Archive for the ‘Victoria Briggs’ Category

New $330,000 Dock Proposal for 6-8 Boats Smells Fishy; Ugashik Tribal Council Calls It “Economic Development” Part 3: Questionable use CDQ/BBEDC Funds by Tribal Council *UPDATED*

September 5, 2010

Ugashik, Alaska – Population 11 (Photo: Tricia Ward)

Sep 5, 2010

About 5 years ago Roland and I decided we must start getting involved in organizations that are working towards economic development in our Bristol Bay area. It was when we first started attending these meetings, in an attempt to wade through the troughs of dung we were being fed locally, we heard about the most current dock proposal being floated.

Most granting agencies who were at these meetings could not believe that some of the villagers were seriously about their need for this type of expensive project.

Questionable use CDQ/BBEDC Funds by Tribal Council

Now comes what I feel are REALLY insulting and questionable actions being taken by the Tribal Council. (I can’t say ‘local’ as the vast majority of them do not live here, own land here or rely on any income from the village)

No federal or state agency has approved ANY of the proposals for a new dock with grant funds so the council has decided to use our CDQ/BBEDC funds to build/buy some type of dock. I would not have any objections with the tribal council if they were using either outside grant funds or any THEIR tribal funds, especially given this is on PRIVATE land they own. What I  specifically boject to is that they plan to use CDQ/BBEDC funds without seeking input, in a responsible manner, from the local full-time residents.

The CDQ program, developed from the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, was set up so that locals, meaning Alaska’s western, full-time village residents, control and direct the program. Supposedly through their right to select their CDQ board members, vote for their local city or borough councils they can hold these people accountable. We, the 70% that are not voting members of the tribe,  have NONE of those rights in Ugashik as we  CANNOT vote for ANY of those making the decision. The VAST majority of us are shut out of this voting privilege.

In my eyes, no matter that many of us feel the results of CDQ funding have moved totally away from its original intent, I can’t see how ANYONE can support this project as qualifying for CDQ funds.

I question how anyone can argue that this will somehow be the best use of funds meant to help create economic development or assist the full-time residents of Ugashik in some meaningful way.


The ironic thing is the BBEDC board member from our village, a full-time resident, and the one Tribal Council member, also a full-time resident BOTH claim they have informed the council that they can’t use these funds without receiving input and being accountable to all full-time residents.

(I do challenge if this is an honest claim as our BBEDC Board member is in the middle pushing hard and heavy for this dock as her husband will benefit, even though he is supposedly planning to retire from drifting soon. She has made public statements that she does not want her husband having to haul nets and supplies up and over-board to his boat.)

Given we in the village are at least 60% NOT Ugashik Tribal members, and thus don’t vote for Tribal Council members or have any say so on who is appointed as our BBEDC board representative, it doesn’t surprise me that the council ignores the full-time residents.

We also do not have the back up of a city government, as most villages do, that would act as the locally accountable force to enter into this discussion.

Just so it is clear. 80% of the council who are not local are not even SUMMER residents. They just visit for a few days to a week in the summer, never have come out in  the winter!!! Most have not lived here in decades, while some have NEVER lived here!! Only one of five relies on something in the village for an income.

(It tends to remind me of the times before the civil rights movement when the blacks were told “we will appoint someone to take care of you but you can’t vote for who it will be.)

I have asked for an accounting of BBEDC monies, for our village,  two separate times from both BBEDC and the Tribal Council. My requests asked for the full amount of funds granted for the first two “stages” of the project they call a community dock project. I have asked what benchmarks they have met so that the requests for more monies to be granted into “stage three”.

Their responses were to totally ignore me, even when I sent, and they accepted, registered letters.

About two months  ago, I sent a quick email warning (the email exchange follows this post) to a couple of Tribal Council members. I told them that I feel they need to be able to account for all BBEDC funds on this project, and I cautioned them that the direction they are heading doesn’t appear to be  consistent with the intent of the Federal Act that set up the CDQ programs.

I received a reply from the Tribe’s President, which surprised the hell out of me. She said she would not respond until she had spoken to all parties involved. I had to wonder…. “What, you don’t already know that this is going on with this project?” What does that say? Mostly I think it shows itself to be a stall tactic to get the monies spent and then do the typical CYA maneuver so popular lately! Instead it turned out to at least partly be a case of check with all the lawyers before she replied. It is was no surprise the BBEDC lawyers support the council not being accountable to local residents.

One recent event just floored Roland and me. We were accompanying a contractor a few weeks ago to get an overview of the dock and what might be wanted. Two part-time residents, both drift fishermen, told this contractor they were ‘leading the effort’ to secure a dock this season. (This was later confirmed by our resident Tribal Council member and the Tribal Administrator.)

They ALSO volunteered EXACTLY how much funding they had, $330,000, and that it was all “CDQ/BBEDC funds”!!

So, we have an 80% out-of-region Tribal Council asking two out-of-region drift fishermen to lead the efforts to secure a community dock to benefit, at NO COST, the 75% out-of-region drift fishermen to the tune of up to $330,000 for just THIS PART of the project!!!

All this effort and time over the last, maybe, 6-8 years has been to secure a dock for these drift fishermen so they are not inconvenienced while 100% of the set net fishermen went without a secure market, meaning many days they could not fish, for at least the last 4 years.

Now we have 4, of 8, set net fishermen who are residents. We have another full-time resident who relies on the set net fishery in our village for his income. So basically we have about 62% of the set net fishermen as full-time residents relying on the set net fishery for, if not their whole income, then at least a major portion.

This tiny village has many needs that these funds could go to that would impact our lives and ability to continue to live in the village.I firmly believe this project has not even come close to proving it is anything more a pet project for a couple of pushy, loud, determined fishermen, and only one family that is local.

~ Victoria


Recently I have aquired a copy of the LATEST Business Plan done for the UTV. I will discuss that in another post.

We have also been informed that the UTV continues to move forward on purchasing some type of dock and now we even hear a crane. Please note as of this date, there still remains no accounting of the monies spent yet, how it will be maintained or even why public monies are allowed to be spent on a project on PRIVATE LAND!

The email exchange follows:

My initial email to the president of the Tribal Council:


Just a fast word of caution.

Before ANY MORE BBEDC funds, and I understand as of a few minutes ago no dock as been purchased as of yet, are spent on the dock project you and the council better be willing to explain why non-BBEDC people are leading the charge for ANY dock, that will benefit non-BBEDC people more than residents, and why non-BBEDC people are using this dock and the ice machine at no charge.

If you doubt my comments as to HOW SERIOUS this is…check with your village/BBEDC council member and your BBEDC board rep. They have assured me they have warned the council to using monies that provide free services to non-residents and do not benefit BBEDC residents.

The council, which is 80% out of region, is continuing to spend BBEDC funds, asking other out of region people to do the actual work to secure the dock, with no accountability to the BBEDC residents. Providing a service that only 2 BBEDC members might benefit. One of those residents being the husband of the BBEDC board member.

There is NO sounds economic  justification for this project and no approval or accountability to the BBEDC residents of the village.

This is sounding too much like a pet project and if it proceeds without a full and immediate accounting and approval by the residents, all of them, I will move for every type of investigation:legal, legislative and what ever means needed to bring this to the public and federal authorities attention.

I will then move to have all BBEDC funds use looked into, any state funds that are meant for the villagers, etc. looked into.

You and the council are proceeding down a path that is unacceptable. I would caution you to not feel you will spend now and claim lack of knowledge later, there is too much evidence showing the council is well aware this is unacceptable. I will move to hold everyone associated with this effort accountable.


Victoria Briggs

The initial reponse from the President, Kristi Downing, of the Ugashik Traditional Village Council:

June 18, 2010

Mrs. Briggs,

I have received your email and I will respond after I have gathered more information from all parties involved.

Thank you
Kristi Downing
Tribal President
Ugashik Traditional Village
206 E Fireweed Lane Suite 204
Anchorage, Ak 99502
907-338-7659 Fax

After ‘gathering more information’ the Ugashik Tribal President Kristi Downing replied:

My response:


Please give me WHAT economic development you feel the dock will help? The building permit claims you are not expecting any additional boat or barge traffic due to this project.

Also, give there is no dock this season and the drift boats are not loosing any monies or fishing opportunity this goes to the heart of the questionable use of BBEDC dollars.


Kristi’s reply:


The dock project is a part of the overall picture for economic development.  UTV has a business plan in place that will help all members.  We are working to develop a buying station for fisherman and the dock is vital.  As you know with current markets our fisherman are put on a daily limit.  We would like to be able to accept the overage and be able to assist the fishing community.

Why are you opposed to the dock project?  We feel that this will benefit everyone in the community.

Kristi Downing

Tribal President

To which I replied:


First off I am NOT against the dock, but I am against ANY project that is wasteful and will not benefit the majority of villagers, especially the full time residents which are to be the first consideration when using BBEDC funds.

Secondly, the council has NEVER discussed these plans in detail with the BBEDC residents or any other viable economic plan. It is interesting that NOW it is being called a buying station, versus all other times the plan has been called set up for a processing plant. When did this change come about?

I believe as BBEDC residents we should be able to see that business plan. If the council is using other monies besides BBEDC monies I can understand the plan not being shared but as it appears to be BBEEC monies and thus the BBEDC residents should be TOTALLY involved. This is especially important here in Ugashik because the majority of the full time residents are not tribal, able to hold the people making the decisions accountable without law suit and we have no city government which would normally act as a stop gap on these representation issues.

I also have a REAL issue with non-BBEDC residents leading this project. When these two people were meeting with Dave Lax, the possible contractor,  they were not considering set netter needs and this is ANOTHER example of things not being run by locals and those that are in REAL need of the markets.

Despite what the council might think the best people to help see flaws in any plan are those who live full time, deal with village conditions and the infrastructure all the time and rely on this for almost their entire income. (the greenhouse is a PREFECT example of good intentions and a lack of local knowledge. Buying a style that has been known to not stand up to our conditions and will require additional things to even HOPE it will hold up.) I am NOT talking about a shout out with those in the summer community who manage to yell at any opposition and on more than one occasion have shown little respect or regard for the full time residents.

No offense to Dennis but the attempts to deal with the dock demo in the past, the total waste of monies on tools that were not adequate and then the collapsing of the dock should give the council an indication of the lack of knowledge. There is a VERY GOOD reason ‘locals’ washed their hands of the demo last fall. (By the way, YES, the spring demo did use my husband BUT there were comments made that when the contractor was needing more funds they did not want them to go to him. I find those VERY offensive. He is a BBEDC resident and that seems to be ignored many times)

I believe there is a reason the council has been unable to get ANY outside agency to  fund the project as it had been presented. IT is NOT viable. If another plan has been developed then it needs to be shared BEFORE any more monies are spent. When I have asked, from the council, what has been received and accomplished with BBEDC funds on this project I have been TOTALLY ignored, despite the office getting and receiving registered letters to this matter. This does not allow for much trust or agreement.

I am also VERY concerned that the council, by allowing the two non-locals to lead this, are not aware and following local and state permitting needs. What I have heard planned at this point is MUCH different than the permitted plans and need to be brought to the attention of the borough and state.

Overall I still believe that this project is aimed at the drift fleet, who all have markets, and I find it VERY doubtful they will travel to the village on over limit days to drop any extra fish they might have. They have not in the past when presented with an opportunity to sell their over limit fish.

Even the basic need of getting ice, let alone the dropping of fish, needs to be done at lower tides. I have yet to hear ANY discussion of this when it comes to the dock plan, pointing to just a place for the fleet to tie up to for 2-3 weeks a year.

I also feel that unless another outside processor is brought in no other company will use this as a ‘buying station’ ESPECIALLY during over limit times. There is a reason there is no longer ANY company willing to come with a tender to the village, it is NOT VIABLE. There seems to be a total lack of understanding of the processor needs when it comes to these issues and thus still one more reason I continue to feel this is a pet project for the small drift fleet of mostly summer residents.

At no time has the council, any of them, has had a meeting with set netters to address their needs and if you feel you can ask one or two people and THINK you understand I believe that is a major mistake.

I also do not want to hear that we do not care about this village and the fishermen’s needs. We tendered at no cost, lowering our income drastically, when there was no market for set netters. We put in a tremendous amount of work to bring John Boggs into the area. His staying here and buying in the village is IF we add our fish to what he hauls out. If we pull those fish he will most likely do so also.

We have also increased our capacity at the plant, and continue to do so, to help.

This spring when Copper River and Robin did the courtesy visit about possibly buying from the village Joe, from CR,  was quick to say he would ONLY fly fish out and could only do that via our strip due to the size of planes needed. He also had major questions as to if there was enough volume to warrant it. He looked to US for amounts of fish that MIGHT need to be flown out. He will also probably ONLY do this IF he can get monies from BBEDC to assist him, and there might well be issues with that.

There is no way another company from the outside will come into Ugashik without our blessing, especially using BBEDC funds unless we are in agreement.

At no time has there ever been a discussion with Roland and I to see what we are doing and how that might help with markets for any fisherman. One past council asked us to submit some ‘plan’ to them. When asked when they felt they would be ready to move on anything they had no date, thus making ANY plan silly. As Leslie was up for re-election she had mentioned that she would want to talk as she was NOW in understanding what might be needed and could move. Obviously that went when she did and nothing has come out of the council since.

All of the above points to this being something that is not well thought out, continues to change at the turn of a hat and ultimately a waste of BBEDC funds. This is my complaint, not the actual project, especially given the many issues the full time residents have as needs and are SUPPOSED to be addressed by BBEDC monies.

I/we are not opposed to a dock BUT want it thought out, discussed and viable for the entire community, not shout out sessions in the summer. Not turning out to be a pet project that meets the needs of only 2 residents VERY near retirement, especially when no one is willing to pay for ANY service or upkeep. (Kristi- you were not here when Northern Economics, think that is the right name, was here and this was discussed in DETAIL. NO ONE could come up with ANY economic project that would tie to this dock. Dennis and the few resident drifters came up with that it would be inconvenient IF they did not have a dock. No one was willing to encourage building any need for outsiders to come and use it, to have to pay for it in any way, etc. They felt they DESERVED IT…entitlement to the max…BAD thought process. I don’t care WHAT the council MIGHT want unless full time residents are not behind it …nothing will ever happen.)

If the council is so sure this is the way to go why hasn’t this business plan been shared? I have to wonder if there have been ANY SERIOUS discussion with a processor about making this a ‘buying station’ ? Has any volume been talked about? What is a timeline?

Somehow my guess is there are MAJOR gaps and issues with this business plan and the urgency that seems to be pushing forward this year is based on VERY faulty information. One other major area is that this project is happening on PRIVATE property with no long term agreement to assure that ALL residents and people can make use of it in the future.

We too have been discussing how the council is handling the BBEDC monies with an attorney, one who specializes in CDQ issues, and more importantly various government entities. There are LOTS of questions and most of them to do not point to BBEDC being on firm ground when it comes to how things are handled, thus my lack of trust in people like Chris N. in knowing that this council is going about it as they need to.

As you can see I am open to this project moving forward but not unless it is discussed and shows more than just ‘thoughts’ of success. The urgency of anything further happening during this season, with part time residents leading the effort, has proven to be less than successful in the past. I can see nothing different from what you have said and I have seen so far.

These are BBEDC funds and benefiting the tribe and part time residents, especially at no cost to them, over the needs of the full time residents is not as it should be period!!


THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A REPLY TO THIS LAST LETTER. The President did not attend the ‘annual meeting’ which was mostly closed to anyone that was not a member of the tribe. She did ‘call in’.  Unfortunately due to the many delays that day of the meeting by the Council before it was finally opened to the rest of the villagers we had to attend to the loading of  a plane and missed it. No minutes have been made available concerning the meeting to this date that are available to the residents who are not tribal members.


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

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

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

Sustainable Gardening: Village Success Stories

April 5, 2010

Apr 5, 2010

It has been an interesting March and very early start of April. Not sure where the last month went but as it seems we are sliding into the final days of what I always USED to think of as spring, my head it planning for things in the ground. The gardener/farmer never leaves the soul!

The Fairbanks Agriculture conferences were even MORE fantastic, sorry I know that’s not the best use of English!, than it was last year.!!

I then was able to take a little time to head south to the lower 48 to see dashes of spring, much needed and absolutely heaven!! It has been a great way to end the month and start a new one.

What was also nice is I got a chance to defuse some, absorb what all I had seen and learned the previous week, then on top of that, get to do more ‘research’ into another area’s agriculture.

Now to roll all of that into some planned thoughts and hopefully future action.

To see the effort that goes into making agriculture an industry in Alaska is amazing. So many people working to further the residents and businesses of the state getting good fresh products continues to amaze me. Everything from putting together more and better CSA’s to seeing if we can form a statewide organization to serve various needs of the industry is great to see.

We saw so much effort being put into food being grown in places such as Galena, off the road system, Igiugig, a tiny Bristol Bay village, and even rainy places such as Skagway.

Galena shared how they were excited to hear last year that they should be able to get a high tunnel, similar to a greenhouse but without heat, delivered into Alaska at a reasonable cost of $1200. This had happened in other areas in Alaska and this gave them some hope. You see Galena has been on this sustainable food ‘kick’ for a few years already.

They hold a food fair in the late summer, help each other learn new ways to garden and are getting more and more of their own villagers involved each year.

Well it seems that this is the story on the high tunnel….

High tunnel (freight included) to Alaska …..$1200
Highway built so high tunnel can be ‘delivered’ …..$2.3 billion
Desire to have fresh local grown food…..priceless

To say that we ALL laughed and many understood first hand would have been an understatement!

Soooo they dug in and went to work salvaging anything and everything they could to help put up small cold frames and sheltered areas and getting still more people involved. We were shown pictures of 5 gal buckets with potatoes growing in them, windowsills filled with starts of things like tomatoes. This village that is northwest of Anchorage, off the road system, in a growing zone of 2, I believe. The roughly 600 people there are putting a large value on growing as much of their own food as possible. This might mean a bucket of potatoes or a full sized garden, but producing food none the less.

We then heard about Igiugig, in the northern part of Bristol Bay with about 60 people in the winter. This village serves a number of lodges and outside visitors in the summer. They have also been working on becoming sustainable for years in some pretty ground breaking ways.

They have a community food scraps for eggs program. Residents bring food scraps to a central location and in exchange are able to get fresh eggs from a community flock of chickens.

The community had gotten a small grant to help start a greenhouse, acquire some low tech garden machinery and other technical help to assist them in increasing their current food production. The village had been growing things like potatoes as a staple for some time to help subsidize villagers subsistence efforts.

They were able to increase their food growing knowledge, potato production and other needed skills to move forward toward still more sustainability with the help of a visiting extension agent.

Although their first attempt at constructing and running a small greenhouse ended when they got close to a full week or 50+mph winds that blew the structure all over the tundra they have not given up.

They are back at it this year with a structure to withstand the winds better and I believe bigger still. I will be watching to see how they do.

What all the communities have in common is that the effort is happening from the ground up. People want to have a hand more in the furnishing of their own food. Part of it comes from the economics of it but also the increased variety we can get by growing some of our own.

After a packed week I headed to the lower 48 for some R&R. Of course laced with just relaxing I got in a time for a bead and then needlework shop visit.

More importantly a great local neighborhood farmers market, time on the water front browsing vendor booths and peeking in on a cheese making facility. (I laugh at myself each time I get near a cheese making facility. When I was attending university there is NO WAY you would get me into food processing and especially cheese processing. At that time it was dominated by large yucky product producing companies, in my eyes. NOW I would give my eye teeth to have had some experience in cheese making … hopefully in time :-)

To see how the farmer’s markets have progressed from mainly fruits, veggies and flowers to now offering local meats, smoked products, fish products, of course fruits, vegetables and flowers. There are local cheese and candy makers. Even a company that was making jewelry from seeds. All local and mostly organic.

There is hope for villages and our rural areas. I KNOW we can grow and produce at least some of these products.

None of these companies are big, have huge inventories or ship their products far from home. They all spend time trying to improve their products and offer something the customers want.  I do believe it is possible for many areas to offer products to support the variety of different businesses that are in the areas; processing facilities, lodges, guides, restaurants and of course schools. These can help to supplement the local year around markets and provide opportunities for small companies.

It is just a matter of exposure, belief that it is possible and support from all of us. Maybe overly optimistic but I guess that is what keeps me going in bush Alaska.

~ Victoria Briggs

Scientists Using DNA To Track Salmon

March 19, 2010

Mar 19, 2010

Victoria is in Fairbanks this week attending sustainable gardening conferences. From her latest post you can tell she will have much to report but it will take her a little time to organize her thoughts. Bottom line – good things are happening!

While we wait to hear more about gardening in the bush, let’s roll back the clock to last year at this time.

Vic was heading off to the Northern Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage to testify about the Chinook Salmon bycatch issue. She live blogged from the meeting and we were all disappointed when the bycatch cap was set higher than the 32,500 cap we endorsed.

Before the meeting last year Vic wrote about the need for science in the salmon bycatch debate.

Given how complex not only the fishery but the science, or lack of it, that is used to manage fisheries we are working to figure out what looks to be the best solution for our villages.

Now there’s news from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Scientists are using DNA to chronicle the origin of salmon to river spawning beds up and down the Alaskan coast.

From the Tundra Drums, 3/19/2010

Scientists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are pushing the genetics frontier with a multi-million dollar study designed to verify stock composition of sockeye and chum salmon harvested in Western Alaska, from Chignik to Kotzebue.

DNA is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in development and functioning of all known living organisms. DNA is a blueprint or code carried in the genes. By comparing samples of DNA in fish harvested in Western Alaska with DNA samples taken from fish in natal streams, geneticists will know where the harvested fish were headed to spawn.

This data could be used to identify causes for low salmon returns. As Vic explains it:

By knowing the rivers of origin, through the DNA, we can better manage the fish. Most of the fishing districts in Alaska are managed on the concept of a ‘terminal fishery’. This means that instead of fishing in the middle of a bay that can be fed by a number of different rivers, catching fish from who knows which river or even maybe fish that ‘wander’ into the bay from a whole other area, we can tighten down the fishing areas to target fish. We can bring fishermen into the mouths or even the actual river to catch only those fish destined for that river. If it is having an issue with returns of stock we can back off and fish another stronger river.

The collection of DNA data pinpointing the origin of Alaska’s salmon is a step toward compiling a dynamic scientific data resource to track the journey of salmon from their birth in the rivers of Alaska and Canada to their life in the pacific and their return to their spawning grounds.

Alaska Pi has the Tundra Drums story on her blog and welcomes your comments at Pi in the Sky.

Alaska: Sustainable Gardening Gains Momentum

March 18, 2010

Mar 18, 2010

Organic vegetables produced at Jewell Gardens, Skagway, Alaska

How do you capture all the ideas presented in just last two days? Give up and do an overview!!!

I can tell you I have started two posts so far and had to scrap them for later as there is too much information and excitement I want to pass on NOW :-)  I am going to go for a recap of the last two days and hopefully come back and do more in-depth.

First off there are more people here than last year and they had 200 then. I haven’t heard a final count but will find out. Also the presence of farmers, some with 2,000 acres or more, has been a surprise this year.

I am also trying to get more information on all the places in the state that have things happening in agriculture. There were over 27 communities present last year and I am hearing still more this year.

The national speaker, Chris Blanchard from Iowa, brought us up to date on a lot of issues from the lower 48. Things like food safety. Case in point…spinach sales have YET to recoup from the food poisoning recall of 2006 so these things make an impact EVEN if you are not involved directly in the production of the problem product.

He also did a great presentation on time management for farmers that I believe can be transferred to anyone’s life. More than getting more organized it was on choosing priorities and giving yourself permission to say no to more things, at least for this time in your life. Also how to give yourself credit for all the different hats you tend to wear. (we do a lot of that kind of thing in Alaska so it hit home with LOTS of people)

Some type of federal regulation structure for fresh greens and produce will most likely be passed in the near future, with little to no exemption for smaller farmers. IF this goes the way of organic certification it will take a number of years to be fully implemented but it is coming. The FDA and federal government have food safety on the radar now and are being pushed to come up with some guidelines. It is understandable, although I am not sure how much it will really help when you look at how much is produced in the US and how relatively safe it is.

We had a number of presentations on subjects such as Insects That Threaten and Enhance Alaska Agriculture, If You Garden, Think Cabbage Moth/Potato Virus and Bees That Help. We are pretty lucky that we do not have lots of harmful pests, but would benefit from a few more positive ones.

We had a GREAT presentation on a historical garden in Skagway, Jewell Gardens. This is an old homestead from the 1840’s gold rush time that was one of the biggest vegetable producing gardens in the state.

The current owner has used the cruise industry as a way to support her gardening. She does vegetable gardening as much as flowers. One neat thing she brought up was that she planned at least one of her gardens to look like a big flower from the air as a way of bringing attention to her place. Also, each year she gets at least one complaint from the visitors that they did not get to see a HUGE vegetable, like a cabbage, on the tour in MAY!!! She is determined to do that but is not sure how it will ever happen. It does bring to mind how much of a disconnect there STILL is for people about how and where their food comes from!

Meyers Farm, Bethel, Alaska

We got a quick update from Tim Meyers of Bethel, he is the farmer in the coastal village north of us that is producing such things as squash and cucumbers in a growing zone of 4. (Photos)If you are not aware of what that means, it is where temperatures rarely get over the 40s at night, is cloudy and cool most of the time. He let us know that he continues to have great success with converting the tundra into vegetable producing lands.

He brought an article for us to review that shows the food growing regions of the world, and areas that are some of the most productive or fertile, even if they do not produce food. Some of the BEST AND MOST FERTILE LANDS are in the Alaska Peninsula (that is us in Bristol Bay) and the Bethel area!! This is in a National Geographic, September 2008 issue!! His comment, of which I have to agree, is ‘what are we waiting for?” It was brought up later that the entire organic movement was pretty much taught farmer to farmer. It sure looks like this is needed to help get food production going again in Alaska.

Unfortunately there was no presentation on goats, thus nothing on cheese and milk products, although they were discussed in another context.

Our neighbor to the north, Igiugig Village, gave a presentation on how their first small greenhouse constructions went, until a major wind blow 50+ mph hours in July. They were left with it in shambles and a few beans surviving.

They currently do a community table scrap to egg program (Editor’s note:??) that might turn into a business someday, also a community potato growing program.

They will put in a new, bigger greenhouse this coming year – not sure what all they will do as a precaution against the wind but as the tribal president said, sometimes baby steps are better when you are just learning.

We learned of a new community grocery, featuring only AK grown products, that has just opened in Fairbanks.

There were a couple of presentations of programs that provide resources so that farmers, researchers and support people can work together to exchange ideas and methods of research. Some funding is available for these projects but must undergo a pretty tough examination program.

Composting, grant writing and more food security finished up the day. Lots of subjects, presented in a quick, efficient and interesting program.

LOTS of energy and excitement that carried into the dinner featured upstairs.

Oh yes, fun things! I noticed some differences between fishermen and farmers; farmers tend to wear jeans, fishermen Carharts; lots of women are doing knitting and crocheting today, more real young kids are present,  and LOTS more food at farmer events, much more coffee for fishermen :-)  Biggest thing, everyone here also gets excited over new ‘toys’. A tractor dealer brought a ‘sample’, we all flocked around it :-)

~ Victoria Briggs

Tilling the Tundra, Ready for Spring…

March 15, 2010

Mar 15, 2010

Victoria heads to Fairbanks today for a couple of interesting workshops.

The trip begins with the 6th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference and Organic Growers School.  This two-day workshop from March 17-18 features a variety of presentations about sustainable agriculture from producers, agencies, and researchers around the state.

Sustainable agriculture is an approach to farming that is good for the environment and the community, according to conference organizer Michele Hebert, agriculture and horticulture agent for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.

In Alaska, as in most of the U.S., there has been a successful initiative to eat locally. Farmers markets are springing up as organically grown produce is being embraced by city dwellers. Restaurants are snapping up Alaska Grown produce.

In rural Alaska, where the high price of fuel has driven up the cost of everything, the price of flown-in fresh produce has motivated people to develop a market for locally grown food sources, too.

Meyers Farm

Tim Meyers is leading the movement in Bethel. His organic farm is a shining example of what is possible when sustainable methods are combined with new techniques and technology to cultivate the tundra.

Welcome to Meyers Farm in Bethel Alaska. Currently we are providing the local community with affordable, fresh and organic produce during the growing season. It is our intention to provide locally grown produce year round for our community in Bethel, and as we grow throughout the rest of Alaska.

Tim will be at this year’s conference and Vic will be reporting on his progress and lots of other interesting facts about cold weather gardening in Alaska.

Gardening is different in the land of the midnight sun. Long sunny days and rich soil support a range of crops but the short growing season makes planning essential. Seeds must be started in greenhouses or on the kitchen windowsill while snow is on the ground.

We all remember Vic’s day-old chicks arriving last spring to feed the summer fishermen.

At the conclusion of the first conference, Vic remains a couple more days for a second subregional conference sponsored by Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (Western SARE) and the USDA.  This more directly focuses on agricultural sustainability throughout the western states, including Alaska.

Another way to explain these two conferences is:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western SARE (Sustainable Agriculture & Resource Education) sub regional conference will follow the UAF/SNRAS (University of Alaska School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences) sustainable gardening conference. (That’s there purely as a display of the tendency of all agencies in Alaska to offer up a warm bowl of alphabet soup – this one is organic.)

Victoria was invited to this as one of the “100 Key Agricultural Leaders in Alaska”, and we’re waiting anxiously for her report.

Spring is just around the corner.  Anonymous Bloggers will follow Vic the next few months and report on her preparations for spring gardening, for fishing season and all the other insights she brings to us about life in the bush.

Thanks for sharing your life with us, Vic!

~ Elsie & Jane

Sustainable Gardening: It Might Be “Snowtime” Outside, But …….

March 9, 2010

Mar 9, 2010

Recent drifts

Inside it is time for us gardeners and farmers to be in the thick of things for the coming spring and summer. Fishermen are too, but we skip them for now :-)

Last year a great number of you helped get me to a Sustainable Agricultural Conference and workshop in Fairbanks about this time in March.

From that came some great contacts, more information on how the state might support those of us  trying to provide more of our own food in our villages , and all sorts of other good things.

A few weeks ago I got a series of emails about the upcoming conference, what they were working on for an agenda and speakers. I took a look and was interested in a number of the subjects. (One of the things that came out the conference last year was that a few local farmers were getting together to do a CSA –Community Supported Agriculture- project that would try to reach out to the villages some)

Then came information about the Alaska Sub-Regional Western Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Conference that would be held in Alaska this year, later that same week, by invitation only. Now, this intrigued me.

They were asking six questions about how sustainable agriculture could be supported in the state. Anyone could answer, in fact the more, the merrier. Wow, don’t ask questions like that UNLESS you are ready for me to FILL each and every one with some darn lengthy and pointed comments.

Having lived a couple of times in my life in states where agriculture was one of the main industries, or was in the recent past, I have had the pleasure of seeing things that are well supported on the county, state and university levels.

Alaska is not as developed in the agricultural industry on many fronts as many states are.  Coupled with its vast size and many different climate zones, it makes it much harder to serve the industry it does have.

I got my input to the six questions submitted.

I started getting all sorts of email on the conference, and I was really wishing I could attend, but alas, it was invitation only. I gave input every place it said with the hope that at least my comments might get discussed!

Unbeknownst to me an email was buried in my spam account that was an actual invitation as one of the “100 Key Agricultural Leaders in Alaska” to the invitation only event of the Alaska Subregional Western SARA part.

Well, what do you know!!!! That whole bunch of emails I was getting on the event were for a reason :-) (They made it through the spam filter)

This whole thing took me a week or two of back and forth to figure out, not that I was a little busy during this time and thus slow on the uptake :-)

All of this came with an offer to assist in paying my travel, which I accepted. Next week I will head to Fairbanks.

Let’s pray for a tad warmer than the -50 chill factor they had last year!

To say I am excited is an understatement. I was excited to see, meet and learn new things last year.

This year it is more so as I realize the difference just this past year has made in contacts and projects getting started.

We will get an update on Tim Meyers Bethel farming projects, a new project in a small village in our borough, Igiugig, who  had a village member win a Denali Sustainable award in the past.

We should hear about goats, a personal favorite for a milk and cheese source, Galena, a community dedicated to sustainable agriculture, Agricultural tours for the cruise line industry, high tunnel updates from the USDA, berry and fruit production and still more goodies.

We have a few things getting started in our area too.

One that is of particular interest to me is  a family that is looking to increase their garden into a small produce farm in Pilot Point this coming summer. Our hope is to help enough to get them into a number of USDA projects shortly.

It looks like our next few weeks and months will busy, so keep an eye out for hopefully some great things to come!!

~ Victoria Briggs

Related threads:

Victoria’s garden journal

Cold weather gardens…HELP!

Anonymous Bloggers on TV and Radio

March 2, 2010

Mar 2, 2010

Last week most of the Anonymous Bloggers team met up in Anchorage for a few days of socializing and strategizing. During the flurry of activity they managed to get a little air time for Anomymous Bloggers.

AnnS was a guest on Shannyn Moore’s television show on KYES and talked about village life in rural Alaska, last year’s food/fuel crisis and the food drive she initiated to bring food to the people of Nunam Iqua.

Shannyn also interviewed anonymous bloggers Alaska  Pi, Fawnskin Mudpuppy, Elsie and not-so-anonymous Victoria Briggs on her KUDO radio show on Saturday. (Listen here)

They talked about how the blog got started and why people from outside Alaska became interested in helping Alaska Native people. They also acknowledged the need to improve the dialog surrounding subsistence issues and strive for parity and dignity so stakeholders can come to the table with mutual respect to work on finding solutions to the plight of people living in the bush.

Take a minute to listen and see if you think they sound like you picture them.