Archive for the ‘Bristol Bay’ Category

Will We Have A Winter?

December 22, 2014

Usually a common sight in the winter.

Usually a common sight in the winter.

While so many parts of the lower 48 are having a colder than ‘normal’ winter most of Alaska has been basking in temperatures that resemble fall more than winter!

In Bristol Bay much of the area remains less than fully frozen, causing many to be watchful. Other areas of the state share many of the same concerns.

The winter activities so many of us not only enjoy but count on cannot happen with these many days above freezing temperatures. Our rivers are not fully frozen over, the creeks are dangerously open in many places and lakes still have only a thin coat of ice.

A river that should be mostly, if not totally, iced over this time of year.

A river that should be mostly, if not totally, iced over this time of year.

Travel to accomplish things like setting and checking winter trap lines, a source of income for some and hunting for winter meat are hampered. For those who do ice fishing, it is very dangerous without a nice thick layer of ice.

Being able to visit with others, important to so many in the winter, has been slowed to include the only more expensive methods, such as using an airline. If this keeps up many winter festivals will have to be rearranged and different activities thought of.

Without a nice layer of snow to insulate things the frost level will go deeper into the soil, causing more winter loss on such things as native berries, trees and of course all those beautiful peonies our state is becoming well known for.

Wildlife surveys that are accomplished during the winter months have been put on hold too, waiting for a good snow covering so tracking is easier.

While these warmer temperatures are nice in that we are not using up our winter budget as quickly on heating fuel, it does make most wonder if that will be offset by some really long, cold snap later this winter. The lack of wind, that often comes with winter weather, or even strong sun is cutting into the renewable energy output for some communities.

For those of us who either farm or garden it has allowed for more fresh winter produce to survive than might normally be possible. (this news has traveled around the state with much excitement!) Many of us are also seeing our chickens continue to lay eggs at a higher level, due to less feed needed to just stay warm.

Long term forecasts call for this weather pattern to continue into late summer of 2015. We could well move into still another summer of almost ‘hot’ weather, more forest fires, lots of bugs and winters that leave us wondering if this is going to be more the norm than not.

So for those in the Lower 48 that are dealing with still another winter of tough temperatures and travel conditions, know many are wishing the weather pattern would send the snow and icy temperatures north again!

Wednesday’s Moment

February 19, 2014

DLG_trip_feb_2014 002

A Wednesday ritual*. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

*inspired by a great flower site –floret

Wednesday’s Moment

February 5, 2014

sunset feb_4_2014 003

A Wednesday ritual*. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment.

*inspired by a great flower site –floret

Wednesday’s Moment

January 29, 2014
Just a moment in time.

Just a moment in time.

Just a moment captured in time. No explanation…just to share!

One Small Step At A Time

January 20, 2013


The number of households that are keeping poultry has skyrocketed in the last 5 years. You hear all the time about cities changing their zoning and animal laws to allow for small numbers in a ‘backyard’ flock.

Zoning laws are seldom the reason chickens are not raised here in rural Alaska. Three issues affect our ability to raise chickens out here in Western Alaska: Getting the chicks out here alive in the first place, keeping predators at bay, and, of course, keeping them warm enough in the winter.

Most of us bring the chicks in via mail in the spring. You order weeks in advance and try to guess when the temperatures will be mild enough not to kill them off in transit.

It is most important that you  keep them at 90+ degrees for the first 3-5 weeks, as they feather out and can then regulate their body temperature.

Yes, heat lamps can help but I have found if the general room temperature is not at least 75 degrees they will just pile up on top of each other, under the heat lamps, to get warm and your losses will be huge.

When you run your household and business off as much as 70% renewable energy, wind in our case, loading on a few 250W  heat bulbs or a 1300-1500 W heat lamp the costs start to rise quickly, making the project less sustainable.

This year we decided to try something a little different, starting the process in the fall.

We got chicks the week before Thanksgiving, during one of the few weeks that had negative temperatures. The pilot on the mail plane was kind enough to make sure the box of babies was kept away from drafts, covered with a blanket and in the warmer area of the plane. As things went a couple, originally from Texas, that were on their way out of the area sat next to the box of chicks coming  IN from a Texas hatchery!!

They arrived quickly (less than 4 days) from the hatchery which greatly improves the chances of getting them off to a good start.

The first 2-3 days are the toughest so I have found if I keep them in a box or tub in our house, with a heat lamp or two, we can keep the rate of death to almost nothing. One small complication we found this time is that one of our (new at the time) kitties is a very determined hunter. Now the box or tub must have a screen or metal rack of some type over it at all times or we will find the count down and  stray feathers showing up here and there.

Into this adventure almost two months now, all seems to be working well. We have found  that our brooder, located in an outbuilding that has electricity but not heat,  works well down into the single digits for temperature. It is insulated between the concrete floor and bottom of the chicks, has some insulation on the top and sides and a couple of places for lights, heat or otherwise. We did not hook our 1500W infrared heater up this time and have not used the thermostat to turn off one of the heat lamps just yet.

Given our success this time we hope to use this same method through the summer and into the fall to try to raise more meat birds. They  are harder to raise than these replacement layers  but we are hopeful we can do it and have another source of meat.

There are number of other issues to consider -like figuring out alternative food sources for the frozen times of the year and housing so they can ‘free range’ once they are feathered out.

A chicken 'tractor' that allow poultry to be move around safely outside.

A chicken ‘tractor’ that allow poultry to be move around safely outside.

The possibilities for having local and ‘fresh’ sources of food seem to be possible, just working to figure out the details to make sure they are sustainable too!!

Spring? It Should Be!!

March 20, 2012

Frozen rivers still abound!

On this first official day of spring it is still a little hard to feel it will be here in a few short weeks no matter what it might look and feel like now. 
While much of the lower 48 has had a much warmer than ‘normal’ winter and probably that trend will go into the spring, Alaska has not. Many places have shattered records for snowfall and cold temperatures and we have not been released from the grips of winter just yet, despite the calendar.  

Somewhere under all that snow is a wood deck, 25' high bank, and river!

Those of us who garden, and farm, have been telling each other ‘it will be OK’, spring will come and thus we keep up with our plans and activities. Seed catalogs that have pored over for at least weeks, if not months, now are yielding orders for the chosen seeds. Seed mats and flats are out and being put to work. If there is a grow lamp it is being hung up again and plugged in.
There is much discussion about how deep the frost level might be, given the mild fall, snowfall and THEN deep freeze with still more snowfall. Many old timers are thinking the ground is not frozen very deep and once the thaw starts it will move fast. Flooding might also be a concern for some areas.
Garden plans are coming closer to finalization and those with high tunnels and greenhouses are making sure they are cleaned up and ready to accept the seeds and starts once they warm up more.  
The bug to support those producing local food and/or to grow more of your own seems to have hit Alaska full force in the past few years. Whereas much of the lower 48 has been experiencing this movement for somewhat longer, it is something that has still not reached its full power here in Alaska.  
For many it seems impossible that such a cold, many times inhospitable place when it comes to growing conditions, could also be able to give us variety and great locally great food. It is not just the cold, but in many places the wind and soil that is less than perfect that has kept many from feeling anything of much value could be produced.  
The Interior region of Alaska has had a reputation for years due to its jumbo cabbages and other extra-large produce but the variety has always been questioned. Other areas of Alaska have never developed a reputation for growing much of anything but that is changing. 
Tim Meyers of Bethel,  whom we first wrote about in 2009 after attending the Alaska Sustainable Agriculture Conference, has helped bring attention to that area of the state. Dillingham has now run an ever growing gardening set of workshops to the growing movement there. Sitka is ahead of most villages and cities for its holistic view to growing local. It is making it a city-wide effort that hopefully more cities will follow.  
In our backyard here on the Alaska Peninsula we are moving forward with plans to build on the last few yeas of lessons learned. We will putting more land into production, expanding the varieties we grow and hopefully increasing the volume of food we can actually produce.
Hopefully this year we will actually have time, the space and means to raise some turkeys. Some plans for the a future orchard will be explored. We hopefully can add some additional types of fruit to the mix and mostly show still more people what all we in Alaska can accomplish.

Winter Outside, Greens Inside!

November 16, 2011

The river is showing some serious 'ice building' on this 9 degree day.

Well after being battered by storms these last few weeks all up and down at least the west coast of Alaska we are wondering if this is how our entire winter is going to play itself out.

For those of us on the Alaska Peninsula and Bristol Bay the weather has actually been pretty mild in many areas with only a few cold snaps, into the 20s and not a lot of snow. The  storms have had lots of rain and sleet associated with winds upwards of 70+ kt.  So when this real ‘cold snap’ hit we were all a little surprised.  We had become accustomed already to watching for winds speeds and not paying too much attention to temperatures.

We had been harvesting the last of the outside cold tolerant crops like cabbage, any potatoes left in the ground and covering the perennials that we are attempting to grow through the winter these last few weeks.

This week was the time to see if the things we are trying to grow and  harvest late into the winter are going to make it or if our efforts were now killed with these hard freezes. Ground temperatures are holding right now at 34/35 degrees even through the night, as measured by probes down about 6″-8″ under the surface inside the high tunnels.

Late fall planted greens under row cover and making it through the first few freezes and so far at least one single digit night and day.

So far, so good. We clipped a salad from the chard (rainbow) just a few evenings ago, letting these greens get bigger and pulled a few other things.

The last bits of cold tolerant crops, as they have been now clipped off by the chickens.

In our high tunnels we still have green onions, some spinach and carrots still being harvested. I was told a week or so ago that at least one high tunnel grower in Dillingham was still getting kale, and a number of other crops the last week in October. They generally have colder, wetter weather than we do further south in this part of Bristol Bay, even being only about 50 miles away by way the crow flies.

The last few years have been fast-moving as a lot more information is being shared, projects considered, even other set of high tunnels in our tiny village, and generally an effort to be more sustainable in our own areas.

We will keep you posted on how the winter efforts go to furnish at least part of our own fresh things up here in Alaska!

Lake and Pen Borough results due- UPDATED

October 17, 2011

The results of the municipal election in the Lake and Peninsula Borough for 2 Assembly seats, 2 school district seats, and the Save Our Salmon initiative are due later today.

The ADN is saying results should be posted online by 10 PM this evening and that turnout was high as expected.


In unofficial results, the Save Our Salmon initiative passed in the Lake and Peninsula Borough 280 to 246. The Borough Assembly is due to certify the election results at it’s October 24th meeting.

 Alaska’s Dispatch’s Amanda Coyne reports on the results and background of the initiative  as does  Sean Cockerham at the ADN in the updated  article linked above.

If only it was simple. Pebble Mine. Again.

October 8, 2011

Oct 5

Municipal elections were held yesterday across the state. In my borough we had our results within hours with the exception of an Assembly seat too close to call before absentee ballots are counted. Far flung Lake and Peninsula Borough conducts elections entirely through the  mail  so it will be a bit before we will hear what the outcome of the vote on the so-called Save Our Salmon initiative is.

Lake and Peninsula Borough ballots must be postmarked on or before October 4, 2011 to be valid. At least one village within the borough only gets mail in and out twice  a week, weather permitting, so the window for return of completed  ballots is necessarily wider than it might be elsewhere.

Oct 7

Whatever the outcome of the vote in Lake and Pen is, I’ve learned a lot in the last few months about how we are organized as communities within the state here in Alaska. I kinda, sorta, knew some of it but had never tried to look at all of it with a view towards  competing interests between local and state entities.

For all I’ve learned, I also realize I still know very little.

In March of this year, with permission , we reprinted Initiative Would Halt Large Scale Resource Extraction  from The Bristol Bay Times.

This was the first run at getting an initiative on the Lake and Peninsula ballot . It was not certified for the ballot as it included language which was an obvious attempt to “define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules” which is prohibited under law governing initiatives and referendums here.


From Alaska Statutes Title 29, Chapter 26- Elections


Article 2. Initiative and Referendum.

Sec. 29.26.100. Reservation of powers. The powers of initiative and referendum are reserved to the residents of municipalities, except the powers do not extend to matters restricted by art. XI, sec. 7 of the state constitution. (emphasis mine) (§ 9 ch 74 SLA 1985

Sec. 29.26.110. Application for petition.
 (a) An initiative or referendum is proposed by filing an application with the municipal clerk containing the ordinance or resolution to be initiated or the ordinance or resolution to be referred and the name and address of a contact person and an alternate to whom all correspondence relating to the petition may be sent. An application shall be signed by at least 10 voters who will sponsor the petition. An additional sponsor may be added at any time before the petition is filed by submitting the name of the sponsor to the clerk. Within two weeks the clerk shall certify the application if the clerk finds that it is in proper form and, for an initiative petition, that the matter

      (1) is not restricted by AS 29.26.100;

      (2) includes only a single subject;

      (3) relates to a legislative rather than to an administrative matter; and

      (4) would be enforceable as a matter of law.

(b) A decision by the clerk on an application for petition is subject to judicial review. (§ 9 ch 74 SLA 1985; am § 9 ch 80 SLA 1989)


As per restrictions in Section 29.26.100, Article XI, Section 7  of the Alaska State Constitution reads:

7. Restrictions

The initiative shall not be used to dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, create courts, define the jurisdiction of courts or prescribe their rules, or enact local or special legislation. (emphasis mine) The referendum shall not be applied to dedications of revenue, to appropriations, to local or special legislation, or to laws necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety.


There was talk at the time that it also attempted to “enact local or special legislation” but the very obvious problem with language about what courts must do was adequate to deny certification.

The second proposed initiative backed off describing what courts must do and focussed on legislating under the borough’s planning powers in a broad enough manner to avoid appearing as “local or special legislation” ( within the meaning that the Pebble Mine was not being targeted specifically but that all resource extraction over 640 acres -1 square mile- was being addressed)   and to the extent that it was certified by the borough clerk.

The Pebble Limited Partnership filed motions for  summary judgment  against allowing the initiative on Lake and Pen’s ballot  for being unenforceable.

The arguments vary but they tend to turn on whether the borough can enforce a law which disallows major resource extraction on state land within the borders of the borough.

In late July, Superior Court Judge John Suddock deferred a ruling on the PLP’s motions for summary judgement.

The Bristol Bay Times reported that :

“Suddock said the issue of enforceability as a matter of law turns on the applicability of two decisions of the Alaska Supreme Court holding that proposed zoning ordinances could not be enacted via the initiative process. “Both decisions reasoned that the legislatively imposed requirements for participation by land use planning commissions in zoning matters preclude voter initiatives absent such involvement,” Suddock wrote.

“But those decisions arise in the context of land use planning statutes applicable to general law municipalities and boroughs, the judge said.

“Those statutes do not apply to a home rule borough such as the borough here,” he said.

“Further the two decisions address zoning, rather than more general land use provisions.”

Suddock also took into consideration the Alaska Supreme Court announcement of a policy of pre-election judicial deference to initiatives absent controlling adverse authority.”

 While this discussion of adverse authority relates to attorney conduct it describes well enough the situation here  in
” the matter must meet three conditions: it must be legal authority, it must be directly adverse, and it must be from a controlling jurisdiction.
 to make some sense of what the judge is saying to we everyday people out here.
Basically, it appears that there is no clear law or precedent which says the home rule borough may not exercise it’s planning powers in this way. 
The Alaska Supreme Court order denying PLP’s emergency order for review , after Judge Suddock’s ruling, echos similar concerns about enforceability   in the written concurring response as well as the dissenting response.
Our Supreme Court  does have a policy, as Judge Suddock said, of  hands-off  response  before votes on  initiatives when there is no clear law or precedent at stake.
It doesn’t mean there are not a myriad of problems to be solved if the initiative passes, both in court when it is challenged ( and it will be if it passes) and in the borough if it is allowed to stand.
 Oct 8
The Lake and Peninsula Borough is organized as a home rule borough.

Alaska allows home rule boroughs and cities great powers compared to many, many places in America.

The State’s discussion of municipal structure says :

“Home Rule Cities and Boroughs Powers and Duties. While general law local governments in Alaska have broad powers, home rule local governments have even broader powers. Article X, Section 11 of Alaska’s Constitution states that a home rule borough or city may exercise all legislative powers not prohibited by law or by charter. ”

The publication, Local Government in Alaska ,  discusses the various types of municipal government in the state and what each is and can do in readable language, as does  the Alaska’s Constitution, a Citizen’s Guide   which  describes the law in readable terms with further explanation of what our Constitution’s framers had in mind when they wrote it.

Article X of the constitution which addresses local governments starts on internal document page number 161, pdf page 175.


 From our Constitution:

Section 1. Purpose and Construction

The purpose of this article is to provide for maximum local self-government with a minimum of local government units, and to prevent duplication of tax-levying jurisdictions. A liberal construction shall be given to the powers of local government units.

from pdf page 177 of the Citizen’s Guide :

“The second sentence of this section is included to thwart the restrictive and narrow interpretation of this article that the courts and the legislature might be tempted to give it by the weight of tradition, most notably the longstanding judicial doctrine that local governments are powerless to act in the absence of delegated authority. Known as Dillon’s Rule, it asserts:

[A] municipal corporation possesses and can exercise the following powers and not others. First, those granted in express words; second, those necessarily implied or necessarily incident to the powers expressly granted; third, those absolutely essential to the declared objects and purposes of the corporation—not simply convenient, but indispensable

(Merriam v. Moody’s Executors, 25 Iowa 163, 170, 1868).

The convention delegates wanted local governments to get the benefit of the doubt in disputes over their power to act. In fact, the Alaska Supreme Court has used this section to make close calls in favor of municipalities…”


The explicit  enunciation in our state constitution that local government units be afforded a liberal construction of their powers is unusual  and important.

The discussion about home rule powers starts on pdf page  183.

These things will be important to understanding what happens next in Lake and Pen  after ballots there are counted.

There is so much emotion involved in the very idea of the proposed Pebble mine. Personally, the non-plan plan, whatever the game PLP is playing with whether they have a plan or not is, makes me deeply sad and disappointed that we have not figured out how to deal with the true costs of mining of the proposed-non-proposed  scope of Pebble as it relates to fisheries in particular, other resources in general.

 I have enormous respect and sympathy for Lake and Pen’s citizens and their quest to halt the PLP’s whatever -it -is plan ( Boy, am I tired of the we-haven’t-submitted-a-plan-so-how-can-you-be-against-it crap . Whatever it is they are doing is TOO much mine  in the wrong place !)

I’m not sure this initiative is the way to do it  for a variety of reasons but  I am  sure my neighbors there are very, very serious about their desire to stop the proposed Pebble Mine.

We’ll see what happens next.

If only it was simple. Pebble mine.

September 25, 2011

We have municipal  elections coming up  October 4.

In my area, we are considering a number of propositions and will vote to fill Assembly seats.

Folks all around the state will be making similar decisions for their communities about who will represent them and how they will conduct their community business. In many respects and if we are organized under home rule charter, we get to make more decisions at the local level than people do in most other states .

News and comment about the “Save our Salmon ” initiative which is on the ballot in the Lake and Peninsula Borough has been heavy in recent days. Pebble Prospect, Mine, Whatever, is on state land situated in the Lake and Pen Borough

The seemingly simple language to amend Lake and Pen’s planning code is not simple at all, in any respect, and has caught the attention of people all over the state and Outside because of the issues surrounding the proposed Pebble Mine.
View this document on Scribd

I asked friends in the Lake and Pen Borough how and what was going on locally.

If the deluge of scanned mailers which hit my inbox in response could make a sound it would have been along the order of a huge ARGGGHHHH!

My first response, looking at all the mailers, was all the things my ma used to say when she was trying not to swear: Egads! Gadzooks! Crimenently! and Pfffttt!

Most of this kind of campaign stuff is of no use whatsover in helping people make informed voting decisions but it sure whups up emotions and, too often, leaves lingering damage to reputations and  resentments between neighbors, as well as muddying issues in general.

There are a lot of eyes watching this initiative vote and following some of the news about it. The proposed Pebble mine is scaring the bejabbers out of many like me who fear we have really done nothing in this state to develop a clear and complete framework which does what this initiative proposes to do-which is to say no to large  resource extraction development projects which pose clear dangers to salmon habitat and clean water.

The basic declaration of  Mineral Development Policies  of the State of Alaska  has some appearance of  balancing water and habitat interests but vesting DNR , Department of Natural Resources , with lead authority :

Alaska Statute – Title 27. Mining. Chapter 05. Administration and Services. Article 1. Department of Natural Resources. Section 27.05.010. Department responsible for mineral resources.

(a)The department has charge of all matters affecting exploration, development, and mining of the mineral resources of the state, the collection and dissemination of all official information relative to the mineral resources, and mines and mining projects of the state, and the administration of the laws with respect to all kinds of mining.

(b) The department is the lead agency for all matters relating to the exploration, development, and management of mining, and, in its capacity as lead agency, shall coordinate all regulatory matters concerning mineral resource exploration, development, mining, and associated activities. Before a state agency takes action that may directly or indirectly affect the exploration, development, or management of mineral resources, the agency shall consult with and draw upon the mining expertise of the department.

has in reality made for a cockeyed view of what could be said to be balance between mineral extraction and fish and wildlife habitat and water uses. Unlike many other states, Alaska does not house Fish and Game within Natural Resources so Fish and Game issues don’t really have equal footing with mineral development. The acceptance within DNR of industry notions of what constitutes appropriate mitigation, remediation or recompense, blah, blah, blah for noncompliance or failure on the part of the extraction companies fails to fully encompass what could be said to at stake, especially as relates the huge plan for Pebble.

The complaint filed by six Tribal Councils of federally recognized tribes against the State, DNR, and then Commissioner of DNR Tom Irwin is an excellent read in the frustrations Alaskans have with DNR as relates to minerals v other uses and well worth the time to really look at.

The repeated use of the term ad hoc
done for particular purpose: done or set up solely in response to a specific situation or problem, without considering wider or longer-term issues

in the complaint is especially pointed and,  to my mind, valid as it relates to the cavalier appropriation and redefinition of so many terms  defined elsewhere in our laws to push mineral extraction in the 2005 BBAP, which as the complaint notes is ” the state’s principal land use plan for state lands in the Bristol Bay area .”

After the usual initial flurry of motions and a couple of hearings the complaint sits as an undisposed and  open case over 2 years later and no one I know has a clue about what comes next.

The letter the Board of Fish sent to the Legislature , after hearing and denying a proposal  to establish a fish refuge in Bristol Bay  , was cause for some hope that the Legislature would move to really look at statutory framework  for mine permitting which addressed fish and water concerns from their own value as opposed to bits and pieces of a mining proposal. Money was appropriated but members of the Legislative council could not come to a common understanding about what to do  so they changed the focus of the study.

As an everyday person and  citizen of Alaska , this process has been wearing and disheartening  on so many levels. The Pebble Partnership has interjected itself in every step, every argument. Some of it is logical given its stake in the proposal, some of it is horsepunky. Along with specifics about this proposal,  Alaskans are trying to sort out overarching principles of balance between competing but concurrent uses of our lands and waters that we had not had to face before the Pebble Prospect reared its head. We take the idea that our resources should be managed for the benefit of all Alaskans very seriously but I don’t think we have ever had to look at the whys, whats, hows, of what could be called “benefit”, “all”, and so on with such a critical eye to what we might lose if we screw up.

Next: the initiative itself