Archive for the ‘Ugashik’ Category

Alaska IS Growing… More of Our Own Food!!

September 17, 2011

Tomatoes grown in Bristol Bay

Gardening or farming in Bristol Bay seems to be taking off again with gusto! If you ask around  you find   almost everyone gardened until relatively recently. Many things point to the high salmon prices of the 80’s as the main mover but sometime, somehow, the desire and then the skill went away.

 Growing your own food has taken off again for a variety of reasons, amongst them high cost  and generally low  quality of produce which has to be shipped in,  coupled with lots of new ideas about how-to-grow from the lower 48 figure prominently.

A variety of projects are assisting the effort from grants to help pay for high tunnels, to a ‘growers school’, to tours and cooking classes. In Dillingham, for the second year, a Gardening Symposium will be held later this week. Everything from canning to helping figure out what ails your plants will be covered.

All summer all over Alaska many have been taking part in Alaska Growers School in variety of ways. From study at your own pace, conference calls , and  webinars people have been learning the basics of gardening from botany to how-to specifics for growing in the various part of Alaska. The first group of students then gathered in Fairbanks for some hands-on skill building. Over 40 of us from 26 different villages, a number in the Bristol Bay area, ended up with a wealth of knowledge backed up by great handouts and links to keep us going.

Ugashik's Community Greenhouse

Some villages, like Igiugig, have community greenhouses and outside garden plots to help residents get into the mood to grow more of their own food. Some residents and villages have those who grow for personal use but some are also looking at supplying near-by lodges with produce.

Learning about venting! This is easy to do in Alaska in early spring!

In touring and talking to a number of participants it’s obvious there is a learning curve. Many community operations are ‘staffed’ by volunteers and a number of issues have arisen, from learning how quickly the houses can warm up in the spring,  easily over 100 degrees as early as May, to the onset of gray mold or botrytis in those with circulation issues.  Hopefully, as these issues have come up, they are identified and solutions have been worked out so the efforts of many can be built upon.

In the past, weeds and the spreading of those darn things, has caused some villagers to give up after a few years of trying but hopefully as more people learn how to deal with these issues they will give producing their own food a try again.

Locally grown strawberries

Everyone should be able to enjoy a fresh bowl of greens, berries or veggies from their backyards if they so desire.

Predators, Not An Easy Answer!

March 31, 2011

(Editor Note: This is the third in a series of posts concerning predators in at least one part of rural Alaska. The first was Buckled Ice….” which covered some of the difficulties of traveling to an area Advisory Committee, the second A Rogue Grizzly, What It Cost us!”covers the Christmas Eve event that gave one family still more motivation to be involved in ‘the process’ of game management in Alaska. )

The Alaska Peninsula

In the days and weeks following the brutal attack in our yard by the ‘rogue’ Brown Bear we struggled to try to figure out why this unusual event happened. If  it had happened any other time but during a lengthy cold spell, with good snow cover and  in the winter, it would have been tragic but maybe not as alarming. Occasionally, we  have sightings of bears in the winter but they usually have been driven out by warm/wet weather and are looking only to den up again and stay away from villages. Any starving bears  would most likely not denned up to start. Bears as a whole, even out here in the ‘bush’, prefer to stay away from humans. They do not come into town, as has been known in larger cities, as there are no garbage cans or food left out for the easy pickings. They will venture nearer village areas when human activity is low to pull fish out of nets in the summer, but usually they avoid direct contact with human and even dog encounters. As a whole they avoid dogs like the plague because of the barking and nipping dogs tend to do.

At Christmas Eve  dinner the evening of the attack with the rest of our small village we, of course,  discussed the totally out-of-character, brutal attack on our dog by this bear. We talked about how one resident had been ‘mock’ charged by bears twice this past summer, once from behind. In every bear encounter we in the village  had, were either ones the bear made moves to get away, or allowed the human to get out-of-the-way.  None of us felt we were stalked for the sake of killing outright, as did the bear that killed our dog.

We came to find out a few days later that a bear had been spotted south of our village, surrounded by wolves. This drew concern as we wonder if the wolves that were lately being driven away from villages had taken to looking for bears in dens, as a food source. If they were successful this would happen more. There was also concern about if this bear had some illness like rabies. ( A quick internet search showed that although it happens, in Brown/Grizzly it is rare) We still had to wonder why he was not just looking to re-den up, or head  south where there were easier and more plentiful game to be had.  He had an adequate fat layer and coat that lead all of us to believe he had been denned up.

The state of Alaska admits it does not have good ‘numbers’ on a variety of fronts in regards to game and one of those is how many nuisance bears are killed each season. They are aware that the vast majority, many figure roughly 90%, of nuisance killings are not reported. Most have to agree that the regulation that requires whomever kills the bear to skin it and along with the skull ship it to the Fish & Game office.  NO one has time or the inclination to do this  time-consuming job especially when they are pushing to put up their food stores for the winter or make the majority of yearly income in a few short weeks. (Most nuisance bears happen in the spring and summer, with very few in the fall.)

Not doing this task of skinning  will usually result in a ticket issued, and a large fine. It is considered wanton waste of an animal by the state, and thus the penalties.

Presently what happens most often with nuisance bears is either they are shot badly enough to go off and die somewhere, usually a gut shot, or they are killed outright and disposed of in a river or pulled out into the bush. This leads to the added burden of orphaned cubs that either starve to death or  are killed by other bears in the area. They also many times must also be killed by a resident as they become an issue unto themselves.

People in the villages stay quiet about this as a whole. All of this leads to virtually no reporting of the issue to troopers and Fish & Game.  This is one of the missing factors in good management, a lack of good numbers. A change/modification in the regulation for skinning appears to be a good start.

Two orphaned cubs left to starve after the mother 'disappeared'

On top of this issue you have increased populations of wolves that are starving. There is plenty of evidence from sightings, trappers and those who hunt them and of course the death of the teacher from a starving pack. (Update: from recent discussions with trappers the general population seems to have taken a good hit this winter and we are seeing  less wolves overall. Also those trapped have not shown drastic signs of starving, as was seen the last few years)

Wolves in this area have been gaining not only numbers to the best of everyone’s understanding but at the same time our caribou herds have crashed and more pressure is being put on our dwindling moose population. We had the horrific death last year of a local school teacher by wolves. The pack that attacked her was starving, chased her down and killed her. (In the past we had a healthy trapping group that used airplanes to access hard to reach areas. That is no longer, thus the numbers of wolves have slowly increased)

Our area, the Alaska Peninsula, has been managed for years for outside hunters, and for trophy sized bears. This is an issue that has been in the making for YEARS and is going to take some time to get back into balance.

In the view of many, and which has happened in many areas of Alaska, all this ‘management’ for hunters has caused populations to become greatly out of balance.

There is evidence that the caribou herds grew so large they overgrazed the area, and then a number of added factors lead to the numbers crashing in the last 10 years.  Then through a variety of policies the area had little to no way to reduce the Brown Bear population, which is usually through being easily able to get rid of the bears that hung around villages. At the same time outside hunters were coming in and killing the largest bears. (Large male bears, boars, are some of the best birth control as they kill cubs and younger weaker bears helping greatly to keep the population in a better balance).

For some time now the Lower Bristol Bay Advisory committee, our local arm of access to the Game Board, has been working to make suggestions on either hunting restrictions, a predator program or changes in the regulations to get in front of the issue of game being in a better ‘balance’.

This year the state actually submitted a proposal to allow for any ‘nuisance bear’  to be killed within 5 miles of a village with the hopes of reducing those bears that cause issues. Amendments have been offered to modify the skinning requirement. There are a number of other proposals to change dates of and/or lengthen bear hunts to hopefully result in a better number taken. 

Various wolf programs have been already taken on in small ways to reduce those populations. (Since the death of the teacher monies have been ‘found’ to offer trapping workshops so local trappers can learn to be more efficient and humane while reducing numbers)

Our hope is that during this time we had before the Game Board the subject was listened to and the changes that were agreed upon by the board can be implemented.

It also appears that residents, local hunters, game managers, lodge owners and guides need to come together to draft at least area suggestions/plans of how best to understand and manage the game we all rely on.  Resources can be managed more efficiently, locals can help with numbers and spotting of animals, once trained and we can be creative in how best to accomplish balanced goals. It is so much easier to just complain of lack of budgets, no one listening, or a variety of other whines but harder to find common ground to work toward solutions.

There are a number of entities, from the federal and state governments, tribes/cities to residents that need to find a way to coordinate research, animal surveys, reporting and other input needed to accomplish the goals worked out with the needs of all.

We should hear in the coming weeks how all the changes that were agreed to by the board will be implemented and if they will have any impact.

A Rogue Grizzly, What It Cost Us!

March 4, 2011

March 4, 2011

(Editor’s note – This is the second post in a series that deals with some of the impact of the state’s game ‘management’ practices. The first post “Buckled Ice…..” spoke of some of the obstacles in attempting to be involved in the discussion)

WARNING THIS POST IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!!

First – let’s correct the misuse of the word Grizzly.

Alaska calls the same bear a “Brown Bear”, not a Grizzly.

We are dealing with the issue of predators, how they impact those of us who LIVE in the areas affected by some of the state’s  management practices and what it costs, at least for some of us!!!

The Alaska Peninsula is that skinny part of Alaska that leads down to the Aleutian Islands and has Bristol Bay on the west side of it. The State Board of Game rotates on a 3 year schedule through the various areas of the state. Our area runs the 4th through the 10 this month. This is also the area where the young teacher was attacked and killed by the wolf pack last year despite years of us being told wolves do not attack people. (Unfortunately these meeting are  not held in the areas affected so residents can speak to the issues, but  in Anchorage or, like this year, a suburb of Anchorage! This effectively greatly limits our rural voices being heard in person.)

We, a group of villages, in this ‘game area’ will be trying to get the attention of the Game Board these few days to present our side of the past years’ ‘management’ of predators and how we have paid for that ‘management’.

That isn't blood from the bear!

All of this came right to our yard in a different, but just as brutal and upsetting way on Christmas Eve, just a few months ago.

My family and our two dogs returned on Christmas Eve from our local airport and collecting our mail. It was a cold day, in the negatives, and with a good snow cover. There was a gentle wind from the north. The weather had been this way for a good month or so and we were in winter mode of watching for wolves in the wee hours. We were not worried about Brown bear as they had been denned up for probably close to two months.

We got out of the car in our driveway and one of us started packing mail and packages into the house while the other walked the opposite direction to check our generator, about 150 yards away. The dogs were in the yard between us just generally sniffing around. The yard is cleared and no brush is around for some distance. Generally this is an area that wild animals avoid as they are totally exposed and near humans. The village we live in, as a whole, is pretty active year around.

On my second trip into the entry to drop mail our one dog that is the ‘warning or alarm’  animal started barking loudly with her ‘serious danger’ bark. I raced out near her and called for our second dog, who had been there just minutes ago. I heard a kind of weird/odd snarl sound but nothing else. No second dog and the other one racing to the side of the yard near a gentle slope.

I yelled and my spouse ran toward the area I thought I heard the sound come from. Then came the scream to get back, a bear had just killed our dog!! My heart took a twist and my stomach dropped. This doesn’t happen in a village and definitely not this time of year!!

The one that shed all the blood in the above picture!

I can’t tell you the shock in his voice or his frantic run to the house for a gun. Our other dog was now trying to charge that area and yet keep me safe, just yards away.

Upon getting the gun we ran toward where the bear and dog were. From just  a few feet away he   dispatched  the bear immediately.

This bear  showed NO FEAR. I can’t stress this enough…bears do not like humans and REALLY do not like guns. They always turn and run when they hear the click of a gun. We have heard of hunters who stumbled upon a bear in the middle of feeding and been ‘barked’ at but they usually will show sign of wanting to get away when they hear a gun ‘click’.

The dog was dead except for the last futile convulsion her body was going through. She had died in seconds as he jumped her from behind, broke her back and then crushed her skull. She did not have time to yip or even whine.

The dog that HATES bears never got a chance to bark a warning. She most likely saw him or smelled him once he got close to her, as the wind was blowing towards him and away from our dogs.

This bear not only killed our dog but stalked and raced to kill her. We were able to trace his prints back in the fresh snow and see where he planted his paws and started the race to kill her.

Our surprise, as well as all others who have lived here all their lives, came on two fronts. First that we had a Brown bear , called a Grizzly in the lower 48, out this time of year when the weather had been so cold and we had so much snow cover. No one we have talked to since this happened can recall this happening during their life time.

The second surprise was that he stalked her and came into a definitely human area to kill. He was not surprised, there was no food to protect, there were no cubs to protect, we did not have food to entice him in, it was just plain bizarre on many fronts.

After the first round of shock we realized we were equally as close to the original spot the bear started from and within obvious sight of him, or at least smell, as the dog he killed. Had he chosen to go straight instead of veering to the left it would have been me; going to the right, he would have had gotten my spouse.

We KNOW that this bear would not have mauled us but killed us just like the dog, and the ability for one of us to help the other would have been futile …

When that realization sets in  you change how you walk out your front door in this part of the country, even in the relatively ‘safe’ winter.

(The next post will look into why things might have gotten to this point)

New $330,000 Dock Proposal for 6-8 Boats Smells Fishy; Ugashik Tribal Council Calls It “Economic Development” Part 1: Overview

August 26, 2010

Aug 26, 2010

Ugashik is a tiny village in lower Bristol Bay Alaska. Currently there are about 10 full-time residents. The population swells to about 50 people in the summer, all associated with fishing in one form or another. The village has an interesting history. It was one of the largest Native villages on the Alaska Peninsula until it was almost totally wiped out by the flu pandemic of the early 1900′s. It lives on today as a small community of fishermen.

In exploring old land surveys from the village we found that in the late 1800s there were as many as seven fish canning or salting companies here at once.

No large processing company has been in business here since the 1950s, when the Wingard’s Cannery operated here. It was acquired then by Alaska Packers Co. and shut down.

Getting Fish to Market

Since the Ugashik cannery closed decades ago, local fishermen have depended on a tender, a large boat sent the twenty miles up the Ugashik River by a large processing company, to buy our fish and get it to market. Five years ago, the major processing company that bought Ugashik salmon for last few years stopped buying fish in the village.  No other buyer was found who was willing to send a tender up to village to buy fish.

Fishermen can’t sell their fish to just any processor. The processor must agree beforehand to buy fish from the fishermen, and ALL buyers maintain a mysterious ‘A list’ of preferred fishermen. You can be ‘downgraded’ or dropped at any time for any reason. You then have to find someone new to sell fish to, and if they want to freeze you out for any reason, it is a done deal.

You are not allowed to fish if you don’t have a buyer.

That year we people in Ugashik were lucky to be able to skip around to various buyers and get our fish sold over the course of the next few weeks. Fish were in short supply that year, and the quality of fish we were bringing to the processors was very good.

The following year this same processor that had shut our village fishermen out sent a letter to all the fishermen in the Ugashik fishing district telling them they would not be buying their fish the coming year. This was done in January and sent such a shock wave through the villages that we are still trying to recover.

It can take years to secure a good steady market for your fish. This left the fishermen floundering just months before fishing preparations were ready to start.

My husband’s family started a small processing company in the village back in the early 60’s. It mostly processes fish we catch after the large processors leave the area since they are usually only in Bristol Bay for the heaviest 4 weeks of an up to 12 weeks season. If area fishermen were inclined to work longer than the heaviest 4 weeks of the season, the company bought their fish as well.

That focus changed a few years ago when none of the large processors would send a tender up river to buy fish from the villagers. We worked to help bring in a new larger processor into the bay four years ago to buy fish during the heavy part of the season and began gearing up our plant so we could process more fish locally.

The Old Dock

After the cannery closed back in the ’50s, the old buildings and dock were parceled out and are now privately owned, including the ‘old dock’ portion which is owned by Ugashik Traditional Village, our local tribal entity.

This old dock portion has been used by the residents and visitors as a place to assemble, ‘hang’ nets, store boats and load gear on and off drift boats. At one time, when we still had boats delivering freight to the village, it was also used as a place to unload freight.

The old dock’s deteriorating condition the last 5-10 years had made most of this activity impossible or at ‘your own risk’, at best.

The actual dock and outer portion of the building finally collapsed about a year ago when a summer resident led an effort to demolish it. The workers were lucky enough to be ‘at lunch’ when the supports under the building portion splintered and led to the result shown in the photo, below.

Here it is this past winter — after the summer resident-led group tried to do the demo

Another view- they started UNDER the structure supposedly for a demo project.

Somehow the crew was under the assumption that the place to start in the demolition effort was UNDER the building. Excuse me for still being baffled by why they felt they needed to START there.

In April of this year, thank heavens, a professional company that used local people with some engineering experience was able to bring the building down safely.

What is left of the collapsed portion after the
contractor/locally led effort that started the demo FROM THE TOP!

The New Dock

During the last 6-7 years the Ugashik Traditional Village Tribal Counsel has been trying to get grants to either refurbish the old one or build a new dock. For a number of years before that there had been efforts to get a small, village-based fish processor started that would be owned by the tribe.

About 7-8 years ago the Tribe hired a consultant who suggested that they needed to concentrate on getting a dock built and then pursue a processing plant and other projects to boost the local economy. At that time there was an effort by the Denali Commission, an Alaska-based federally funded agency, to update docks in Western Alaska. The thinking back then was that getting monies for a dock,  would be easier to obtain than funding for a processing plant. Build a dock, and a processing plant would follow.

The tribal council hired one consultant after another to help the council come up with some type of direction in which to develop more of an economical base than just their riverfront access to Bristol Bay’s salmon returning to their spawning grounds. Eventually, the Tribe hired a contractor/consultant to design a new dock. The drawings were done, and permits filed for. It was proposed that part of the existing building would be demolished, and a new steel and wood structure would be built.

Is This Project Necessary?

Ugashik has only 6-8 local drift boats that use a dock, for loading and unloading gear, and for no longer than 4-6 weeks each summer. The actual concentration of use is probably less than 10-14 days for the entire year.

The tribe is planning on spending $330,000 on this project. Does Ugashik really need a state of the art dock?

Coming soon — The Project Moves Forward

~ Victoria

A Break In The Clouds!

August 15, 2010

Aug 15, 2010

All of us here at AB have had a summer full of adventures and work. Some time with family, much time spent away from the computer and, as you probably noticed, the blog.

In Alaska, the month of August is considered the season of Fall. Since I never feel like we get Spring until at least mid-May, it tends to make the activity level even more harried when we realize we could well get snow and freezing temperatures in a month or so.

We are working on a number of things for you that have happened during this time away from the blog, and you should start to see the fruit of all that work soon.

It has been the season of fishing and growing and, in some instances, seems to include some shenanigans, too.

Stay tuned, but, for now, enjoy a break in the clouds as we did today in Bristol Bay, and may you, too, have a rainbow in your day.

Scientific Approach to Ugashik Salmon Returns

June 8, 2010

Some exciting research is going on right now at the Ugashik Lakes here in Bristol Bay, at least for us ‘fish people’! 

Through a combined effort of our CDQ, their ‘science arm’, a drifting fish marketing group, Pilot Point groups and some local residents up at the Ugashik Lakes, a sonar project to count salmon “yearlings” or smolt* is under way. This is just one of a number of tools that are used to make not only better forecasts of the returning salmon, but also help to better manage the entire system of salmon runs.
* Salmon life cycle

The state of Alaska used to do these types of projects on a regular basis but due to budget restraints they were cut a number of years ago. 

NOW I am sure many of you are hearing ‘sonar’ and thinking of all the issues that sonar  fish count caused on the Yukon last year BUT this is different. This sonar equipment is some of the newest and most sophisticated that can be used for this type of research. Also the conditions are much different than on the Yukon. One thing is the clarity of the water, almost crystal clear at the lakes, and none of the debris that the Yukon has make this different, along with other factors. 

This is a system of sonar ‘pods’ that are placed on the floor of the river, actually between where the lakes drain into a lagoon at the head of the river, that are linked to computers on shore to gather the data.

Now hang with me for a few more paragraphs and maybe you can see why we are so excited. 

This research, after a just a couple of years, will give biologists the ability to not only look at how many smolt come from the number of salmon that were allowed to ‘escape’ up the river, past the fishermen to spawn, but also how well the fish are doing when they return as full grown salmon. 

It can help us understand how our lake system is doing in providing a breeding and rearing ground for these young salmon. We might also be able to fine tune the numbers we harvest and that we allow to escape for spawning from the information gained. 

Sockeye salmon typically spawn in lakes and some of the side creeks that feed those lakes. They require, as do all fish, some environmental specifics, not only to hatch, but also to survive and grow the one to two years they spend in the lakes before heading out to sea. 

My understanding is that most often the Ugashik Lakes Sockeye spend two years in the two lakes that make up our system, thus leaving bigger, and hopefully healthier, to withstand the conditions they face in the ocean over the next 1-3 years before they return. 

If during this count, and hopefully there will be future counts, we see more fish leaving when they are only one year old we might well have to study what is specifically happening in our lakes to make them leave sooner than normal.

By knowing the number leaving, we can estimate their survivability in the ocean.  We will have a better idea how to insure sustainability if we know the ocean conditions as well as the genetics of all fish caught in bycatch, including the Chinooks. 

Please check back as I update you on what we are seeing this year as the first results come in from the counts. 

We need to also thank BBEDC’s fishing partners, BBSRI, the BB-RSDA, City of Pilot Point, Pilot Point Tribal Council and Mr and Mrs Robert Dreeszen.

~ Victoria Briggs

It’s That Time of Year Again…Spring in Ugashik

May 18, 2010

It has been a heck of a ride since this time last year. So many ups and downs. We got through last summer – one that saw a fish harvest that was drastically better than the season of ’08.

My understanding, from my contacts on the Yukon and the season’s forecasts, is that they are expecting something better this year, after the disastrous the ’09 season. We will see if we can get you an update on how things are looking up there after breakout.

Our winter temperatures of 2009/10 were not as cold, although we did get caught with higher than normal snowfall during what many call the start of spring – February to April and finally onto a late break up of the river.

Thank the heavens the fuel prices were much lower, $2-$3 in our area, than the previous year.

To think that just a little over a week ago the river was chocked full of ice and now the beaches are ice free. We still have some drifts of snow hanging around in places, but they are fading fast.

The first of the freight hauls, of all sorts of equipment, supplies and big things you can’t bring in other ways, started this week. So much to move in such a short window of time.

May 5th with ice in the river and YES that is a walrus that just washed up on our beach, 20 miles up river. No one in the area remember ever having a  “Wally” this far up river!!

During all this we had a little excitement…..a walrus washed up on our beach. Mind you we are 20 miles up river and no one remembers, EVER remembers, us having a walrus this far up river. There had been a week of heavy winds that we think blew him in and then he somehow got trapped or hurt in all of it. It is sad that he died, and on our front doorstep, but neat that we all got to see him, how huge and just the wonder of these guys.

This might give you an idea of the size of one of these guys!!

Bear season, which is an every other year thing, opened this past Monday in this area. So far, from what we hear, most of them are not out and moving around much as there is still a fair amount of snow pack up high still.

A local ‘growler’ deciding he wants to check out a local’s target. He is just a ‘little’ guy, standing probably about 6′-7′ (Photo: Robert Dreeszen, Ugashik Lakes)

Please understand I enjoy our Brown Bear (Grizzly to some of you) and all they bring to the area. What I do not like seeing is them starving. There are so many of them that they wander into the villages looking for food. This can’t be allowed as it is just too dangerous. This includes moms and babes, which usually means the moms get shot and then in a few weeks, when the babes are REALLY starving we have to shoot them too.

I am hoping that the guides and the lodges in the area are very successful in thinning the ones they can, which is usually the males. That the locals who have a tag on their hunting license allowing them to kill a bear, which we are only allowed one every 5 years, can do still more thinning, again usually males.

This might give the moms and babes a better chance…but I am off the general subject I started on.

We are currently hiring crew for the operation. Thankfully that chore is almost done. It is hard to choose people that you feel will make the journey, work out well, make as much money as they possibly can and most importantly go away from our part of Alaska feeling they had a heck of a good experience. Since no matter how much you send pictures, have people read testimonials or try to prepare them for either Alaska or the fishing season in Bristol Bay you just can’t.

We continue to work on getting our new airstrip improved. This project will likely take another couple of years to get it where we can accept most aircraft used in the bush and used on a year around basis if needed.

I am sure most people have no idea how vital airstrips are to most of rural Alaska. Given we have no highways connecting major hubs or even between most villages. Without airstrips that are long enough to allow various sized freight and passenger airplanes to make deliveries and pickups it leave us to the mercy of many times only one airline. I AM sure most people can guess what that means when it comes to cost and service.

Fishermen, processing and support companies are scrambling to get people hired, supplies shipped in for these few short months of work. The barges from the lower 48 and Anchorage have been heading this way for the last few weeks. I heard today the ice pack is still not far off shore in the bay which has to be delaying some deliveries farther north.

Village governments are putting their orders in for at least their spring and summer fuel. Projects that require good weather are in full swing, or close to it.

The Ugashik Lakes have ‘blown out’ most of their heavy ice and thus pretty much ice free. This year there is a research sonar project to count our out migration of salmon smolt, baby fish,  in the next few weeks. I will be giving you a glimpse into that project in the next weeks. It is exciting for us and a great tool that is so needed.

The ‘rural’ part of Alaska is alive and busy and we will be sharing more as we move forward.

~ Victoria Briggs

Great Horned Owls Roosting in Ugashik

April 21, 2010

Apr 21, 2010

Surprise!!! The Couple Were Found!

After I wrote the last post I planned to go searching for last year’s Tundra Swan nest before they showed up and the bears were out. I also planned to head down to the old village cannery to see if there was any evidence of the Great Horned Owls nesting or at least roosting.

Well as beautiful as it was yesterday it was overcast, windy and cool today. Today was spent running some errands; mail, supplies for demolition work crew and more items to the mail hut for shipping out.

More than normal spring cleaning of quarters but that nasty job is about done so I was planning for a quick salmon dinner from the freezer tonight.

After checking on our generator, the dogs and I headed to the warehouse to pull dinner from the freezer.

As we walked in on the ground I spotted……

Since this is a fuzzy, wispy kind of feather AND hubby had just cleaned the warehouse and floor before leaving this week for work I KNEW there was a good chance we had had visitors.

I looked up into the rafter and sure enough I spotted one owl, THEN I heard a soft hoot! Over on another rafter was another owl.

No camera, do I risk heading back to the house, an eighth of a mile? Yes, go quick!

As I was coming back to the warehouse I hear more soft hoots, a sound I just love and the dogs HATE!

Thank heavens the Chessy was off doing something else or she would have been barking to get rid of those pesky owls!

Went in and looked up again…the happy couple were now together. Got off ONE fuzzy photo and then battery goes dead!! Damn, damn and damn again!

Scramble back to the house!

Come back for a few more pictures.

You can see they have different coloring, one with more white on the breast and underside of the tail. It is unusual to have them in the warehouse this time of year BUT we normally do not have it open this early AND there are not usually people in the old village. cannery.

Then enough was enough when it came to my talking to them, the dogs watching and the picture taking. The last shot, if you look on the far left side in the space between the door opening you will see the faint outline of one flying out. Wing span is 6+ ft.

Life goes on in Ugashik.

~ Victoria

Spring is coming to Ugashik…

April 20, 2010

Apr 20, 2010

During the last week or so the weather is managing to stay above freezing during the day, although nights still dip into the 20s.

It seems spring is finally on its way.

Last week, while at the funeral of an elder I saw some “Queen Anne’s Lace” plant/weed poking through the brown tundra. Got me realizing spring is coming faster than it seemed.

Once home I went looking to see if we had anything showing yet. Not yet, funny how a few miles makes a difference.

Part of what I am trying to learn while here in Alaska is to recognize local/native ‘greens’. I have forest foraged in the past for things like fiddle heads and chanterelle mushrooms. I got a good book recommendation from Erin when her and hubby Hig were traveling through here in 2008. ‘Am learning but it is a slow deal.

Tundra Swans – photo: R. Dreeszen

We have been seeing Tundra swans coming in groups of two and three. A few geese too, mostly small groups. Today while we were at the airstrip we heard cranes, which took us a bit to find where they were. Sure enough a group of three of them were flying around. The pale brown with black wing tips are easy to spot.

Our village dock, remember that one that has had LOTS of grant monies invested in it, is due to be demolished starting this week. They TRIED to work on it last year, details later, but it managed to collapse on them so down it will come. (No one was hurt which was the most important thing)

Great Horned Owl

We have a pair, maybe more, of Great Horned owls that hang out there part of the time. I am hoping that I will get a tad bit of time in the next few days to hunt around to see if I can find out where they might be nesting this spring. Each year we end up with the parents and at least one of the youngsters in our warehouse off and on all the summer. There are no trees in our area so they have only 2-3 places they can be nesting. I found them in a local barge two years ago and got to see little furry heads poking out of the nest a few times. So special.

I am off to explore..see if I can find the old nest of the Tundra swans from last year that were out on the lake behind us. To see if I can find the owl nest for this spring and see what other goodies are sprouting this spring….will report back in a bit!

~ Victoria

Rural vs. RURAL!

February 2, 2010

Feb 2, 2010

Vic is  attending an Economic Development workshop which has emphasis in Rural Development.   She was live blogging the day.

From Vic:

We had as one of the main speakers today a lady who has an extensive resume that also includes living in what she is calling a rural area.  This lady is from an area that both Vic and I are quite familiar with in Washington.  Where it can be hours to drive to a city over 10,000, get a decent outfit for a special event or even get certain specialty items in the grocery store.

A picture of where this lady calls rural.

This lady believes her rural area is pretty similar to much of Alaska because they do not want to drive an hour and half for a business class. They are getting an influx of people from bigger cities who want high speed Internet.  Vic is trying hard not to burst out laughing.

This lady doesn’t really know rural, does she?

Nunam Iqua from a plane. The arrow is where my house is.

This shows how little understanding people have about what life is like in bush Alaska.

Nunam Iqua taken from the Yukon River last winter.

Let’s look at what it takes to get groceries and supplies to Ugashik.  You can’t jump on a snow machine since the closest decent store is 80 miles away in King Salmon.  It would not be safe to travel that distance via snow machine this winter.  Most winters here in Ugashik  do not allow the various lakes, rivers or creeks to freeze well enough to ensure safe travel of any great distance.  It is  local knowledge only to identify creeks which don’t freeze well,  critical for people to know when traveling overland. This is an active volcano area and the heat has to go somewhere if not out a mountain top.

One of many active volcanoes in the area with steam rising from its top.

That limits travel via snow machine during the winter.  You could easily travel 20 miles and then drop into a creek that wasn’t as frozen over as you thought and then you are stuck.

Planes?  Call the Alaska Commercial Company in King Salmon and ask them send out some groceries,  then pay the airlines 87 cents a pound to get them here.  Friends who have planes are usually happy to bring stuff with them if they are in the area, especially  if you bribe them with the promise of coffee and fresh made fry bread.

Fresh Fry Bread

Realistically ordering from King Salmon is expensive and the selection is limited, so what next?  The Internet provides many online grocery sites to  order from.

Today I shopped at Span Alaska Sales where they offer grocery items in bulk.  I can’t order a single box of Pilot Bread, instead I have to order a case.  That’s 12 boxes of pilot bread/crackers for $81.99.  I wanted tea which  I had to order by the case so I now have 6 boxes of tea for $17.98.  My order totaled 22 cases of food for around $900.  Span Alaska prices have the postage included.  My entire order will come via mail so it could take as little as a week to get here or, as long as a month. We only receive mail here in Ugashik twice a week.

It doesn’t take long to spend a lot of money.  Thankfully, Rollie and Vic have a warm room in their warehouse which makes it possible to make large orders like this.  If I were still in Nunam Iqua I could never place this type of order because I simply would not have anywhere to put everything.

In the late spring, summer and early fall some grocery shopping can be done via boat, or when we are flying fish out then we can have huge bulk orders flown in.  Refer to our Feeding the Crew post.

Those are just a few of our measures of  how we differ from others while considering rural vs really rural.