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AK Beat: Chugach National Forest open for snowmachining

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch
Loren Holmes photo

Snowmachining season begins: Just in time for the holiday break at most Alaska schools, winter is finally arriving on the Kenai Peninsula. Chugach National Forest announced Thursday that the long-delayed start of the snowmachine season will arrive on Friday when snowmachine play areas -- other then Lost Lake and the Primrose Trails -- open for the first time. Snowmachine riders will, however, want to be cautious. Avalanche dangers above treeline are "considerable," according to the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center, and the snow is unstable enough that avalanches below treeline are a distinct possibility. Avalanche forecaster Kevin Wright did joke, however, that "fortunately, digging a full depth pit to look at all those layers (of snow) is easy with our shallow snowpack." If you don't know what he's talking about, stick to the safe and groomed ski trails in the closed-for-the-winter Russian and Trail rivers campgrounds on the Kenai, Divide near Seward, and the Exit Glacier Road just outside of that city. Parents with kids heading off to play in the Chugach Mountains might note that there is no avalanche forecasting for Chugach State Park, but the snow there isn't any more stable than on the Kenai at the moment. It's rotten to the bottom in many places. 

Alaska climate center funds research: Alaska berries and eulachon are the subjects of studies that won funding from the Alaska Climate Science Center, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced on Thursday. The Anchorage-based center will share more than $130,000 with two other Interior offices to help pay for studies into moth infestations of Southcentral Alaska berry crops and potential climate vulnerabilities of eulachon. The berry project will be coordinated with the Chugachmuit tribal consortium and will focus on geometric moths, which are damaging berry crops. The eulachon project, to be coordinated with the Tlingit Nation of Southeast Alaska, will assess risks posed by climate change and potential adaptations for the oil-rich fish sometimes called candlefish. In addition to the new studies, the Alaska Climate Science Center is continuing funding for five projects started in previous years, Jewell said. The Alaska Climate Center, located at the University of Alaska Anchorage, opened in 2011 and was the first of eight regional climate centers established by the Interior Department. It released its 2012-13 annual report this week.

Reward in Homer homicide up to $10,000: Police in Homer, a fishing community of about 5,100 on the southwestern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, have increased the reward for information leading to an arrest of whoever killed an elderly man on a dirt trail during the summer. Mark Matthews, 61, was found dead July 28 on Poopdeck Trail. Based on crime scene evidence and an autopsy report, police ruled Matthews’ death a homicide in August. Now, police have increased the reward for a solid tip from $2,000 to $10,000 following talks between Chief Mark Robl and the city manager, who agreed that offering more money was necessary to nab a suspect, Homer News reported. Robl would not release the details of the case or say whether suspects have been identified, but he did say his department has a few more people they want to speak with, and that they believe someone knows important information that could tie up loose ends.

Kenai opposes Cook Inlet setnet ban: The City of Kenai has joined the Kenai Borough Assembly in expressing opposition to a ban on commercial setnet fishing in Cook Inlet. An initiative to ban the gear appears headed for a statewide vote. The measure is being pressed by personal-use dipnetters and anglers who've warred with Cook Inlet fishermen over salmon allocations for decades. Kenai interests say a setnet ban could take a bite out of the economy there. The Kenai council voted unanimously on Dec. 3 to back opponents of the measure. The Alaska Salmon Alliance, a commercial fishing group, said in a statement that the initiative is nothing but a plot to "benefit wealthy, Outside sportfishing interests." About 11 percent of the salmon killed in Cook Inlet each summer go into the coolers of sport fishers.

Another sentence in “Molly” ring case in Mat-Su: A 19-year-old Wasilla, Alaska man was sentenced Wednesday in federal court for his part in a designer drug conspiracy that ended in the death of another young man. Chad Cameron was sentenced to one year in prison for attempting to possess 850 grams of methylone, a synthetic drug sold as “Molly.” Cameron admitted to wiring money to China to pay for the drugs in July 2012. The case came to light after an acquaintance of Cameron’s, Matt Scott, died of an overdose. Twenty-year-old Robin Gattis, son of a Wasilla legislator, was sentenced to 16 years in prison earlier this month for instigating the sales and pulling others into the conspiracy, prosecutors said. U.S. Customs agents in Chicago nabbed the shipment addressed to Cameron, who told the sentencing judge that the drugs were his “escape” and said he “did it for fun.” He also said he thought the sale of the methylone was “no big deal” and he expected a “slap on the wrist” at most if caught. Three remaining co-conspirators have yet to be sentenced.

Troopers launch Mat-Su property crimes unit: Alaska State Troopers in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the large community an hour’s drive north of Anchorage, say they've formed a small group dedicated to curtailing a jump in property crimes. The Criminal Suppression Unit (CSU), consisting of one sergeant and three troopers, will increase the number of patrols in “areas of known criminal activity.” Troopers did not say how big the jump in property crimes there has been, only that they’ve handled “what seemed like a large amount,” and the need for an increased effort became clear when the community noticed and voiced the same concern. The department credits the CSU to an increase in overall trooper positions as requested by the governor and approved by the Alaska Legislature in the fiscal year 2014 budget. Overall, 17 new trooper positions were approved statewide, with five assigned to the Mat-Su area. Troopers also encouraged residents to do their part by enrolling in its citizens’ academy. The next one will start Jan. 14. 

Homebrew: Not just a rural Alaska problem: On Wednesday, MedPage Today, a medical news site targeted at physicians, reported on a study of a botulism outbreak in a Utah prison traced back to potatoes used in home brew. "Had one Utah brewer of the prison wine known as ‘pruno’ read Jarvis Masters' ‘Recipe For Prison Pruno’ (a poem) and not added potato to his concoction, he may have saved eight inmates a trip to the emergency department,'' writes Cole Petrochko of the MedPage staff. Potatoes appear to be a particularly dangerous homebrew ingredient. "In 2012, two separate botulism outbreaks occurred in an Arizona state prison in August and November after a batch of prison hooch was brewed with potatoes,'' Petrochko noted. Alcohol is banned in prison, as it is in many Alaska villages, but that hasn't stopped people from making their own. The state of Alaska has spent millions over the years on a failed war on booze in those villages.