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February 25, 2023

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Nationwide: Native Americans have experienced a dramatic decline in life expectancy during the COVID-19 pandemic – but the drop has been in the making for generations By ALLISON KELIHER - Six and one-half years.

That’s the decline in life expectancy that the COVID-19 pandemic wrought upon American Indians and Alaska Natives, based on an August 2022 report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

This astounding figure translates to an overall drop in average living years from 71.8 years in 2019 to 65.2 by the end of 2021.

Although the pandemic is a major reason for this decline, it’s not the whole story. Even before COVID-19 emerged, life expectancy for Indigenous men was already five years lower than for non-Hispanic white men in the United States.

The grim reality

As a Native American physician and board-certified M.D., I am all too familiar with the health challenges that Indigenous Americans face.

Growing up in remote rural Alaska as a member of the Koyukon Athabascan tribe, I heard stories of how infectious diseases like flu, smallpox and tuberculosis threatened our survival. My cultural group descends from three families that survived the 1918 flu pandemic.

This history inspired me to become a traditional healer. Along with my training in Western medicine, I have also studied plant-based medicine and earth-based science, which was taught to me by my elders – practitioners who passed down thousands of years of accumulated knowledge to me.

Through both my medical and traditional practices, I have learned there are many reasons for the decline in life expectancy and the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health outcomes. But this gap – if the government and the medical system will act – can be narrowed.

Poverty, unemployment and lack of health care

American Indians and Alaska Natives die from diabetes at more than twice the rate of non-Indigenous populations. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Native Americans have significantly higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, cancers and general poor health status than other Americans. The suicide rate in Indigenous communities is about 43% higher than that of non-Indigenous communities. And Native American women experience sexual violence far more often than non-Hispanic white women.

There are many reasons for these disparities. For starters: Native Americans have the highest poverty rate among all minority groups, perhaps as high as 25%.

Unemployment among American Indians and Alaska Natives in November 2022 was 6.2%, compared to 3.7% in the general population. Many Indigenous people, working only seasonally, are also woefully underemployed. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

Alaska: ACLU of Alaska files suit against Alaska Department of Corrections and its commissioner - Thursday, the ACLU of Alaska filed suit in state court on behalf of four individuals, against the Alaska Department of Corrections and its commissioner. The suit was filed to protect the civil rights and liberties of incarcerated people returning home and seeking transitional opportunities to reintegrate into the community after serving decades in state prisons. 

Each client, like all incarcerated people, maintains their rights to due process and equal protection, as promised by the Alaska and U.S. Constitutions. However, the Alaska ACLU says for Jace Frankson, Sababu Hodari, Jonathan Walker, and Geoffrey Mathis, the Alaska Department of Corrections (DOC) has violated those fundamental rights through its arbitrary and unlawful interpretation of a “firm release date.”

An individual’s “firm release date” is defined by state regulation as “the date on which a prisoner is schedule to be released, as established by statutory good time calculation, court order, or parole board action.” DOC uses this date to determine eligibility for transitional programming and reintegration opportunities; only individuals approaching the end of their sentence can access such critical opportunities.

Frankson, Hodari, Walker, and Mathis were each granted discretionary parole by the state parole board, moving up their court-ordered release date. The newer release date ordered by the Parole Board should allow our clients to participate in programs designed to assist people safely and successfully to reintegrate back into the community.  But DOC refuses to recognize the release dates set by the Parole Board according to the ACLU of Alaska.

“Because of DOC’s irrational interpretation of this regulation, our clients cannot access these crucial transitional programs, which would provide them great help adjusting to life outside the confines of prisons and becoming productive members of society outside prison walls,” said ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Ruth Botstein.

Botstein said, “But what’s more troubling is the ways in which this arbitrary interpretation blatantly violates the due process and equal protections rights of Alaskans in state custody. This does not serve our government, which boasts the need for successful reentry, and it does not serve the communities that will absorb these individuals and try to help them succeed in our neighborhoods.”

The ACLU of Alaska is seeking the following from the court: - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

SitNews Front Page Photo By ROBERT KUIKHOVEN

M/V Santa Serena
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Alaska: 2022-2027 Alaska Statewide Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Final Report Available - The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development (DCCED) has released the 2022-2027 Alaska Statewide Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) Final Report.

Developed through a partnership with the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development (UACED) and with guidance from the Alaska Development Team within the Office of the Governor, the new CEDS identifies goals, objectives, and action steps to steer economic development efforts through 2027.

Following guidelines established by the Economic Development Administration, this 5-year plan lays a foundation for future growth – to expand existing economic sectors, support high-potential new growth sectors, cultivate a strong business and entrepreneurial ecosystem, strengthen critical infrastructure, foster workforce development and educational opportunities, and improve economic resiliency. It replaces the previous 2017-2022 Statewide CEDS, which expired in September.

“Alaska’s economy continues to improve, particularly as we invest in growth sectors,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “This new five-year CEDS is a blueprint for strengthening existing industries and gaining momentum in new areas.”

The Alaska Statewide Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy is the product of a six-month process that included an extensive analysis of the state economy, input from hundreds of Alaskans, and involvement from dozens of business, government, education, and nonprofit leaders. Led by state government, the CEDS is designed to be used broadly by anyone working to develop Alaska’s economy.

“The updated CEDS provides input on how we can move the needle on Alaska’s economic development,” said DCCED Commissioner, Julie Sande. “The key will be to diversify our economy. Alaska’s focus moving forward should be on building up our emerging sectors, as well as maintaining our current economic engines. I am excited to be a part of this next phase of the Statewide Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and look forward to finding ways our department can help support businesses in Alaska.” - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

Alaska: Governor Orders Removal of Four-Year Degree Requirements for Most State Jobs - Governor Mike Dunleavy issued Administrative Order 343 recently to address unprecedented workforce shortages in state jobs by removing the requirement of a four-year college degree for most state jobs.

“The State of Alaska is not the immune from the nationwide labor shortage,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “Today people can gain knowledge, skills and abilities through on the job experience. If we’re going to address our labor shortage, we have to recognize the value that apprenticeships, on-the-job training, military training, trade schools and other experience provides applicants. If a person can do the job, we shouldn’t be holding anyone back just because they don’t have a degree.”

Alaska faces an unprecedented workforce shortage, which is impacting the delivery of essential state services. Currently, there are not enough qualified applicants to fill all the state’s job vacancies. This Administrative Order is the first step in addressing the State’s workforce shortages and modernizing the State’s personnel system. - More....
Saturday - February 25, 2023

As sea ice declines in the Arctic, bowhead whales are adjusting their migration patterns

As sea ice declines in the Arctic, bowhead whales are adjusting their migration patterns
Three bowhead whales breathing near ice.
Photo by Kate Stafford, Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University.


Alaska: As sea ice declines in the Arctic, bowhead whales are adjusting their migration patterns By MICHELLE KLAMPE - As sea ice declines in the Arctic, bowhead whales are staying north of the Bering Strait more frequently, a shift that could affect the long-term health of the bowhead population and impact the Indigenous communities that rely on the whales, a new study by Oregon State University researchers shows.

Bowhead whales found in the Pacific Arctic, sometimes called Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort bowheads based on their migratory patterns, normally winter in the northern Bering Sea and migrate north in the spring through the Bering Strait to the Canadian Beaufort Sea, where they spend summer and fall. They then migrate south again through the Strait for the winter.

The migration essentially follows the sea ice south through the Bering Strait, which would close up as ice formed in the Chukchi Sea. But warming temperatures in the Arctic over the past decade have led to sea ice decline and kept the Bering Strait open increasingly into the winter months, said the study’s lead author, Angela Szesciorka, a research associate with Oregon State’s Marine Mammal Institute.

“The lack of ice means they are losing this critical habitat, and as a result, we’re seeing that these whales are not leaving the Arctic anymore for the winter,” Szesciorka said. “Without that ice, there could be changes in bowhead availability for the Indigenous people who rely on the whales. The lack of ice also opens the door for other species to move into the Arctic, resulting in competition for resources, potential predation and increased human interaction due to ship strikes or entanglement in fishing gear.”

The findings were just published in the journal Movement Ecology.

Bowhead whales are a species of baleen whale and the only one that lives year-round in Arctic and subarctic waters; the subarctic is the region just south of the Arctic. They use their large skulls to break through sea ice up to 18 inches thick, feed on zooplankton such as copepods and krill, and can reach up to 200,000 pounds and 62 feet in length. They are believed to have a lifespan of up to 200 years. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

Alaska: Governor Introduces Bill to Update PFD Eligibility and Modernize Department of Revenue Procedures - Yesterday Governor Mike Dunleavy introduced SB 85, updating eligibility requirements for the Permanent Fund Dividend and modernizing the way the Alaska Department of Revenue can issue a notice of levy and conduct background checks on Department employees.

The bill allows merchant mariners attending a qualified vocational program to qualify for an allowable absence from the state for purposes of PFD eligibility. Under Alaska’s current system, Alaskans serving as a merchant mariner are eligible for an allowed absence when serving aboard a vessel, but Alaskans training to be a merchant mariner are not provided an allowed absence. This bill remedies that disparity so that Alaskans training to be merchant mariners are treated the same as other students.

The bill also clarifies the meaning of “education on a full-time basis.” Due to variability in educational schedules, certain students lose dividend eligibility due to breaks in the academic year. SB 85 provides for a specific definition for “education on a full-time basis” that includes academic year breaks, excluding summer break, so that students are not penalized based on vagaries in academic schedules. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

Alaska: Bill Introduced to Help Licensed Professionals Transition to Working in Alaska - Yesterday, Governor Mike Dunleavy introduced SB83 to provide people who work in a licensed occupation temporary, limited license reciprocity so that they begin working in Alaska sooner.

The bill will allow individuals with “clean licenses” in other states to work up to 180 days while completing final requirements for Alaska licensure.

The bill covers more than three dozen licensed occupations, ranging from barbers and hairdressers to pharmacists and nurses.

“For people who want to live, work and play in the most beautiful state in the country, nowhere competes with Alaska,” said Governor Dunleavy. “Making sure that qualified professionals who come to Alaska can get to work right away is important for both attracting skilled workers and meeting workforce needs.” - More....
Saturday - February 25, 2023

Caribou have been using same Arctic calving grounds for 3,000 years

Caribou have been using same Arctic calving grounds for 3,000 years; Epic migration leads caribou to same areas to give birth every spring
Alaska's barren-ground caribou have been using the same parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to give birth to their calves for at least 3,000 years, according to researchers.
Photo credit: Michael Miller


Alaska: Caribou have been using same Arctic calving grounds for 3,000 years; Epic migration leads caribou to same areas to give birth every spring - Caribou have been using the same Arctic calving grounds for more than 3,000 years, according to a new study by the University of Cincinnati.

Female caribou shed their antlers within days of giving birth, leaving behind a record of their annual travels across Alaska and Canada’s Yukon that persists on the cold tundra for hundreds or even thousands of years. Researchers recovered antlers that have sat undisturbed on the arctic tundra since the Bronze Age.

“To walk around the landscape and pick up something that’s 3,000 years old is truly amazing,” said Joshua Miller, an assistant professor of geosciences at the University of Cincinnati.

He has been leading summer expeditions to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge since 2010, using rafts to navigate remote rivers to search for caribou antlers exposed on the tundra.

“We think about having to dig down into the soil to find that kind of ecological history, but on the Coastal Plain, the vegetation grows extremely slowly,” Miller said. “Bones dropped by animals that lived dozens or even hundreds of generations in the past can provide really meaningful information.”

The study demonstrates how important the area is for an animal that native Alaskans and Candians still depend on for sustenance, even as energy companies seek to exploit oil and gas resources in this protected area.

The Biden Administration in 2021 suspended drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest tract of undeveloped wilderness in the United States. 

“We know this region of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been an important area for caribou for millennia,” Miller said. “That should give us pause on how we think about those landscapes.”

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Barren ground caribou undertake nature’s longest overland migration, traveling as far as 800 miles each year to reach their spring calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Canada’s Ivvavik National Park. The largest herd in this area, named for the Porcupine River, numbers in the hundreds of thousands of animals.

Scientists think caribou use these areas because they have fewer predators and offer seasonal vegetation near places where they can avoid the worst of the mosquitoes.

“The mosquitoes are horrible,” Miller said. “You get swarmed — literally covered in them. They can do significant damage to a young calf.”

Whatever the reason, the antlers they leave behind provide a physical record of their epic yearly travels that researchers can unlock through isotopic analysis. 

Caribou antlers, like those of elk, deer and moose, are made of fast-growing bone that the animals shed each year and regrow the following year.

“It is amazing to think that the oldest of the antlers found in our study were growing approximately the same time Homer was penning ‘the Iliad’ and ‘the Odyssey,’” study co-author Patrick Druckenmiller said.

He is director of the University of Alaska Museum and professor of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Eric Wald from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also co-authored the study.

The antler surveys in the vast expanse of the Arctic refuge require meticulous logistical planning, Miller said. Small planes deposit researchers and their gear deep in the interior, where they have to be watchful for grizzly and polar bears. They pilot rafts to the Beaufort Sea, conducting a  grid search of suitable caribou habitat identified in advance using aerial photography. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

Birds in Alaska, 70 million years ago

Birds in Alaska, 70 million years ago

This tiny bird tooth - 73 million years old - was found in the Colville River's bluffs. Lauren Keller carried this sample to her presentation at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Photo by Ned Rozell


Alaska: Birds in Alaska, 70 million years ago By NED ROZELL - Lonely northern cliffs from which scientists have pulled the bones of Alaska dinosaurs also hold the fossilized remains of birds.

Lauren Keller is studying the tiny specks of teeth and bones of birds that died more than 70 million years ago in what is now northern Alaska. 

Keller is a graduate student working with the University of Alaska Museum of the North’s Patrick Druckenmiller, one of the researchers who has helped recover the bones of hadrosaurs and other dinosaurs from bluffs of the Colville River in northern Alaska.

About 73 million years ago, those rocky hillsides rose with the Brooks Range from the flats that now include the largest river that drains waters from Alaska’s North Slope into the Arctic Ocean. The rocks there and in some nearby “microsites” hold evidence of the world’s farthest-north dinosaurs, including 25-foot plant-eating hadrosaurs and tyrannosaurs that ate meat.

As another researcher once looked through sifted material from one of the sites, he noted flat, triangular little arrowheads that he guessed might be shark teeth. Druckenmiller, an expert on prehistoric marine creatures, thought they looked more like bird teeth. A closer look at remains from the Colville bluffs revealed more teeth — and fragments of bird bones.

Keller is now on the job of finding out more about these prehistoric birds as she earns a master’s degree. She traveled last spring (a time up there most people would call winter, with subzero temperatures and snow as far as she could see) to the Colville River to dig for clues about what the area was like in the time of the dinosaurs.

Back then, the land was even farther from the equator than it is today. Keller described the environment there 70 million years ago during a recent presentation on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

“The animals there were dealing with 120 days of winter darkness, and snow,” she said. No evidence of prehistoric amphibians, crocodiles, turtles or lizards exists at the sites, she noted. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

Columns - Commentary


DAVE KIFFER: Welcome to 'Dodge' City! - Welcome to Pothole Season!

Hmm, that's not quite true. Pothole season is year-round these days, so you were already in Pothole Season before I wrote this. I am not welcoming you to anything, especially since at least one of your cars is already embedded in an apparently bottomless pothole somewhere in Our Fair Salmon City.

I was thinking about Potholes the other day when a Facebook thread fell - literally - into a series of pothole jokes.

"That one is big enough for a zip code!"

"That one has its own Coast Guard cutter!"

"That one's not a pothole, it's what happens when a Chinese kid digs through from the other side."

That last one probably needs a "splainer."

My Dad used to always accuse me of trying to "dig to China" when I put a hole in the back yard. That was a common refrain in the 1960s before GPS systems, when we really didn't know where anything actually was. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023


FINANCIAL FOCUS: Can you count on Social Security? Provided By BEN EDWARDS, AAMS® - If you’re getting closer to retirement, you might be thinking more about Social Security. Specifically, can you count on it to contribute part of the income you’ll need as a retiree?

There’s been an increase in alarming language surrounding the solvency of Social Security, but in reality, its prospects are not nearly as gloomy as you might have heard.

Here’s the story: Under current law, Social Security is estimated to exhaust its trust funds by 2035, after which benefits could be cut by 20%, according to the 2022 Social Security Trustees report. However, the large cost of living adjustment (COLA) (8.7%) for 2023 could cause the trust funds to use up their resources sooner.

But this outlook may represent a worst-case scenario. For one thing, the cost of the 2023 COLA will be somewhat offset by higher taxes on workers contributing to Social Security. The maximum amount of earnings subject to the 6.2% Social Security tax jumped from $147,000 in 2022 to $160,200 in 2023. And in looking down the road, further increases in this earnings cap may also help reduce the gap in the trust funds. Increasing the payroll tax is another possibility for boosting funding to Social Security. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023


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Educational System Malfunction in the State of Alaska By Robert Arnold - Our public schools system are failing our students, and ultimately our society will pay the price. Let’s look locally to see the picture, KAYHI has a wonderful history of turning out the great movers and shakers of this city and beyond. Today, the numbers don’t lie, and according to the superintendent enrollment rates are steadily dropping. Only 20.93% of high school students are proficient in reading and writing and only 12% are able to do standard math, most shocking 44.9% of the student body are chronically absent. The State of Alaska has a major problem, this has been going on for years. We rank at the bottom in education, compared to every other state in the Union. Why have we not taken action? Apathetically continuing, “the same ole, same ole,” it does not work anymore. Some States, like ours, at the bottom of the barrel, have begun to reform their systems, States like Arkansas, with the LEARNS program, and Florida have led the way.

The quest to raise the BSA by a $1000 dollars is being floated over the Alaska State Legislature. I ask the simple question, why are we losing students? During Covid parents were alarmed at what was passing as “education”, some did something about it, choosing a different path for their kids, dis-enrolling from public school and choosing other ways to educate their kids. Those students are ahead of their peers, but Mom and Dad got left with the bill, while each student gets $22,783 (State and Federal $),it is only for those who attends public school. Parent should have the choice where to send, or spend, their child’s education, it is in their hands, and public monies should follow the child. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

jpg Opinion

Increasing Alaska's Base Student Allocation By Rep. Dan Ortiz - Last week, the Alaska House Education Committee heard House Bill 65, "Increase the Base Student Allocation (BSA)." It was a brief hearing, acting solely as an introduction, but it was an essential first step during this legislative session in the conversation about education funding.

I have heard loud and clear from teachers, students, and school boards that schools are struggling. They are dealing with significant increases in costs like heating, insurance, and supplies while seeing state support for our schools remain mostly flat-funded over the past eight years. Class sizes are increasing, programs are being eliminated, and schools are even being closed at some locations around the state.

As the bill's sponsor, I wholeheartedly support increasing education funding. HB65 would raise the BSA by $1250 per eligible student for a total BSA per student of $7210. That is about a 20% increase, similar to the rate of inflation we have seen over the past several years.

A bit of sticker shock is associated with this increase: it would cost the state $321 million. And when it comes to discussing the costs of state services, the debate can get more impassioned. The state does not necessarily have extra cash lying around, and for every increase, there must be corresponding cuts elsewhere in the budget – especially cuts to the dividend (PFD).

While an increase in education funding may have a hefty price tag, it is tiny in comparison to the cost of the PFD. The Governor's proposed dividend for this upcoming year would cost the state $2.47 billion. (We currently spend about $1.23 billion on statewide education). Let me be clear: I am absolutely for protecting the PFD, especially for future generations of Alaskans, but I am not for sacrificing our youth's educational opportunities, the need for other essential state services, the need to make investments in deferred maintenance, and other capital budget investments in statewide infrastructure or to overdraw on the Earnings Reserve portion of the Permanent Fund to pay for it. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

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Defense assets must reflect Alaska’s role as frontier outpost against threats By Governor Michael Dunleavy - Events over the past two weeks have been a useful reminder for our fellow Americans that Alaska holds a far more strategic position on the globe than our typical depiction in a box at the bottom of a map would indicate.

Most know that Alaska is huge, at two-and-a-half times the size of Texas. Fewer may know that we’re not only the farthest north and west state; we are also the farthest east. We’re so far east that the International Dateline has to jog around the island of Attu in the Aleutian chain to divide us from Russian territory.

We’re so far east that we’re closer to Australia than California is.

This isn’t just some trivia to impress your friends at your next get together, but to illustrate Alaska’s critical importance to our national defense.

At just a few miles from Russian territory, just a few hours from China, and within potential striking distance of North Korean missiles, Alaska is truly a frontier outpost standing on the front lines in between a rough neighborhood and North America.

Of the four objects shot down since Feb. 4, three have transited Alaska, and two were shot down by F-22 Raptors based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, or JBER, in Anchorage on consecutive days Feb. 10 and 11.

There is much we still don’t know about these incidents, and the Biden Administration did little to reassure the public on Feb. 16 by announcing that the three objects shot down after the Chinese spy balloon were likely harmless private craft conducting some kind of research.

Not only that, but intelligence officials are now telling the public that the U.S. tracked the Chinese spy balloon from the moment it took off and still allowed it to transit the entire nation from Hawaii to Alaska to South Carolina.

How a hostile act went unanswered for days while other, apparently benign, objects were shot down immediately, is a question that remains unanswered. - More...
Saturday - February 25, 2023

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