Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An opportunity to be involved: Nominate yourself or another Georgetown member to be part of GTC's Environmental Committee

If you are Alaska Native,
then you have all the power to make a better world
for your children and their children╩╝s children
that is what we have been doing and that is what we will continue doing today

If you are Alaska Native,
then you have the strength of 500 generations standing with you
you are the mountaintop,
you are good enough,
you are the standard of intelligence and beauty,
you are going to win,
and you are everything we need right now.

-Du Aani Kawdinook Xh'unei, Assistance Professor of Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast
Our goal? Keeping Georgetown as clean and pristine as it always has been.
For more details, perks and contact info, check out our Environmental Committee Brochure, and keep your eye on the mailbox.............. info coming soon!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

ADF&G Releases the 2013 Preliminary Kuskokwim Area Salmon Season Summary

October 17, 2013

The information taken from this article comes from the ADF&G News Release, issued October 9, 2013.  To read the News Release in its entirety, please go here.
In January 2013, the Board of Fish met and approved a new management plan (5 AAC 07.365), and a new drainage wide Chinook salmon sustainable escapement goal(SEG) of 65,000-120,000 fish. Following the management plan, in 2013 ADF&G used in season run projections based on BTF catch per unit effort (CPUE) and subsistence harvest reports to assess current run abundance.

The Chinook salmon forecast was 160,000-240,000 fish.  Given that the escapement goal was 65,000-120,000, this would have left enough Chinook salmon after escapement to meet average subsistence Chinook harvest of 84,000 fish.  The forecast didn't turn out to be true: subsistence harvest needs were not  met all along the river and escapement goals will likely not be met either.
Based on BTF, the Chinook salmon run started about one week later than average, had a strong pulse and then dropped off about two weeks earlier than average.  Chinook salmon escapement at tributary weirs were the lowest on record at all projects. Escapement goals at the George River and the Kogrukluk River were not met.  The drainage wide SEG was "likely not achieved", but estimates won't be final until this winter.

The following restrictions occurred on the main stem of the Kuskokwim in 2013: Gillnet mesh size was restricted and hook and line Chinook salmon fishing was closed from the mouth of the Kuskokwim to Tuluksak from June 28 through July 9 and from Tuluksak to Chuathbaluk from July 3 through July 14.
Looking forward, ADF&G says this about the 2014 Management Strategy:

"The Kuskokwim Area has experienced low Chinook salmon runs during the past four years and run sizes the past two years were among the lowest on record. In 2012 and 2013, the majority of escapement goals were not consistently achieved. As a result the department will be working with the public to implement a more conservative management strategy for Chinook salmon in 2014.
In general, management will be restrictive at the onset of the season with the potential to relax restrictions based on inseason information if warranted. Management options and specific actions to be taken will be discussed with federal managers, the Working Group, and public stakeholders through the winter with the expectation for finalized management strategies prior to the season.
Management options under consideration in the Kuskokwim River include significant reductions in subsistence fishing time, gillnet mesh size and fish wheel restrictions, and delaying the onset of commercial fishing in District 1 to avoid incidental harvest of Chinook salmon."
The general consensus from folks along the river is that we have a lot of work to do.  I think we can all agree that no one wants to see numbers this low again.  In my opinion, working together is the only way to ensure that this goal is met.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

6th Annual Northwest Tribal Water Rights Conference

October 9 & 10, 2013

Last week, I attended the NW Tribal Water Rights conference, hosted by the Center for Water Advocacy, and had the honor of presenting information on behalf of the Georgetown Tribal Council (GTC) about our water quality program.  In attendance were a variety of not for profit environmental groups, environmental lawyers and other professionals, state representation from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), representation from Senator Begich's office, and tribal representation from all over the state of Alaska.  The turnout was good, with an estimated 75 people in attendance. 
A wide variety of topics as related to the importance of water conservation were covered including House Bill 77, water quality standards, Tribal health and fish consumption, food security, chemical dispersants in oil spill response, fracking, and traditional knowledge. GTC's goal was to increase awareness of the Kuskokwim River water quality database and map, as well as educate other tribes on how they can start collecting baseline water quality data in their areas.  For a copy of our PowerPoint presentation, please click here.

The first issue covered was House Bill 77. Prior to this conference, I had not heard much about this bill. According to information presented, House Bill 77 would have a big impact on private access to water throughout the state. It would give the appointed DNR commissioner power to make decisions on water quality, take away the rights of individuals/tribes to apply for in stream flows, and reduce the ability of all to participate in the permitting process.  In summary, this bill would increase regulation of water rights under state law, reduce access to individuals, and eliminate rights of citizens and tribal governments to request water rights for instream flow.  For more information on HB77, view this fact sheet, created by  Providing enough instream flow is an important step for rehabilitation of streams and protection of salmon habitat.  Tribal resolutions throughout the state have been created to oppose HB 77 and support the need to discuss strategies over water rights in Alaska. 

A panel of speakers also discussed the importance of the use of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), including how and when it can be integrated with "western" scientific studies. There was a great variety of perspective given on the topic; E. Barrett Ristroph, a legal researcher for the Wilderness Society, discussed how TEK can be integrated with agency decision making, while Larry Merculieff, well known in the tribal community, spoke about the Alaska Native Science Commission's work in bridging gaps between western science and indigenous science.  Ristroph stressed the importance of identifying experts in your community on TEK, and establishing protocols on collecting and using the data.  One of the many points well worth taking away from Merculieff's talk: let's be proactive not reactive - when collecting information we can either choose to focus  on moving away from something that has happened to us, or we can choose to move forward to a goal we would like to have happen-  the choice is ours. 

Tribal health was a third topic of interest that I'd like to comment on here.  Vi Waghiyi, the program director for Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), shared information regarding health and food security for the Yupik people of St Lawrence Island, Alaska and Riki Ott, PhD and former commercial fisherma'm, discussed her work on the negative impacts of using dispersants in oil spill response.  Waghiyi discussed ACAT's efforts to collect and present information on the various exposure pathways of polychlorinated byphenyls (PCB) in traditional foods of the Arctic.  "PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system." (EPA site).  Waghiyi and other researchers examined Yupik traditional foods for contaminants to inform community decisions and interventions. It was found that the consumption of rendered oils and blubber from traditional foods such as seal, whale, walrus, and polar bears are a main contribution of higher levels of PCBs found in Arctic Indigenous peoples.  The St Lawrence Island delegation has called for stronger legislation for the ratification of the Stockholm Convention, an international legally-binding treaty on POPs. 

Riki Ott, PhD,  is spearheading a national grassroots coalition to ban toxic dispersants used in oil spill response.  Her presentation was informative, inspiring, interesting and quite frankly - a bit frightening.  Turns out, the use of dispersants in oil spill response is doing more damage than good.  The intention is to disperse oil contaminants in the ocean, but instead they are creating deformed marine life, negative long-term health impacts on people living in areas near oil spills, and more than likely a vast number of unknown negative impacts - one would think they'd be banned.  Quite the opposite is occurring; oil equipment is now being required to be equipped with the capability to disperse these chemicals.  Another frightening point - EPA has created a "safe" list of chemicals allowable for use.  It's quite the hassle to get something added to this list, but interestingly enough - there is no process to remove that chemical if determined to be detrimental, such as this one.  Visit Rikki's website for more information, the topics she covers impacts each and every one of us(

Finally - Caleb Behn, a young First Nations law student and emerging leader from northeast BC, was the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference.  The northeast BC is the epicenter of some of the world's largest fracking operations, and Behn "tries to reconcile the fractures within himself, his community and the world around him - blending modern tools of the law with ancient wisdom."  He has produced a documentary on fracking, entitled Fractured Land.  I'll let the trailer do the talking here.

It is always empowering when a large group of individuals from various backgrounds come together to discuss a topic as important  as this - water quality, water rights, and water preservation.  We are all connected to water in more ways than one.  Think about  it - our bodies are made up of 65% water.  Our Earth - 70% water.  The food we consume, the water we drink, the weather that determines so many things...all of it has a common theme - water.  Let's protect it.  I am reminded now of Georgetown's environmental mission statement: "We are all responsible for our environment and we are entrusted with its preservation so that our children and grandchildren can benefit in the same way we have."  How? Be educated, take action.