Klukwan elder Joe Hotch ‘kills money’ over the head of Andrea Parent, as gatherers recite her new Tlingit name four times during a ceremony that also named interpretitive signs on what has always been LingÌt AanÌ or Tlingit Land. See our feature on the Tlingit Sign Dedication.

Photo by Jeff Brady

State says bear shot June 5 was a light-colored cinnamon

No charges filed, 'Spirit Bear' has not turned up and many believe it was same bear

On June 17, the state announced it would not be charging the man who shot a black bear outside his home on June 5, saying it was a light-colored cinnamon phased type bear – not a white bear that was under a protection order.
“It was a light color, but it also had a lot of black and brown around the face, paws, all over it,” said Fish and Wildlife Officer Ricky Merritt of Haines.
Thor Henricksen, who lives off the Dyea Road, said the bear he shot by his daughter’s rabbit hutch was a cinnamon bear, not the white-phased bear that won state protection last fall.
Many in the town still believe it was the so called “Spirit Bear,” (see sidebar) but the state will not say for sure if it is the same light-colored bear that was photographed around the area over the past two years. As of June 22, there had been no reported sightings of that bear.
Henricksen was relieved to not be charged and did not wish to discuss the incident further, though he said the days following the incident have been very rough on him.
Merritt said that the bear that was shot “was not close to the color white,” but he could not say for sure if it was the bear people in Skagway considered as the “Spirit Bear” since he had not seen it in person.
“There’s probably not a lot of white-colored bears in Skagway, so it is a possibility,” Merritt said.
Merritt flew over to Skagway on June 13 and seized the hide and skull of the harvested bear. Division of Wildlife Conservation biologists and wildlife troopers examined the hide of the bear to determine if the animal met the regulatory requirements prohibiting the harvest of white-colored black bears in Unit 1D, according to a press release.
“Based on both photographs and physical examination of the hide, it was determined that the color of the bear is not white, the release said. “The bear in question has a multicolored pelt including white, black and blonde-cinnamon. Neither enforcement, nor biological staff can definitively say if the harvested bear is, or is not, the same light colored bear known to frequent the area.”
Ryan Scott, a biologist with the Department of Fish and Game, was part of the team that inspected the bear. When asked if it was the bear in photos provided to him by the News and other sources, he replied, “I can’t tell you for sure. I’m not comfortable guessing. But it’s realistic that since we knew about a light-colored bear in that area, then it could be the same bear.”
Scott noted the state was protecting a “white bear” based on a proposal from the Municipality of Skagway last fall. At the time, he said, his department made no recommendation, but the request was granted by the Board of Game based on the viewing pleasure of people in Skagway. A 120-day temporary order against taking a white bear in Unit 1D was granted in August, and then made permanent in November.
“We never looked at it as a ‘Spirit Bear,’” Scott said. “We approached it from the biology aspect. We heard it called ‘Spirit Bear’.”
When asked what the definition of a white bear is, or if the protection order was in error, Scott said there isn’t one definition in state law about white bears. “The bear we looked at it was not a white bear.”
He said that he believed there had never been a case like this in the state.
“It’s an interesting development...” he said. “There was a concern with this type of regulation: What happens when the bear shows up and it’s not white?”
The state’s June 19 press release said the bear was taken in an area open to bear hunting, during an open bear hunting season, and that the hunter possessed the necessary license to hunt and harvest bears.
“Based on the available information, the harvest was determined to be legal and the hide and skull of the bear will be returned to the hunter,” the release concluded.

The ‘Spirit Bear’ had black on his ears, face and paws in this photo taken last summer. But the state won’t say if it was the bear killed June 5, and they have not released photos of the dead bear. Andrew Cremata

Spirit Bear gets a name

Residents and visitors to Skagway have had intimate encounters with a “Spirit Bear” along the Dyea Road for the previous two summers. The unusual coloration of the bear, which some have described as white or cream-colored, made the bear an attraction of its own for locals and tourists alike.
The disappearance of the Spirit Bear at the time a light-colored bear was shot by Thor Henricksen on his Dyea Road property, prompted members of the Skagway Traditional Council to hold a naming ceremony at the tribal building on June 18.
Lance Twitchell presided over the ceremony which attracted approximately two dozen people from the community on short notice.
Twitchell said it was as yet unclear if the bear in question was the Spirit Bear, but hoped the ceremony would help bring peace to the entire community.
Twitchell sang two ceremonial songs to start the proceedings, both based on Tlingit folklore. The second told the story of a man wrongly imprisoned who years later reenters a world which has changed to the point of being unrecognizable.
Twitchell made the comparison to the loss of the Spirit Bear, and how the lives of persons who cherished the animal would be different if it were indeed gone.
Everyone in attendance was given a chance to speak about their own personal feelings regarding the matter.
Some expressed anger toward Henricksen and how they worked through a desire for vengeance. Others wanted direct information from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game clarifying if the bear in question was the bear referred to by Skagwegians as the Spirit Bear.
Some suggested Henricksen donate the bear hide to the Traditional Council when it is returned from F&G. More than a few people said more education and enforcement was needed to prevent people from keeping items on their property which could attract bears. Many broke down in tears.
Twitchell said there was a disturbing trend of late for the dispatching of bears in Skagway, or as he put it “ancestors.”
Twitchell suggested those in attendance donate and “kill money” over a photo of the bear and offer it to Henricksen in an effort to bring peace and harmony back to Skagway.
Henricksen would then be obligated to use the money and some additional offering to make peace with a community that those in attendance felt he wronged. In a year’s time he could hold a potlatch for the entire community.
Twitchell made it clear there was still no firm evidence the bear shot by Henricksen was the Spirit Bear, but the naming of the bear could proceed.
The name given the animal is Xoon Taak Yeigi Seegi, which means “Black Bear Spirit in the North Wind.”
Twitchell closed with a song of loss and ended the proceedings.

Permit in hand: Juneau Access Road gets go-ahead from feds

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit to the Alaska Department of Transportation June 18 authorizing discharge of fill material into U.S. waters to construct the Juneau Access Improvements project.
According to a Dept. of Army press release, the permit authorizes placing up to 1.7 million cubic yards of dredged and fill material into approximately 110 acres of waters, including forested wetlands, stream channels, deep water habitat, vegetated shallows, and navigable waters in conjunction with construction of a 50.8 mile long two-lane highway.
The authorized route starts at the end of the Glacier Highway at Echo Cove and goes around Berners Bay and along the eastern coast of Lynn Canal to a point immediately north of the Katzehin River delta. Associated infrastructure includes roadway fill, roadway slope stabilization, channel work, marine roadway fill, marine rock disposal, ferry terminal and ferry breakwaters.
The permit authorizes what is identified as Alternative 2B in the permit application, which was the state’s preferred alternative. The Corps of Engineers issued the permit under its regulatory authority in Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act. During the evaluation and public interest review, the Corps considered a number of alternatives and considered the state’s application of avoidance and minimization to reduce impact to aquatic resources, pursuant to these laws, the release stated.
The issuing of the permit met mixed reaction in the region.
Dick Knapp of Citizens Pro Road in Juneau told the Juneau Empire, “We’ve been holding our breath for at least four or five months.”
However a coalition of anti-road groups who are challenging the project in court quickly issued a press release condemning the permit. The Alaska Transportation Priorities Project, Friends of Berners Bay, Lynn Canal Conservation, Skagway Marine Access Commission, and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council hammered away at the costs of the project and incomplete geotechnical data.
“The Juneau Road and ferry project, literally a ‘road to nowhere,’ has very expensive, technically-complex construction challenges,” said Lois Epstein, an engineer with the Alaska Transportation Priorities Project in Anchorage. “The state should not begin construction until the governor and the legislature have a worst-case cost estimate. DOT’s current low-ball estimate is not realistic because staff stopped the geotechnical contractor from completing its work. Governor Palin wisely expressed fiscal concerns with the project in a note to the DOT Commissioner in early May.”
As of June 22, the governor had not weighed in on the permit. The latest cost estimate for the project is $374 million, which DOT says would come mostly from federal funds, though it may take until 2020 to complete.
“The Juneau Road and ferry project is a black-hole for state money,” said Jan Wrentmore, Skagway businesswoman and head of the Skagway Marine Access Commission, a local pro-ferry organization.

Skagway prepares for world record egg toss

This year’s Fourth of July festivities will include a world record attempt.
Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue is organizing what he hopes will be a world record-breaking egg toss.
Skagway needs to beat Wrangell’s record 336 participants from 2007 to snag the record, Donahue said. He’s hoping 400-500 people take part.
That’s not too far off from last year’s Skagway toss numbers. They used 200 eggs, which is about 400 people, he said.
But last year there were also four cruise ships in port. This year there’s only one big one, he said.
“It’s going to be a return to locals kind of Fourth,” he said.
To get those locals to the toss, it’ll be held earlier in the day.
“To get more people to participate, we’re going to have the toss right after the parade,” Donahue said.
And, Donahue said, some businesses are shutting down for the event, so employees can participate. Softball tournament organizer Cindy O’Daniel made sure there were no games during the toss, and will encourage players to head downtown to toss an egg, rather than a softball, Donahue said.
Businesses and softball teams aren’t the only people being recruited. The ship on the Fourth, the Island Princess, is also promoting the event.
“They’re going to encourage crew and cruisers alike to participate if they can,” Donahue said.
An exact time isn’t set. The parade typically ends around 10:45, but Donahue doesn’t know how long it will take to set up.
Donahue and a team of volunteers will start lining people up at First and Broadway after the parade. Like every year, the Elks are supplying the eggs. Donahue said they’ve ordered three cases of eggs, which is close to 1,000 eggs.
Donahue started thinking about the toss after a January visit to Wrangell where he saw a photo of people there establishing the world record egg toss last summer.
“I chuckled to myself and thought this is something we could probably do and beat them,” Donahue said.
When he returned to Skagway, Donahue started e-mailing Guiness World Records (GWR). Over the course of eight or nine e-mails back and forth, they hammered out the details, and GWR mailed Donahue a contract to sign.
Instead, of having an official observer verify the event (at a cost of $14-20,000), Donahue said local videographer Paul Murray will hover above the egg toss in a helicopter (donated by Temsco) and film the event. Local photographer Andrew Cremata will take still photos from the sidelines. Volunteers will collect and witness signatures of every participant: each signature must be witnessed by two people who aren’t part of the attempt.
Three to five months after Donahue and his crew submit the documentation, the GWR people will let him know whether the attempt was successful, he said.
“Hopefully, around October we’ll get our little letter of congratulations from GWR saying we’re now the world record holders of the most participants in an egg toss,” Donahue said.
Donahue hopes this won’t be Skagway’s only 15 minutes of fame.
He thought it could be the first of many records for Skagway residents. Thinking and planning each summer’s attempts (up to 10, or even more, every Fourth of July) could be the town’s winter project. Eventually, in 10-12 years, they might even get acknowledged for the quantity of attempts.
One person had already approached Donahue about doing another attempt simultaneously with the egg toss.
“It sounds just as goofy as the egg toss,” he said.
The idea?
A record for the most simultaneous back flips.
“I hope this is just the beginning of (many) world record attempts,” Donahue said. “And just think. It’ll give us an excuse for a lot of great parties.”
Anyone interested in volunteering for the event should call the visitor information center at 983-2854 and talk to Buckwheat Donahue or Marlene McCluskey.

BOROUGH: Budget finalized

The assembly on June 19 passed the third and final reading of the FY09 budget, which was nearly identical to the earlier budget. The only changes were to reduce the amount set aside for a HAZMAT vehicle from $250,000 to $220,000, and designate the other $30,000 for bear proof garbage cans and Dumpster lids. The budget also included funding for the increased insurance costs (see sidebar).
A number of individuals testified about the budget, advising the assembly to consider the likelihood of lower-than-projected sales tax revenues, and an economic downturn.
Mayor Tom Cochran agreed, but said he thought the assembly had prepared for it.
Borough Manager Alan Sorum said the sales tax revenue figure of $6 million (a million more than last year) was conservative, and he thought the budget left an appropriate amount of room for unexpected costs.
"I think we'll come in right around [the projections], if anything over," he said.
The final operating budget is $4,632,060, a slight increase over what was passed during first and second readings.
The service area mill rates remain the same as last year: Area I – 8.00; Area II – 6.60; Area III – 5.28; Area IV – 3.44; Area V – 1.44.

Employee health benefits assessed, Borough may make changes in Jan.

The assembly agreed to go with the Finance Committee's recommendation to maintain current insurance coverage, but will consider altering the HRA accounts at the start of the calendar year and surveying employees to see how they would prefer to deal with rising insurance costs.
To maintain current coverage, the assembly faces a 31 percent increases in costs. About 20 percent had been budgeted for, making it effectively an 11 percent increase, Finance Chair Dan Henry said.
Despite maintaining the current level of coverage this year, the assembly said they would most likely have to make changes for the next fiscal year.
"We'll put out a notice to city staff that we have to look very seriously at the budget item for next year," said Henry.
At the committee's work session June 18 with a representative of carrier Premera Blue Cross and Blue Shield Alaska, members discussed how to deal with the increase.
The options included raising deductible to a number of different levels, restructuring the HRA accounts that reimburse employees for various out-of-pocket expenses, and switching plans.
Currently, the HRA account reimburses individuals for money paid towards their deductible, as well as for co-pays, prescriptions, and anything else not otherwise covered, said Mayor Tom Cochran.
But at the start of the calendar year, the assembly is considering limiting use to the deductible (versus covering a number of office visits), which would help mollify the effects of a deductible increase later on.
The assembly also approved a settlement with the state PERS system resolving issues with employee retirement savings during the four-month period when the municipality didn't cover employees' retirement.
The settlement reduces the period without coverage to nine days, said Borough Manager Alan Sorum.
He said they could fight for a better settlement, but it was unlikely that they would receive one as good as the one for the nine-day lapse. He also said four months wouldn't make a significant difference for employees not retiring yet, but it would have hurt those retiring immediately. Cutting that to nine days makes it minimal even for those retiring now, he said.
The assembly passed a resolution stating the job description of a recently altered fire department position. The new job description adds duties related to training and accreditation to a maintenance position, which will now be a full-time, part-time. It is currently held by Colin Aikman. – MD


HERE COMES DADDY – Skagway’s John (JT) Thomas (right) is greeted by his family during his leg of the Kluane to Chilkat Bike Relay on June 21. See story and pictures in the Bike Race Feature. Kelly Roberts

• TLINGIT SIGN FEATURE: STC dedicates interpretive signs, gives Tlingit names to relatives

• KCIBR BIKE RACE: It pays to cycle - top finishes for two local teams, one hits bad luck streak

FISH THIS!: Preserving the fighting spirit (June 27, 2008)

HEARD ON THE WIND: Tecumseh takes plunge, back alley wind, and more... (June 27, 2008)

2008 4th of July schedule - Theme: Celebrating Freedom ... on Broadway!

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