Alaska | KUOW News and Information

Alaska

Southeast Alaska is known as the Panhandle:

It's a long, narrow strip of mainland coastline, plus 1,000 islands and the braided waterways that surround them.

In most places, there are no roads connecting the communities there, so Alaskans depend heavily on ferries: the Alaska Marine Highway System.

Polar bears aren't the only beloved Arctic animal threatened by climate change. Scientists believe reindeer are at risk as a warming world makes their main winter food source disappear.

But reindeer on one Alaskan island are surprising researchers.

And that surprise doesn't just come from the fact that the reindeer are hard to spot.

On St. Paul Island, Lauren Divine of the EcoSystem Conservation Office was not having luck seeing a herd of 400 reindeer, even on this treeless island with tundra as far as the eye can see.

The tiny village of Newtok near Alaska's western coast has been sliding into the Ninglick River for years. As temperatures increase — faster there than in the rest of the U.S. — the frozen permafrost underneath Newtok is thawing. About 70 feet of land a year erode away, putting the village's colorful buildings, some on stilts, ever closer to the water's edge.

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Rachel Waldholz

The largest commercial cruise ship ever to attempt the Northwest Passage starts sailing through its frigid waters this week.  

The sea route over the top of Canada has historically been impassable, but ice melting in the Arctic has in recent years cleared a path for shipping vessels. Now, a 1,600-person, 13-deck cruise ship is plying those waters, too.

The Crystal Serenity left Seward, Alaska last week on a 32-day cruise that will take it around Alaska, through the Canadian Arctic, past Greenland and finally to New York.   

Rising sea levels have eroded an Inupiat Eskimo village for decades. Now, residents of Shishmaref, Alaska, have officially voted to relocate.

The island community, located near the Bering Strait, opted to move rather than remain in place with added safety measures to protect against the rising waters. The city clerk's office told NPR that 94 votes favored relocating and 78 votes wanted to protect in place.

There was a time when Sandra Gologergen's freezer never ran out. Packed with traditional Inuit foods like whale, walrus, seal and fish, her freezer has been an essential lifeline, ensuring her husband, three kids and grandson make it through the long harsh winters of Savoonga, Alaska.

"Then that changed," she says.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline, northern Brooks Range, Alaska. Rocks in the background produce oil on the North Slope.
Flickr Photo/U.S. Geological Survey (Public Domain)/https://flic.kr/p/ogvPnb

Bill Radke speaks with New York Times reporter Kirk Johnson about how the crash in oil revenues for Alaska is threatening rural schools in the state. 

An earthquake of magnitude 7.1 struck the southern coast of Alaska early Sunday, the U.S. Geological Survey says. The quake, which was centered just over 160 miles southwest of Anchorage, hit at 1:30 a.m. local time (5:30 a.m. EST), waking up many residents of Alaska's largest city.

For decades, Alaska has relied on oil to pay its bills. In recent years, up to 90 percent of state spending came from oil revenue. With crude prices at a 12-year low, the state faces at least a $3.5 billion deficit — or two-thirds of its budget.

Lawmakers gathering in Juneau on Tuesday face some unpopular choices, including the first income tax in decades.

To understand why Alaska has a budget problem, stop by any gas station. In Anchorage, gas sells for $2.30 a gallon. A year and a half ago, people here were shelling out more than $4 a gallon. And that's the problem.

William Wells raises a weather balloon for launch on St. Paul Island, Alaska.
KUCB photo/John Ryan

William Wells dashes out into a 30-knot wind, releases a huge balloon and watches it whip toward the endless whitecaps of the Bering Sea.

It’s all in a day’s work at what may be the nation's most remote weather station.

We've heard a lot about the negative effects of climate change in the arctic and subarctic. But some Alaskans, like farmer Tim Meyers, are seeing warming temperatures as an opportunity.

Now that potato harvest is underway at his Bethel farm, Meyers uses a giant potato washer, like a washing machine for root vegetables, to clean California white potatoes.

They're some of the only commercially produced vegetables in this southwestern Alaska region, about the size of Oregon.

Meyers says the warming summers are a big part of his success.

Scientists believe that Kivalina, population 457, will be the first casualty of climate change in the U.S., and that it will be inundated by sea water by 2025.
Suzanne Tennant

Ross Reynolds talks to journalist Elizabeth Arnold about how rural Alaskan communities are dealing with fast rising tides and severe storms caused by climate change.

A totem pole stolen by actor John Barrymore in 1931 that later ended up as a yard decoration for actor Vincent Price was returned to Alaska tribal members on Thursday.

The Associated Press reports that the stolen pole was one of more than 100 that once stood in the old village of Tuxecan on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, which was inhabited by the Tlingit people.

On St. Paul Island in Alaska's Pribilofs, this is no empty slogan. The health of the islands' bird populations might depend on keeping rats away.
KUCB photo/John Ryan

Biologists and tribal officials in the Bering Sea off the west coast of Alaska are working to protect one of the world's greatest gatherings of seabirds.

With a little unwilling help from wharf rats in Alaska's Dutch Harbor, the nation's busiest fishing port, they aim to keep rats as far away as Seattle from devouring the birds of the rat-free Pribilof Islands.

High Risk Awaits Immigrants In Alaska’s 'Ballard North'

Oct 18, 2015
Salahaldin Adam, outside the Trident North plant in Cordova. Adam is showing the swelling on his right hand, which he hurt after just a few weeks on the job.
KUOW Photo/Alex Stonehill

In Ballard, a human resources manager for Trident Seafoods talks to a room of people hoping to be seafood processors – warning them of the dangers of the job.

SEAN CASADY, HR DIRECTOR: "You need to be able to stand on your feet for up to 16 hours a day in cold and wet conditions."

Sonny Nguyen outside of the auto parts store he owns in the town of Unalaska on the port of Dutch Harbor. He’s a refugee from Vietnam who moved to Seattle in 1976 and then went to Dutch Harbor where he’s lived on and off for 30 years.
KUOW Photo/Alex Stonehill

The yard in front of the CARQUEST Auto Parts store on this remote Alaskan island is crowded with old cars.

Sonny Nguyen, the store’s owner, keeps them because it can be faster to grab a part from the front yard than to get it shipped out here. Nguyen first came here in 1977.

Silme Domingo, left, and Gene Viernes, right, were murdered at a union hall in Seattle. It took a determined group of people to expose an international conspiracy behind the murders.
University of Washington Digital Archives

On Monday, June 1, 1981, Seattle’s KIRO TV reported a shooting in Pioneer Square.

KIRO: “The shots were fired right around a quarter of 5 this evening, shots that apparently were not heard by anyone else. The two victims were inside the union office.”

Following The Money Trail To Alaska's 'Ballard North'

Oct 18, 2015
Abdirahman Shire in his dormitory room. Room and board are free or cost less than $15 a day for seafood processing workers (depending on their contract and from plant to plant).
KUOW Photo/Alex Stonehill

A few years after Abdirahman Shire moved to the U.S., he found work at a Tyson Foods chicken factory in Kentucky.

That’s when he got a call from a friend, another Somali guy he’d known in a refugee camp in Uganda.

The White House announced Sunday that President Obama is changing the name of North America's highest peak.

Mount McKinley — named after William McKinley, the 25th president, who served in the White House until his assassination in 1901 — is returning to its traditional Alaska Native name, Denali.

Obama will make a public announcement of the name change in Anchorage Monday, during a three-day visit to Alaska.

Two teenagers in Kivalina, Alaska, play near a skinned polar bear. Scientists predict Kivalina, an Alaskan village, will be the first casualty of climate change and sea rising in the U.S.
Suzanne Tennant

President Barack Obama is coming to Alaska later this month.

The White House released a video Thursday morning to explain why he will be the first sitting president to visit Alaska’s Arctic. 

The folksy video (it starts with the president saying, “Hi, everybody”) features dripping glaciers, raging wildfires and Alaska Natives hanging salmon to dry.

Mihey Basargin of Wasilla on the docks in Dutch Harbor after being rescued.
KUCB Photo/John Ryan

Lt. Commander Kimberly Hess watched the cliff. 

That kept her steady, she said, as she fought a swirling 30-knot tailwind and lowered the Coast Guard chopper to the sea below, where two stranded fishermen had been waiting for eight hours in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. 

A moose browses along a bicycle path in the Anchorage, Alaska, area this week.
Seattle Globalist Photo/Alex Stonehill

Reporting in Alaska comes with special challenges: There are the vast distances, the fickle weather, the moose on the bicycle path …

Artist Lois Thadei in woven hat, photographed at Ginger Street in Olympia during Art Walk.
Courtesy of Kay Shultz

Lois Thadei’s full name is Lois Chichnikoff Thadei.

But everyone calls her Louie. She says white people have a hard time pronouncing her name.

Members with the U.S. Forest Service's Lassen Interagency Hotshot crew stationed at Susanville, Calif., observe an Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter approach a landing zone June 30, 2013, over Palmer, Alaska.
Flickr Photo/U.S. Department of Defense (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks with Alaska Public Radio reporter Alexandra Guttierez about the challenges of fighting fires in Alaska.

Team Elsie Piddock sails up Nichols Passage south of Ketchikan on the way to winning the Race to Alaska.
Taylor Balkom / Ketchikan Daily News

Ross Reynolds talks to Jake Beattie the director of the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend and the organizer of the first ever Race to Alaska contest about how Team Elsie Piddock managed to defy expectations and win the race in one week and a day. 

The state of Alaska has sent thousands of pink slips to its workers. The ripple effects could affect the fishing industry.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

Marcie Sillman talks to Alexandra Gutierrez of Alaska Public Radio about the budget standstill in Alaska's Legislature and how a government shutdown will affect the lives of Alaskans. 

Marcie Sillman talks to Jake Beattie, executive director of the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, about the Race to Alaska, in which contestants row, paddle or sail 750 miles to Ketchikan, Alaska. 

At 5 a.m. Thursday morning, a wide range of catamarans, sloops, kayaks and ocean rowboats will launch from Port Townsend, Washington, in the inaugural Race to Alaska.

Marcie Sillman talks to Alexandra Gutierrez of Alaska Public Radio about Alaska's Safe Children's Act, popularly known as Erin's Law.

Shell's oil rig Kulluk became stranded in Kodiak, Alaska two years ago. This photo of the stranded vessel  was taken  Jan. 7, 2013.
Flickr Photo/U.S. Pacific Command (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks to Alexandra Gutierrez, reporter for Alaska Public Radio, about the resolution scolding Washington for protesting the Shell Artic drilling rig's arrival to Washington waters amid serious budget talks.

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