responsible for deeming Karl's bid non-responsive, Campbell added. That decision came from separate employees in the corporation's contract office, with Campbell's approval, he said.
"Just because a son might work for a subcontractor for another contractor — I don't see that as an inherent problem," Campbell said. He added: "There's a distance of separation between the two Zbitnoffs."
Campbell said there was, in fact, a substantive difference between Karl's first and second proposals, beyond the prices.
In the first bid, Karl proposed to set up the new housing units on a parcel of aerospace corporation property. Afterward, the units would be moved back to property owned by Karl's business.
The units would only have moved a few feet. That's because the aerospace land where the new housing units would have been placed is next to Karl's existing lodge, and it currently belongs to Karl's company.
If the first bid from Karl's company had been accepted, it would have transferred the land to the aerospace corporation, solely to meet a specification by the corporation that the housing sit on corporation property.
When the contract ended, the new housing units would have been moved off the corporation's new property, back to land owned by Karl's company.
In the second round of bids, the aerospace corporation removed the requirement that the housing sit on corporation land.
So Karl proposed to set up the units on his own land and leave them there. And that plan failed to meet the aerospace corporation's requirements that the units be taken down, Campbell said.
Campbell said the aerospace corporation has asked the Missile Defense Agency about allowing a longer-term housing contract, where deconstruction wouldn't be required after each test. But the agency hasn't agreed, he said.
Missile Defense Agency officials wouldn't make clear why it refuses to let bidders leave temporary housing in place, on private property, when such a step might save the federal government millions of dollars.
The agency seemed to justify its specifications in a written statement, by saying that its needs at the launch site — the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska, or PSCA — are temporary and sporadic.
"Because MDA does not have a continuous requirement for housing and dining at PSCA, we intend to continue the requirement of demobilization of life support areas when planned tests are approximately two years apart," said the statement, attributed to the agency's director, Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves.
Karl's company hasn't formally protested the award of the contract to PRL, and it doesn't want any money, Karl said. Karl has asked for an investigation, however, and he also wants Campbell placed on administrative leave, he said.
"We just want to be treated fairly in the future," he said.
The aerospace corporation's board of directors, in response to Karl, asked its attorney to examine the circumstances of PRL's hiring. The attorney, Thomas Klinkner, wrote a 2 1/2-page memo that attributed the rejection of Karl's proposal to its "non-responsive nature."
Aerospace corporation board members, who are appointed by the governor, are comfortable with the bidding and review processes, Chair Robert McCoy said in a phone interview. He acknowledged, however, that it's "weird" for the Missile Defense Agency to require that the temporary housing be taken down.
"We're generally happy with Alaska Aerospace and Craig and his guys," said McCoy, the director of the Geophysical Institute at University of Alaska Fairbanks. He added: "I think it was handled professionally."
Karl maintains that if his company had been selected, the federal government would have saved money. He also asserts that the Glenn Highway crash, the resulting traffic jam and the $2 million repair bill for the overpass could have been averted, too.
Karl's housing units would have traveled from the North Slope to Valdez, on the Richardson Highway, skipping the Glenn Highway altogether.
"Absolutely, it would have been avoided," Karl said. "One hundred percent."
Alaska airstrip vandalism is highest in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, and officials are trying to stop it
The Alaska Department of Transportation has a problem: It's hard to keep people from breaking runway lights in rural airports, especially in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The state is trying to mitigate this through a series of public service announcements, posters on bulletin boards and outreach to villages, as the lack of working runway lights can keep flights from landing.
A long, gravel airstrip is very tempting for kids looking to have some fun in Alaska villages.
"We need help keeping kids off the runways, and we don't want them using the runways for any purposes other than to safely meet a flight," said Linda Bustemante, the Department of Transportation's outreach coordinator for a program to try to curb the problem.
The DOT has a Rural Airport Safety Program, which uses public service announcements and posters to spread awareness of the dangers of breaking runway lights. Bustemante says that they see the vandalism problem a lot at Western Alaska's many airstrips.
In Russian Mission, for example, four kids smashed around 40 runway lights in one evening a few months ago. Jim Duffy, the state's contractor for maintaining the village's airstrip, understands why kids want to go there to play: It's right next to town.
"Early in the spring, this is the driest ground," Duffy said. "Just maintaining the runway and the apron, having that cleared, that's always clear ground first whereas up at the areas that aren't cleared, there's still snow four weeks later."
Duffy says that the kids are usually responsible and police behavior among themselves.
Bustemante was asked if the state might be open to finding a better place for kids to play, particularly during breakup.
"(If) it's a direction they want to go, it's certainly something we can talk to them about," Bustemante said.
A couple of teachers in Russian Mission have started their own outreach in schools to help, but the runway light vandalism problem usually spikes in the summer when kids are out of school.
Rear Adm. Matthew Bell assumed command of the U.S. Coast Guard's 17th District — Alaska — in May. He has previously served with the Coast Guard in Alaska, and was at the scene of two of the state's major maritime disasters, the groundings of the Exxon Valdez and the Selendang Ayu. In a meeting with the Anchorage Daily News editorial board this week, he shared this remembrance of his role in the immediate aftermath of the worst oil spill in Alaska's history.
I was up on the maritime boundary line as the Exxon Valdez ran aground. So we left the MBL on turbines to make that trip across the entire Bering Sea through the Unimak Pass, across the Gulf of Alaska into Prince William Sound, and trying to go on turbines the whole way. Trying to fast. You can't, because every time you try to make a course change, you're beam-to or the props are coming out of the water and you just — you really appreciate it or hate it all the same.
(Arriving in Prince William Sound), I think I felt inadequate. I'm on a 378 (-foot cutter, the largest class of Coast Guard cutters at the time) — we were doing fisheries patrol, international relations, maritime boundary line interactions with the Russians at that time. And here we show up in Prince William Sound — and we're a big ship, we do fisheries law enforcement warrants — and we show up in Prince William Sound, and you can smell the oil. The ship's still up on the rocks at the time, and of course we didn't have fuel, so we had to go in and immediately fuel and come back out.
We were like, "Oh my gosh, there's so much to do." One of the first things that we did was we ended up taking the Air Guard for Prince William Sound. So we ended up (going from) three flights a day to 300 flights a day, so we had our air traffic control and our combat information center. So I now have two radio radar men, standing 24/7 watch controlling the amount of air traffic that's coming in and out of Prince William Sound. Most people were just coming to take a look, but now it's all the resources that are just flying in to the region. Look at Valdez — it's not a big airport. And now all these resources are trying to fluctuate in. There was no offshore presence from a radar perspective, so that's now (the responsibility of) our ship.
Of course, from a spill response (perspective), cleaning up the oil, (we were) inadequately prepared. But now from a command and control perspective, which is what our big ships really bring in, now we've got command and control, we've got eyes on scene, we've got coordination, we've got people who can actually stand that watch and now control assets moving, coming and going. And at that time, that (gave me) a full appreciation for what a command-and-control platform can really do. The Coast Guard isn't technically going to clean that up, but we're going to monitor it and supervise, and coordinate all of the assets that are on scene.
Of course, after that is the control effort — how do you control things moving to the beach, things moving back over to the ships where they're offloading all the hazardous materials and coordinating those efforts throughout Prince William Sound?
We're still seeing the effects of that (spill). You can go to any one of those beaches, turn over rocks and you can still see the oil. Most of that's under the rocks, of course, and if you don't disturb them, it's fine — but that impacts life in perpetuity.
Rear Adm. Matthew Bell Jr. is the commander of the 17th Coast Guard District.
The Muldoon Farmers Market—opening just after we pass Summer Solstice—is a celebration of both a growing market and a new venue.
The market previously called Begich Middle School its home. With the recent grand opening of the new Chanshtnu Muldoon Park, the market is moving to the park, which was designed partly with the market in mind.
"The market has planned since its creation to eventually move into the new park," says Forrest Dunbar, a member of the Muldoon Farmers Market Board and the Anchorage Assembly. "We wanted a location that is more visible from Muldoon Road.
"From the beginning of the Chanshtnu Muldoon Parks 'build out,' hosting the Muldoon Farmers Market has been a specific, shared goal of the municipality and the market. Some of the features of the park are specifically designed to accommodate the market, so we're hoping that it gives it a great, welcoming feel."
Jerrianne Lowther, the market spokesperson, says among the returning vendors for the opening market include Arctic Wonder Marketplace and Ba-Lescas Brothers. The market is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Dunbar says the owners of the Muldoon Town Center Mall, which sits north of the market, are allowing market guests to use the mall's parking lot to relieve any overcrowding at the park's lot.
Anchorage Farmers Market
Sarah Bean of Arctic Organics says as summer arrives, so are more fresh veggies.
"We'll be adding to the menu this week," Bean says. "We should have the first harvest of greens mix, along with more arugula, lettuce, scallions and basil! Maybe even some pac choi.
"The most difficult part of this slow, cold spring is keeping our customers waiting. Just remember, everything is planted and it will be coming all in good time."
Bean says the plant starts are thinning out, but they will have hanging baskets and herbs.
Rob Wells, The Persistent Farmer, also says planting season is wrapping up.
"This may the last week to get your dahlia starts," he says. "It's about time to take a mid-season break from markets and help the dahlias on the farm make their blooms."
Wells says in addition to a few dahlias, he will have Icelandic poppies, parsley, basil, dwarf dahlias and Tumbler tomato baskets.
Other vendors scheduled at the market include: AD Farm, Ed & Tina's Kraut & Pickling, Happy Valley Chickens' eggs, Mom's Garden, Seldovitch Farm, Shaggy Mane Shroomery, Sun Fire Ridge, Turkey Red Café breads and treats, and VanderWeele Farm.
South Anchorage Farmers Market
Loads of vendors are lined up the South Anchorage Market.
There will be Arctic Choice Seafoods with Prince William Sound side stripe shrimp, sockeye salmon from King Cove, king salmon from Anita Bay, oysters from Karheen Passage, halibut, rockfish, sablefish and frozen options too.
Farm 779's stand at the market will include Pierre's Indigo and Kumquat tomato starts, which Julie Meer describes as "super-rich in antioxidants and beautiful sunset colors." And Meer also will have krauts, kvass, kombucha and coconut kefirs. Farm 779 also is at the Thankful Thursdays market and the Wednesday Farmers Market at Airport Heights.
New to the market this week from Rempel Family Farm is kale and cress. The Rempels also will have arugula, green cabbage, radishes, spinach, purple onions, fresh mint and nine varieties of last year's potatoes.
And Drool Central's fresh-baked dog treats will be at the market, along with the Solstice Block Party from noon to 6 p.m. on F Street downtown.
Alex Davis of AD Farm will have rhubarb, carrots and potatoes at the market, along with plenty of eggs (chicken, duck, goose, turkey and Guinea), cuts of pork (chops, fresh side, ground pork, chorizo, sausage and other), raspberry jam, pumpkin butter and a variety of other items, including products from Alaska Sprouts and Alaska Flour Co.
Steve Edwards lives and writes in Anchorage. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local farmers markets
Wednesday in Anchorage: APU Farmers Market, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., 4225 University Drive; Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Farmers Market at Airport Heights, 3-7 p.m., 2530 E. 16th Ave.;
Wednesday outside of Anchorage: Highway's End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 2-6 p.m., Ocean Drive; Soldotna Wednesday Market, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Soldotna Creek Park; Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks; Wasilla Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Iditapark
Thursday in Anchorage: Thankful Thursdays market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street
Thursday outside of Anchorage: Peters Creek Farmers Market, 3-8 p.m., American Legion Post 33
Friday in Anchorage: Center Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.
Saturday in Anchorage: Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 15th Avenue and Cordova Street; Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets; Center Market, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., The Mall at Sears, Benson Boulevard and Denali Street; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.; Muldoon Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 1301 Muldoon Road; South Anchorage Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., O'Malley Sports Center; Spenard Farmers Market, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 2555 Spenard Road
Saturday outside of Anchorage: Highway's End Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Delta Junction; Homer Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Ocean Drive; Kenai Saturday Market, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center; Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., East Corral Avenue and Kenai Spur Highway; Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks
Sunday in Anchorage: Anchorage Market and Festival, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Third Avenue between C and E streets; Fourth Avenue Indoor Market, 10 a.m.-6 p.m., 333 W. Fourth Ave.
Sunday outside of Anchorage: Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 2600 College Road, Fairbanks
Track Palin pleaded guilty in an Anchorage courtroom Tuesday to a charge of misdemeanor criminal trespass stemming from a December altercation with his father at the family's home in Wasilla.
The plea officially enrolls Palin in a therapeutic court program for military veterans, in which participants agree to work to better themselves in exchange for reduced criminal penalties.
The trouble stems from a Dec. 16 incident in which Track Palin showed up at his parents' home to confront his father, who met him at the door with a pistol, according to the original charging documents in the case.
Track Palin broke a window, entered the home and assaulted Todd Palin, leaving him bleeding from the head, according to the charges. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Track's mother, called police.
Palin was originally charged with felony burglary along with criminal mischief and misdemeanor assault.
If he successfully completes the requirements of Anchorage Veterans Court — including months of drug and alcohol testing, counseling and weekly court appearances — he will be sentenced to 10 days in jail. He will serve one year if he fails to complete the program.
Palin also tried veterans court in a 2016 domestic violence case but didn't finish, court records show. His criminal record includes a conviction for a fourth-degree misdemeanor weapons misconduct charge from the case.
On Tuesday, the 29-year-old called in from Wasilla to enter his plea instead of appearing in person in court, where reporters — including some working for a British tabloid who had flown from Los Angeles — had gathered.
Palin's attorney had earlier argued for media to be kept out of the veterans court sessions, which require participants to speak about their progress in open court.
The therapeutic court program, which typically takes nine months to a year to complete, is the harder choice for someone facing Palin's charges, said Anchorage District Attorney Rick Allen. Participants have to "jump through a lot of hoops" to make it through, he said.
"The easiest thing for him to have done would have been to plead guilty, do a little jail time and be done. The more rigorous thing is to go through a court like (veterans) court. That's what people who are thinking more long term and really want to better themselves do."
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France — For decades, he was known only as Unknown X-9352 at a World War II American cemetery in Belgium where he was interred.
On Tuesday, Julius Heinrich Otto "Henry" Pieper, his identity recovered, was laid to rest beside his twin brother in Normandy, 74 years after the two Navy men died together when their ship shattered while trying to reach the blood-soaked D-Day beaches.
Six Navy officers in crisp white uniforms carried the flag-draped metal coffin bearing the remains of Julius to its final resting place, at the side of Ludwig Julius Wilhelm "Louie" Pieper at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
The two 19-year-olds from Esmond, South Dakota, died together on June 19, 1944, when their huge flat-bottom ship hit an underwater mine as it tried to approach Utah Beach, 13 days after the D-Day landings.
While Louie's body was soon found, identified and laid to rest, his brother's remains were only recovered in 1961 by French salvage divers and not identified until 2017.
A lone bugler played taps as the casket was lowered in an end-of-day military ceremony attended by a half-dozen family members, closing a circle of loss. Each laid a red rose on the casket and two scattered American soil over it.
The Pieper twins, both radiomen second class, are the 45th pair of brothers at the cemetery, three of them memorialized on the Walls of the Missing at the cemetery. But the Piepers are the only set of twins among the more than 9,380 graves, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.
The cemetery, an immaculate field of crosses and Stars of David, overlooks the English Channel and Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of the Normandy landing beaches of Operation Overlord, the first step in breaching Hitler's stranglehold on France and Europe.
"They are finally together again, side by side, where they should be," said their niece, Susan Lawrence, 56, of Sacramento, California.
"They were always together. They were the best of friends," Lawrence said. "Mom told me a story one time when one of the twins had gotten hurt on the job and the other twin had gotten hurt on the job, same day and almost the same time."
The story of how the twins died and were being reunited reflects the daily courage of troops on a mission to save the world from the Nazis and the tenacity of today's military to ensure that no soldier goes unaccounted for.
The Pieper twins, born of German immigrant parents, worked together for Burlington Railroad and enlisted together in the Navy. Both were radio operators and both were on the same unwieldy flat-bottom boat, Landing Ship Tank Number 523 (LST-523), making the Channel crossing from Falmouth, England, to Utah Beach 13 days after the June 6 D-Day landings.
The LST-523 mission was to deliver supplies at the Normandy beachhead and remove the wounded. It never got there.
The vessel struck an underwater mine and sank off the coast. Of the 145 Navy crew members, 117 were found perished. Survivors' accounts speak of a major storm on the Channel with pitched waves that tossed the boat mercilessly before the explosion that shattered the vessel.
Louie's body was laid to rest in what now is the Normandy American Cemetery. But the remains of Julius were only recovered in 1961 by French divers who found them in the vessel's radio room. He was interred as an "Unknown" at the Ardennes American Cemetery in Neuville, Belgium, also devoted to the fallen of World War II, in the region that saw the bloody Battle of the Bulge.
Julius' remains might have stayed among those of 13 other troops from the doomed LST-523 still resting unidentified at the Ardennes cemetery. But in 2017, a U.S. agency that tracks missing combatants using witness accounts and DNA testing identified him.
Lawrence, the niece, said the brothers had successfully made the trip across the English Channel on D-Day itself, and "they had written my grandparents a letter saying, do not worry about us we are together."
"My grandparents received that letter after they got word that they (their sons) had passed away," she said.
The Pieper family asked that Louie's grave in Normandy be relocated to make room for his twin brother at his side.
The last time the United States buried a soldier who fought in World War II was in 2005, at the Ardennes American Cemetery, according to the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican lawmakers and President Donald Trump searched anxiously Tuesday evening for a way to end the administration's policy of separating families after illegal border crossings, with their focus shifting to a new plan to keep children in detention longer than now permitted — but with their parents.
GOP House leaders, increasingly fearful of voter reaction in November, met with Trump for about an hour at the Capitol to try to work out some resolution.
"We had a great meeting," he called out as he left, but he gave no other information on possible progress.
Leaders in both the House and Senate are struggling to shield the party's lawmakers from the public outcry over images of children taken from migrant parents and held in cages at the border. But they are running up against Trump's shifting views on specifics and his determination, according to advisers, not to look soft on immigration or his signature border wall.
Many lawmakers say he could simply reverse the administration's "zero tolerance" policy and keep families together. But some worry he could also inject a new dynamic, rejecting emerging GOP proposals and potentially exacerbating an already tough situation as his party heads toward difficult midterm elections.
As Trump entered the Capitol basement for the closed-door session, he told reporters, "The system has been broken for many years, the immigration system. … We're going to try and see if we can fix it."
At an earlier event Tuesday, Trump said he was asking Congress for "the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit." He said it was "the only solution to the border crisis."
House GOP leaders are scrambling to revise their broader current immigration bill to include a provision to resolve the situation.
The major change being unveiled Tuesday would loosen rules that now limit the amount of time minors can be held to 20 days, according to a GOP source familiar with the measure. Instead, the children could be detained with their parents for extended periods.
The revised provision would also give Department of Homeland Security the authority to use $7 billion in border technology funding to pay for family detention centers, said the person, who was not authorized to do so by name and commented only on condition of anonymity.
In the Senate, meanwhile, Republicans are rallying behind a different approach. Theirs is narrow legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas that would allow detained families to stay together in custody while expediting their deportation proceedings.
Cruz's bill would double the number of federal immigration judges, authorize new temporary shelters to house migrant families and limit the processing of asylum cases to no more than 14 days — a goal immigrant advocates say would be difficult to meet.
"While cases are pending, families should stay together," tweeted Cruz, who is in an unexpectedly tough re-election battle.
The second-ranking Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said they're proposing a "humane, safe and secure family facility" where parents and minor children could be detained together. He said families would move to the head of the line for processing.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters he's reaching out to Democrats for bipartisan backing, since the proposal would need to reach a 60-vote threshold to advance in that chamber.
But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York signaled that no such support would be coming, saying it's already in Trump's power to keep the families together.
"There's no need for legislation. There's no need for anything else. You can do it. Mr. President you started it, you can stop it."
However, Trump, who has been watching the coverage play out on television with increasing anger, has told confidants he believes the news media are deliberately highlighting the worst images — like the cages and screaming toddlers — to make him look bad
To combat worries that he looks "soft" on immigration, Trump unleashed a series of tweets in which he played up the dangers posed by the high-profile MS-13 gangs, which make up a minuscule percentage of those who have crossed the border. He uses the word "infest" to describe migrants coming to the U.S. illegally.
Trump's meeting at the Capitol comes as lawmakers in both parties are up in arms after days of news reports with images of children confined in large wire cages and an audio recording of a young child pleading for his "Papa."
The issue boiled over Tuesday at a House hearing on an unrelated subject when protesters with babies briefly shut down proceedings.
Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, pleaded with Republicans on the panel "to stand up to President Donald Trump."
Under the administration's current policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.
More than 2,300 minors were separated from their children at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The national outcry has roiled midterm election campaigns, emboldening Democrats while putting Republicans on the defensive.
Top conservatives, including key Trump allies, have introduced bills to keep the migrant families together. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, said his measure "becomes a backup proposal" if others fail.
The House is to vote later this week on two bills that address broader immigration issues to protect young immigrant "Dreamers" from deportation and fund Trump's border wall.
But outlook for passage is dim. One conservative measure is expected to fail. And conservatives say the compromise legislation that GOP leaders helped negotiate with moderate Republicans is given little chance, too.
The White House, after saying it would accept only a comprehensive fix, reversed course Tuesday and said it was reviewing the Cruz bill.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Jill Colvin, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
Wildlife lovers around the world can once again tune in to a live stream of Katmai National Park and Preserve's salmon-grabbing brown bears.
Katmai National Park is home to one the world's highest concentration of brown bears, according to the National Park Service.
The park's bear cam is a popular feature that, during the height of the summer season, is viewed by tens of thousands of people on a given day, the park said in a release.
The live stream camera is aimed at the Brooks River, where many iconic photographs have been taken of salmon jumping straight into the mouths of waiting bears.
The park also has a free e-book that outlines the lives of some of the individual animals. "Every bear has a story," the website says.
Last year, 49 different bears were seen in the Brooks River area at the peak of the season, according to the National Park Service.
This year, many subadult bears – usually 2.5 and 5 years old – are expected to be seen this summer. These bears "tend to move about erratically and may be of great interest to many viewers," the release says.
"This is going to be a great summer for people to watch the cameras," Anela Ramos, district interpreter with the National Park Service, said in a release. "Especially with so many young bears running around this season, the cams provide a remarkable opportunity to increase our understanding of the behavior of brown bears."
Katmai National Park, established in 1918, is celebrating its centennial year. The park's headquarters in the community of King Salmon is about a 290-mile flight from Anchorage, according to the park.
WASHINGTON – The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday accusing it of a "chronic bias against Israel," a move that activists warned would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult.
Standing with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Haley slammed Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt for thwarting U.S. efforts to reform the council. She also criticized countries which shared U.S. values and encouraged Washington to remain but "were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo."
The United States is half-way through a three-year term on the main U.N. rights body and the Trump administration had long threatened to quit if the 47-member Geneva-based body was not overhauled.
"Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights," said Haley, citing Venezuela, China, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Haley also said the "disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights."
Washington's withdrawal is the latest U.S. rejection of multilateral engagement after it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
It also comes as the United States faces intense criticism for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein on Monday called on Washington to halt its "unconscionable" policy.
Rights groups have criticized the Trump administration for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.
Diplomats have said the U.S. withdrawal from the body could bolster countries such as Cuba, Russia, Egypt and Pakistan, which resist what they see as U.N. interference in sovereign issues.
Among reforms the United States had been seeking was to make it easier to kick out member state with egregious rights records.
Haley said the U.S. withdrawal from the Human Rights Council "is not a retreat from our human rights commitments."
Twelve rights and aids groups, including Human Rights First, Save the Children and CARE, wrote Pompeo to warn the withdrawal would "make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world."
"The U.S.'s absence will only compound the council's weaknesses," they wrote.
Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, said Trump's "misguided policy of isolationism only harms American interests and betrays our values as a nation."
Jewish rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center applauded the U.S. withdrawal and urged other countries to do the same.
Reuters reported last week that talks on reforming the council had failed to meet Washington's demands, suggesting the Trump administration would quit.
The council meets three times a year to examine human rights violations worldwide. It has mandated independent investigators to look at situations including Syria, North Korea, Myanmar and South Sudan. Its resolutions are not legally binding but carry moral authority.
Speaking before the U.S. announcement, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "is a strong believer in the human rights architecture of the U.N. and the active participation of all states."
When the Council was created in 2006, U.S. President George W. Bush's administration shunned the body.
Under President Barack Obama the United States was elected for a maximum two consecutive terms on the council by the U.N. General Assembly. After a year off, Washington was re-elected in 2016 for its current third term.
In March 2011, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously suspended Libya's membership in the council because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. But U.N. officials said no member has withdrawn.
Haley said a year ago Washington was reviewing its membership and called for reform and elimination of a "chronic anti-Israel bias." The body has a permanent standing agenda item on suspected violations committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories that Washington wanted removed.
The council last month voted to probe killings in Gaza and accused Israel of using excessive force. The United States and Australia cast the only "no" votes.
"The U.N. Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel," said Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva)
In the days before I ever considered hunting waterfowl, I found the same solace I was seeking on the yoga mat.
At the studio, the environment is controlled. The temperature, sound, the austere surroundings and even the space in which we practiced our postures – the mat – are prescribed.
Our instructor walked the room, his voice a calm reassurance that we would all achieve a benefit for our effort. The benefit would be physical, spiritual and mental. He was right — we walked away feeling cleansed of the disorder we felt in our lives. I often walked away hungry for something more.
As much as I wanted to learn how to sustain a clear and balanced mind in an otherwise distracting daily life, there is more to yoga than the postures learned in a class. Yoga students talk about their practice "off the mat," and the ways yoga is meant to connect us with something greater than ourselves.
As much as I enjoyed the exertion and how the calming voice of my instructor echoed my deepest values – effort and achievement — it was another voice that invited me duck hunting.
The weather was cold and unforgiving my first day on the Kenai River flats. The nearest escape from the misery of damp cobwebs and the flesh of rotting salmon was a 400-yard crawl away.
Mascara dripped into my eyes as the sky opened up with rain, I took the lead as Steve followed, and we began the long crawl. The borrowed shotgun was heavy, and I used it to break my trail. When we reached the edge of the pond, two widgeons glanced at me from the sides of their heads. Their bodies broke from the surface, shedding pond water and lifting into the rain-filled sky.
I heard Steve's voice behind me tell me to shoot, and I pulled the trigger without fully mounting the gun. I watched the pair of widgeons fly into the distant clouds. Their wings carried an untranslatable story – a sound like the rushed beating of my heart if it pumped wind instead of blood.
Beside me, a spent 12 gauge shell lay in the marsh. Steve picked it up and held it to his nose. "This is what fall smells like to me," he said.
Until that moment, the only thing that fall ever smelled like to me was school supplies. The misery of the swamp – its pungent smell, the grainy river mud, the cold, wet environment – teemed with life in forms that could never be seen from the road. These were the creatures some fear in the house – spiders, shrews, insects – making their living in the wild.
And off in the distance, gently gliding on a pond, were the ducks. I didn't know anything about them or their distant journeys on the wind. I only knew that they were why we were in the muck. The opening of the shotgun's action and the empty shells ejecting backward, and then the smoke emptying out of the barrels, was a new kind of exhale.
Instead of returning to the yoga studio, I purchased an over/under 20 gauge shotgun made for the field. The CZ Redhead was lighter than the borrowed 12 gauge, and its satin chrome-finished receiver and chrome-lined barrels would weather the salt of the tidal flats.
For many years, I forgot about going to yoga class. The opportunity to practice yoga was replaced by a pursuit that took all of my attention. It seemed that the subject of hunting would take a lifetime to master, and at first it seemed at odds with the principles of yoga.
I had read that the Dalai Lama eats meat, and I wondered how he reconciled meat-eating with the yoga and Buddhist tenant of non-violence. My emerging thoughts and experiences had led me to the idea that compassion for game animals is not exclusive to the fact that they die and become food. The moral gymnastics that sanction eating meat without killing are as full of ethical blind spots as agriculture and industry — the disconnections do not change the results.
Ten years after leaving yoga class and starting my journey as a hunter, I found myself taking a 200-hour yoga teacher training in Maui. There, I learned that I had an imbalance in my back and shoulders, likely caused by repetitive shooting movements on one side. The muscles on my right side (I am right-handed) were over-built and caused stress in my joints.
Many who shoot repetitively for practice don't consider practicing on their opposite side. After a day of shouldering a shotgun, I now make sure to practice mounting the gun an equal number of times on the opposite side. Yoga postures that provide an inward rotation of the shoulder, like Cow Face Pose, create balanced flexibility. The widening of the collar bones and drawing down of the shoulder blades in Mountain Pose provides relief. The Sun Salutation series is a nice flow of counteractions.
The real purpose of yoga is not in the postures themselves, although the practical benefits to hunters can provide relief for the gripping action used in practice shooting or to relax sore muscles after a long day of backpacking. The focus on the breath to calm the mind and relax or to work through tension helps in any intense activity.
Yoga is considered a practice in the sense that it is a repeated exercise to acquire skill or proficiency. If you are a sheep hunter, nothing replaces climbing mountains in the off-season to prepare physically for the hunt. But practicing yoga benefits every activity and is not off-limits to hunters any more than consuming meat or the products of industry is off-limits to Buddhism.
The two practices – hunting and yoga – bring together meat and meditation in a way that works for me, but not necessarily for Steve, who leaves Downward Dog to the actual dogs.
A day spent on the tidal flats hunting ducks takes as much out of a hunter as it gives. It's what makes me feel most alive. The sedentary ache of my body on cold mornings with the company of an alert chocolate Lab at my side for hours in the duck blind is the ultimate sustained focus and harmony.
For every duck we bring home, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness for how it sustains me. If yoga taught me it is the effort to achieve the result that has value, hunting has taught me the value of the result.
Christine Cunningham of Kenai is a lifelong Alaskan and avid hunter. Contact her at email@example.com.
One of my earliest trips as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission was to a health care clinic in Fort Yukon, population 554. The clinic may not have all the amenities of a big-city hospital, but it does have a broadband connection. High-speed Internet access has made a big difference for this clinic. It's meant access to doctors far away who can review medical information beamed to them by a local nurse.
Fort Yukon's story isn't unique. Today, communications technology has fundamentally transformed the delivery of health care in rural America. Telemedicine can help address the workforce shortages that are too common in rural health facilities. Rural patients can use interactive videoconferencing to consult with specialists anywhere in the country—expert care that was unavailable and unimaginable not long ago. Chronic disease management has been revolutionized as wearable sensors can detect real-time complications and alert a family member or first responder to intervene. Digital tools can empower people with diabetes to monitor their blood-glucose levels. Bottom line: digital medicine helps rural communities increase access to health care, reduce costs, and improving patient outcomes.
No state stands to benefit more from telemedicine than Alaska, which is home to many of the most remote communities in America. In a filing with the FCC, the Alaska Native Health Consortium estimated that 20 percent of Alaska Natives rely on telehealth, and that remote consultations within their network save $10 million annually in avoided travel costs. They put it simply: "We cannot provide care in rural Alaska without telecommunications."
But there's a fundamental challenge in Alaska, as in many parts of the Lower 48: promoting enough broadband to support digital health services. Nearly one-quarter of Alaskans can't access fixed broadband service to support high-bandwidth applications like telemedicine. In rural areas, that number is dramatically higher.
Established in 1997, the FCC's Rural Health Care Program is an essential tool for closing these gaps in Internet access. This program helps health care providers afford the connectivity that they need to better serve patients. But it's facing some real problems.
Most significantly, the program is currently underfunded. Its budget hasn't increased a dime beyond its initial allocation of $400 million a year in the late 1990s. A second problem is that under today's rules, if the program is oversubscribed (that is, if more than $400 million in reimbursements is requested from the program), every recipient sees a funding reduction. In 2016, program recipients saw a 7.5 percent trim in support. For funding year 2017, we're looking at a chop of up to 26 percent.
We need to update the FCC's Rural Health Care Program to better reflect the needs of and advances in digital health care. That's why I recently introduced a plan to increase the program's annual funding cap from $400 million to $571 million. This new spending level reflects where the cap would be today if it had been adjusted for inflation all these years. This 43 percent increase would apply to the 2017 funding year in order to give rural health care providers immediate relief. Going forward, the plan would also give providers more certainty by adjusting the cap annually for inflation and allowing unused funds from prior years to be carried forward to future years.
Notably, support for this approach is bipartisan. This May, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan joined a coalition of 30 U.S. senators from Alaska to Alabama and New Hampshire to New Mexico in calling on the FCC to increase the Rural Health Care Program's spending cap. And President Donald Trump's administration has broadly recognized the value of telemedicine, especially for veterans.
And this proposal is just a start. We also need to make sure that every dollar spent in the program is spent wisely to benefit health care providers in Alaska and their patients. That's why the FCC is moving forward on a separate track to make sure that the program functions more efficiently.
This proposal is also personal. I grew up in rural Kansas, the child of rural doctors. I can remember my father waking up early to make long drives to small towns in order to treat patients who otherwise would never see a specialist. For me, this issue isn't about technology; it's about people and their ability to access to basic care they need to lead healthy lives. As long as I am FCC chairman, one of this agency's top priorities will be harnessing the power of communications technology to improve health care in rural America. Devoting the resources necessary to make the FCC's Rural Health Care Program a 21st-century tool will go a long way toward achieving this result.
Ajit Pai is the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser.
Originally published in the Anchorage Daily News on Nov. 30 1995.
For the second time this year, a federal judge ruled Tuesday that Alaska tribal governments don't have the same kinds of broad governmental powers as those in the Lower 48.
Ruling in the case of the Copper Center village council and its efforts to tax a stretch of the trans-Alaska pipeline, Judge Russel Holland decided that Native land there is not "Indian Country" under federal law. Therefore, the judge wrote, the tribal council has no authority to tax or otherwise exert control over non-Natives.
The new ruling expands on a decision by Holland in August that tribal officials in the Interior village of Venetie can't collect a tax from an outside contractor building the village school because it's not Indian Country, a legal term that gives tribal governments certain broad powers, including the right to regulate outsiders on Native lands.
Together, the rulings mean that most Native land in Alaska doesn't qualify as Indian Country and are a setback for villagers and others trying to expand the powers of tribal governments.
In both cases, Holland decided that Alaska Natives gave up certain tribal powers with passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, which he describes as "a new self-determination act."
Lawyers for the villages said they will appeal.
The new decision came in the case of the tribal council from Copper Center, also known as Kluti Kaah, and the Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the consortium of oil companies that operates the 800-mile pipeline.
The tribe, with about 200 members, voted to levy a "business activity tax" on Alyeska in 1986. It would generate between $200,000 and $350,000 a year, depending on the price of oil.
Alyeska refused to pay, sued the tribal council in federal court and the state jumped in on Alyeska's side. The village was represented by lawyers from the Native American Rights Fund, the Boulder, Colo., advocacy group that has taken a leading role in tribal-rights cases here, and the case percolated through the courts for the past eight years.
In his 51-page ruling Tuesday, Holland sided with state lawyers and Alyeska, and wrote that the Alaska Natives are fundamentally different from tribes elsewhere because of the claims act. Passed by Congress as the federal government and oil companies were trying to win Native approval for construction of the pipeline, the act created a system of for-profit Native corporations and gave them $962 million and the right to 44 million acres of land.
As in the Venetie case, Holland does not dispute that Copper Center Natives are a tribe under federal law. But that doesn't make their land "Indian Country." For Indian Country to exist, Holland wrote, a tribe must also be "under the active superintendence of the federal government (and) have had land set aside by the federal government for its people as Natives."
Copper Center Natives and their land don't meet either standard, he wrote. The 1971 act largely removed Alaska Natives from federal control, he wrote.
". . . the corporate settlement model leaves Alaska Natives with collective control of their lands and what should be done with them," he wrote. "That control is by and large in the hands of a board of directors. . . . The federal government no longer has any right or responsibility for the active supervision of Alaska Natives. . . .
"Congress plainly intended and understood that ANCSA corporations would act as ordinary private business corporations — like ordinary United States citizens, not Indians."
Tribal-rights advocates counter that less dependence on the federal government shouldn't mean less authority for tribal councils.
Lare Aschenbrenner, a lawyer for the village, said he expected both the Copper Center and Venetie cases would be appealed simultaneously, and that "many other tribes and Native organizations" will probably be joining the appeal.
Alaska Attorney General Botelho, meanwhile, said the Knowles administration supports expanded tribal powers over Native affairs.
"Where the governor has drawn the line is with Indian Country," Botelho said. "If it is held to exist, there'd come a much wider array of government powers over nonmembers, fish and game, taxing, criminal jurisdiction."
A 10,000-year-old mammoth tusk was stolen from an Anchorage science center. The BLM is offering a reward for tips.
A 100-pound mammoth tusk used as an educational display was stolen in March from the Campbell Creek Science Center in Anchorage.
Now the agency that runs the popular center has issued a reward of up to $500 for information leading to the recovery of the tusk.
The Bureau of Land Management's Office of Law Enforcement is offering the reward, the agency announced Tuesday.
Someone broke into the center early one morning and took the tusk. It's roughly 5 1/2 feet long, from 6 to 8 inches in diameter, and curved with a mottled dark and light brown color.
It was one of several mammoth tusks discovered near the Colville River and turned over to BLM law enforcement in the mid-1980s, officials say. The tusk was estimated to be 10,000 years old and restored before it was displayed.
The tusk was the only thing stolen during the March burglary, BLM spokeswoman Maureen Clark said Tuesday. The break-in tripped the center's security system and Anchorage police responded.
The tusk has probably been displayed at the center since it opened in 1996, Clark said.
"It's such a neat thing for the kids to see and adults as well — for the public to see something that roamed Alaska so many thousands of years ago right there in the science center," she said. "We'd sure love to have it back."
Anyone with information about the missing tusk can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the BLM at 907-271-6622.
A shooting Monday that left one man dead and another wounded followed an altercation that Anchorage police said is believed to be related to "ongoing activity … possibly involving money or drugs."
A police statement Tuesday said the shooting was a "targeted crime." The altercation involved a group of people in an upstairs apartment.
Police were called to the 6000 block of Austin Street, near Old Seward Highway and Dowling Road, at about 4 p.m. Monday on a report of a shooting.
Officers arrived to find two men with gunshot wounds. One was dead, and the other was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Police said they were still trying to determine whether the men shot each other, how many people were inside the building at the time, and what drugs were possibly involved, said spokesperson MJ Thim.
The dead man's name has not been released, police said, pending notification of next of family.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call APD's non-emergency line at 311, or submit an anonymous tip through Anchorage Crime Stoppers. Police are also looking for surveillance video to determine who was in the building at the time of the shooting.
A weeklong trash binge is over for a pair of Eagle River brown bears that were shot and killed by Alaska wildlife officials Monday night.
According to Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh, biologists and a wildlife trooper arrived in the Eagle Ridge subdivision Monday night in search of the bears, which had been getting into trash for more than a week.
"I think they encountered them fairly quickly," Marsh said Monday.
Marsh said the bears were spotted wandering through the neighborhood in search of their favorite meal: trash.
"The bears were very bold; they just popped up on the street and walked behind the wildlife trooper truck," Marsh said.
The bears were corralled in a location where they were away from homes and then were shot, Marsh said. The first was killed around 11 p.m., with the second taken about 45 minutes later. Marsh said biologists salvaged the animals, taking the skulls and hides as well as genetic samples for testing.
Biologists Monday said they planned to kill the two sub-adult brown bears after receiving numerous reports of them getting into trash cans in the densely populated, wooded neighborhoods that line the Eagle River Valley. Once the animals learned to associate the area with easy calories, Marsh said, their fate was sealed.
"It's not a bear problem, it's a people problem," Marsh said.
He said biologists spotted at least 30 trash cans left alongside the road Monday night in advance of Tuesday morning pickup. It's against municipal code to leave trash out overnight, but many people continue to ignore the rules.
The state has killed five bears in the Chugiak-Eagle River area this summer, and each was killed after it learned to associate trash with food. If bad habits continue, Marsh said, it's likely more bears will die.
"The message here to folks is this is a cycle that repeats itself and it's not going to stop until people take action," he said.
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at email@example.com or call (907) 257-4274.
The body of a Tununak man reported missing in April was found Monday in the Bering Sea near Nelson Island, a village search-and-rescue official said.
Alaska State Troopers said in a statement that fishermen from the village of Toksook Bay discovered human remains about a half-mile off the coast of the island. Tununak and Toksook Bay are on the island west of Bethel.
The remains belong to Jazmin "Duna" James, 26, said Harry Tulik, who coordinated the search group from Toksook Bay after James was reported missing on Easter Sunday.
James was respected for his backcountry skills, people in the village said when he disappeared. He was returning from a snowmachine trip with friends to another village in the region. They'd gone to get firewood, burned in steambaths, for the Easter holiday.
Searchers on Easter Sunday found Jazmin's snowmachine on sea ice, partly submerged in water east of Toksook Bay, Tulik said. But they didn't find his body.
The discovery provides a sense of closure to James' family, which can now give him a proper burial, Tulik said Tuesday.
"They are sad but happy at the same time that now they can put him into the ground and be at peace," Tulik said.
A dismal Alaska salmon season got drearier when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Monday announced the closure of the entire Kenai River to all king salmon fishing effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
The river had already been restricted to catch-and-release only for kings. The latest restriction will remain in effect through June 30 for the entire river and through July 31 for the river upstream of a Fish and Game marker near Slikok Creek.
The decision was made due to an extremely poor return of early run kings to the popular sportfishing river, which as of June 17 had just 2,182 of the prized fish swimming past the department's sonar counter near river mile 14. The optimal escapement goal for the early run of Kenai kings is 3,900 to 6,600 "large" kings, meaning fish longer than 75 centimeters (or about 30 inches).
"This closure is not an easy decision," wrote Cook Inlet management coordinator Matt Miller in a statement issued Monday. "King salmon stocks throughout Cook Inlet, including the Kenai River runs, are experiencing a period of low productivity and the restrictions and closures are being felt across the state."
Kings have been trickling into the Kenai at a paltry rate: On June 16, just 18 were counted by sonar.
Poor king salmon returns to Cook Inlet have already forced the department to close the Ninilchik, Anchor River and Deep Creek drainages to king salmon fishing and restrict the Kasilof River to catch-and-release for wild king salmon.
The department did give anglers something to be optimistic about Monday, opening the Russian River "sanctuary" area at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian at 8 a.m. Tuesday to sockeye fishing after estimating the river near Cooper Landing will meet its early run sockeye escapement goal. The department said sockeye fishing is expected to be "good to excellent" near the confluence for the next several days.