Top Derby Chinook Catch

Dusty Fredricksen caught this 31.85-pound king salmon on the first day of the Pat Moore Memorial Gamefish Derby on July 10. The catch held up through the weekend and won him a lot of cash and prizes. See complete winners list and more fish pictures in Features at bottom of this page.

Photo by Andrew Cremata


State game biologists, trooper discuss what went wrong

State changed regulation wording from 'white phase' to 'white color', still no positive identification it was the 'Skagway Spirit Bear'

Biologists with the Department of Fish and Game and the trooper involved in the investigation of the light-colored black bear shot in Skagway last month met with local residents in a public forum on July 17.
After being grilled by many in the audience, the state officials apologized that the so-called “Skagway Spirit Bear” was not protected better. They said they thought the regulation adopted by the Board of Game last fall was adequate – until the bear was shot.
Now there is concern that without a broader definition of a white-colored bear by the Board of Game, then a similar bear seen north of Juneau in Unit 1C could also be hunted legally.
There still has been no positive identification that the bear shot June 5 by Dyea Road resident Thor Henricksen was the “Spirit Bear” that was given protection at the request of the Municipality of Skagway. A team of biologists and troopers inspected the hide and compared it with photos submitted by several residents, but could not come to a conclusion, other than saying it was a light-colored cinnamon black bear. Henricksen was not at the meeting, but has said in media interviews that he thought it was a cinnamon bear, and shot it on his property because it was a possible threat to his family. He had a hunting license and the bear was taken in season. No charges were filed against him.
The fact that the “Spirit Bear” has not been seen since the shooting has many, including state officials, concluding that it was probably the bear that was intended to be protected. The Skagway News last week filed a public records request to view the photos taken by troopers of the shot bear, and then have local “Spirit Bear” observers give their opinion, since none of the state offiicals had actually seen the bear alive. The request was forwarded to the commissioner this week, but there had been no word as of press time.
At the meeting, Division of Wildlife Conservation biologists Ryan Scott and Neil Barten of Juneau-Douglas said several offiicals were involved in viewing the bear. Fish and Wildlife Trooper Rick Merritt of Haines said they looked at the hide in several lighting conditions, both inside and outside.
“Bottom line, we could not call it white,” Scott said. “It upsets a lot of people and makes a lot of people frustrated.”
Merritt agreed, saying he could not call the bear “white,” since it had multiple colors including cinnamon and black.” He added that his job was to “enforce the regulation, and the regulation said a white-colored bear.”
A photo of the bear taken on John and Barb Brodersen's property (about a mile south of Henricksen’s property) on the day it was shot was circulated. It showed a mostly off-white bear with black ears and touches of blonde, cinnamon and black on its side and hindquarters. After looking at the photo, Merritt said he could not be 100 percent, but “the photo looks different than the hide I saw.”

This photo of the “Spirit Bear” is believed to have been the last one taken before it was allegedly shot. It was taken at 11:30 a.m. on June 5, about one mile south of the Henricksen property, where a light-colored bear was killed at 4 p.m. Caylee Anne Redford, courtesy of Barb Brodersen

When asked by Mayor Tom Cochran who invited the officials to come up to Skagway, Scott said they did it on their own after it was suggested they come up. Former mayor Tim Bourcy, who helped draft the original letter of request for protection last June, said he made the call, and Scott said he volunteered.
“We could let it fester or we could talk about it,” Scott said.
Jan Wrentmore passed out Bourcy’s letter to the Board of Game, which specified protection for the “white-phase black bear” seen around Skagway since it was a cub in 2005. She said the Board of Game changed the language in the regulation to “white-colored.”
“Nothing personal, but someone in the department needs to take responsibility for failing this bear and this community,” she said.
Scott said he did not know how the wording got changed. He said the team of ADF&G biologists offered no recommendation on the request, leaving it up to the Board of Game. An emergency 120-day regulation was put into place last August, and the board adopted a permanent regulation protecting the “white colored black bear” in Unit 1D at its Southeast meeting in November.
Several times during the meeting, Barten described the situation as an “allocation issue” that could only be addressed again by the Board of Game. A big problem inherent in the issue, he said, was the question, “Is it a white bear?”, how they look in certain lighting conditions, and how they can change colors as they get older. He said they have heard that the Kermode bears in British Columbia have a broader definition, and they are checking into it.
Barten said anyone could petition the board for a change in regulation. Proposals are due Aug. 15 for consideration at the board’s Nov. 7-11 meeting in Juneau.
Several in the audience suggested the department could have done a better job identifying the bear so a hunter would not shoot it. Ginny Sorrell, who had viewed and photographed the “ghost bear” several times near her home on the Dyea Road, said the bear could have been tagged.
Barten and Scott said individual identification and protection was possible, but said some people don’t like taking photos of bears with orange tags in their ears.
They said the community also could take action by broadening the no discharge of firearms boundaries, but a few in the audience did not like that suggestion. The current boundary stops at the Dyea Road, leaving the west side okay for discharging a firearm.
Cochran said there was a broader issue with the community’s “bear problem” and that broadening protection could preserve a problem. He said there are people with children on the hillside who were concerned about the bear. “As it gets older and older, it fears less,” he said.
This drew a sharp reaction from some in the audience. “You are calling it a problem, it was not a problem,” said Nola Lamken. “This bear was very special to a lot of people and there was no consequence,” she added later.
Sorrell said the white bear always ran away when there was any noise made. She said the problem is with people who leave garbage out and attract bears. Several wondered why warning shots were not fired when the bear got near Henricksen’s daughter’s rabbit hutch and allegedly stared him down.
Tom Soucek wondered why the bear was released back to the hunter if it was a case of protecting life and property. That question drew a smattering of applause
Merritt replied, “He told me he shot it in hunting season.”
Another former mayor, Stan Selmer, said he has two grandchildren living in the Liarsville area, and said bears do not belong in town. While he said he had favored protection for the “Spirit Bear,” he said he had obtained a hunter’s license and would shoot any bear.
“Don’t diminish hunting altogether,” he said. “That’s not the answer.”
Bourcy said the public interest was not protected in this case, but wanted the state to focus on how to do better next time.
“If a bear is a nusiance and becomes a problem, get it out of here,” he said. “If it is a threat to life and property, then it can be shot.”
Keith Knorr said that whether it was or wasn’t the “Spirit Bear”, the only way it could have been protected was to dart it and take it to a zoo. “There are hunters out there who see it as a predator coming in their house,” he said.
When asked if they could have removed the bear if it became a problem, the biologists said the department does not typically capture adult bears, and shies away from tagging individual animals.
Barten said they would file a report to the Board of Game on the incident and investigate the Kermode bear regulation.
“Voice your concerns to the Board of Game, say this is what happened, and you’re mad at Fish and Game,” he said. “Ultimately it’s in the Board of Game’s lap.”
Merritt then issued an apology.
“I apologize for this bear incident,” he said. “After listening to you about the problem, there are some things that could be changed.”
He said he hoped the incident would not stop people from contacting him about fish and wildlife issues.

UPDATE: The News' request for release of the photos of the bear's hide was denied by the Dept. of Public Safety, citing that the release could constitute an "unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the suspect" and possibly "endanger the life of the suspect." We are now going through an administrative appeal process to still have the photos released, arguing that a) privacy was never an issue in this case since the suspect made public statements to print and radio media about the bear and the color of its hide, which are now published, broadcast, and posted on the worldwide web; b) admissions in Skagway by state authorities that there was a problem with the "white bear" regulation which will be brought up to the Board of Game at a public meeting in November; c) a new photo emerged of the bear on the day it was shot that state officials had not seen when they made their determination that the bear was not "white"; d) Non of the state officials in the case had seen the "Spirit Bear" alive. The News does not intend to publish the photos of this dead bear, however we feel that a team of local bear observers who have seen and photographed the "white" bear should be allowed to view the photos and see if they agree with the conclusions of the state officials. - Jeff Brady, editor

Skagway harbor subject to state, federal water quality studies from EPA ship Bold

The Environmental Protection Agency’s premier ocean survey vessel Bold is studying water quality in Skagway during its first visit to Alaska.
Bold was in the Skagway area until July 21, according to a state Department of Environmental Conservation statement.
Two different studies were conducted on the ship, said Tim Hoffman, from DEC’s Division of Water, which partnered with the EPA on the studies.
Denise Koch, manager of the DEC’s cruise ship program, said the EPA is spearheading a study looking at nutrients, while the DEC is working on a water dilution study. The two agencies split the cost, with each contributing about $100,000, said Chris Meade, a Juneau-based EPA employee. The EPA took care of the vessel costs separately, said Meade.
The dilution study looks at how treated wastewater gets diluted when it enters the harbor, Koch said. About five to seven ships were allowed to discharge their treated wastewater into the harbor while stationary, she said. Those ships were selected so that a variety of treatment systems are reflected. Their discharge contained a set concentration of a dye invisible to the naked eye.
Koch said the researchers used a fluorometer to measure the concentration of the dye in the harbor and to see how far from the ship it moved.
Ships also discharged treated wastewater into the Skagway Harbor for the nutrient study, said Koch.
Normally, ships are not allowed to discharge in the Skagway harbor because it is considered an impaired waterway from metals left in the water from previous mining operations, Koch said. But any ship with a state discharge permit is allowed to discharge for the study until July 28, she said.
State permit standards are more stringent than U.S. Coast Guard regulations, Koch said, so any vessel that meets the state’s requirements also meets the Coast Guard’s.
After a tour of the ship and briefing on the studies, Alicia Wendlandt said she wasn’t the most knowledgeable on the subjecty, but thought the studies did more good than harm. Wendlandt is the executive director of the Taiya Inlet Watershed Council.
“I think these studies really help us,” she said. “Sucks that they discharge for three weeks, but it’s good information.”
Koch said the limited amount of discharge wouldn’t hurt Skagway’s environment. Sixteen discharged during the study period.
“We don’t expect that there would be a negative impact on the environment in Skagway,” said Koch.
She said Skagway is a worst-case scenario for dilution because it is at the end of a fjord, and the current is not very strong so pollution stays in the harbor. That makes Skagway a good site for the testing, she said. If the discharge is okay in Skagway, it is probably okay elsewhere.

The Bold docked in Skagway for about three weeks while EPA and DEC researchers tested water quality, cruise ship impacts. Some of the testing apparatus on board the Bold. JB & MD

Wendlandt said she was told Skagway also had the advantage of giving good baseline data. Because ships don’t usually discharge here, the initial data is discharge-free, so researchers can see the impact of the discharge without the data being contamination by older waste.
Instead of looking at isolated ship’s discharge, the nutrient study will look at the overall impact of the discharge by investigating the ratio of nitrogen sources in seaweed before and after the discharge period, said EPA researcher Elizabeth Kim. The nutrient study will also look at the affects of nitrogen and phosphorous on phytoplankton growth, she said. Phytoplankton are microorganisms in the water said Meade.
Meade said the nutrient source arm of the study uses dried seaweed to determine where nutrients are coming from. Different sources of nitrogen have different isotopes, he said. The study will look at the ratio of those isotopes to see how much contamination comes from various sources.
Meade helped the researchers with initial seaweed collections. That seaweed will be used to develop baseline data for the study, he said. He and another researcher will charter a smaller boat to collect the affected seaweed once Bold has left Skagway.
The EPA researchers are also investigating nutrient impacts. Kim said they collected water from the middle of the harbor (including organisms normally found in the water), and mixed it with different forms and concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous. The goal is to see how the different nutrients help and hinder the growth of phytoplankton in the water, Meade said.
Although the seaweed samples have to be sent to on-shore labs for the nutrient source study, most of the impact study can be done onboard. The researchers regularly monitor the phytoplankton growth in temperature and light controlled containers.
The studies are part of ongoing monitoring for the agencies and may be used to adjust cruise ship regulations.
Eventually, Kim, who works with the EPA’s cruise ship program and prepared the report on sampling in 2004 and 2005, will produce a report summarizing their earlier findings and the researchers’ most recent ones.
Chris Meade said the use of that report would vary.
“We don’t know how information will be used until we get the results, but it’s possible that we may want to go back and revisit the existing regulations,” Meade said.
For now, he said, the EPA is focusing on the science, not the regulations.
“That’s a separate issue, a policy issue,” Meade said. “We’re basically just doing the science work right now.”
If the EPA were to update its regulations, it would be the Coast Guard that would enforce them, Koch said.
The DEC will use the data for their computer models, Koch said. Currently, the models have field data to predict what happens when a moving ship discharges treated wastewater, but the model only has computerized predictions of what will happen when the ship is stationary during the discharge, Koch said. The new data will help change or confirm the model’s predictions.
The regulations also come into play for the DEC. The legislature gets its cruise ship information from the DEC, Koch said, and the new data will help the agency give legislators accurate information about cruise ship impacts. An updated model may cause them to take another look at the regulations.
Future use of the data may be in flux, but plans for the vessel are clear.
Bold will travel down the coast to the Seattle-area to continue an ongoing study of legacy pollution in Puget Sound, and then do water quality work in Oregon, said Chief Scientist Ken Potts.
This was the vessel’s first trip to Alaska, he said. Potts is the vessel manager.
The Bold, a former navy monitoring vessel, was decommissioned in 2004 and transferred to the EPA. Potts said it has been in service since 2005.
The ship was basically an empty shell when the EPA received it, Potts said, and the EPA added wet and dry labs, a data acquisition center, and a working platform.
Koch said the DEC was excited to be able to partner with the EPA and have the Bold in Alaska.
“It’s always exciting when we have the opportunity to do science,” she said. “The Alaska public and legislature are very interested in cruise ship impacts, so it’s a great opportunity for us to go out and better answer those questions.”

Empress of the North sailing away early
When the Empress of the North sails away from Skagway in early August, it might be for good. The ship’s season was recently shortened, and the Majestic America cruise line is being sold.
The Empress will miss seven of its 21 calls in Skagway, or one-third of the season.
In a statement provided July 2, Majestic America said the Empress’ summer season was shortened because not enough people had signed on to cruise this summer.
Spokesperson Vanessa Bloy would not say if the problem was ongoing, or just with advance bookings for the latter part of the summer. The supplement released by the Skagway Convention and Visitorís Bureau said the shipís capacity was 231, but Bloy said she could not release any numbers on the summer bookings.
White Pass representative Cynthia Tronrud had the numbers on how many passengers have come to Skagway on the Empress.
So far this season, there have been 630 passengers, she said. Thatís an average of 70 passengers onboard for each of the nine visits the ship has made to Skagway, a drop from 2007.
In 2007, the Empress made 11 calls to Skagway, with about 199 passengers on each voyage. The season total was 2589 passengers; 387 of them traveled on the two voyages completed by this time last year, said Tronrud.
If full, it would have carried 4,851 passengers on 21 voyages this season.
Displaced passengers were given the option of switching to a voyage earlier in the season at a 50 percent discount, or getting a full refund. The Empress has five voyages left in its shortened season.
Fares published online for the Empress’ seven-night roundtrip voyage out of Juneau start at $2,199 regularly, and are on sale for $1,999.
The Empress will not continue on its regular fall schedule on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The American Queen is also ending its season early on the Mississippi. Other Majestic ships will operate through the end of the 2008 season.
As for 2009, Bloy said Ambassadors International was in the process of selling the Majestic America company and assets.
“Ambassadors International has announced its plan to sell Majestic,” she said. “At this time we are carrying out the 2008 season.”
Bloy could not release the names of any potential buyers, but said Ambassador had several credible parties interested in some or all of the company’s assests. – MD

WP&YR sets new daily ridership record

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad announced that it carried 6,968 passengers on Wednesday, July 16 setting a new daily ridership record.
Gary C. Danielson, president of the WP&YR, stated in a press release that, “We are very encouraged by this new record as we are operating under challenging market conditions due to economic uncertainty. After achieving five consecutive record years, it’s hard for us to know that 2008 isn’t going to be another record year.”
“Wednesdays are the biggest day of the week in Skagway and our ridership record reflects the value of our brand and the cumulative efforts of all of our people. Visitors have become increasingly cost-conscious and we are honored that they continue to make a White Pass excursion a part of their Skagway experience,” Danielson added.
The Carcross service has shown good growth in volumes after last year’s short but challenging season due to high water levels. Holland America volumes are strong and the service is now sold by two other cruise lines and several independent operators as day-trips.
“We are at the midway point of our season and I’m confident that we’ll break the 7,000 passenger mark this year yet!” Danielson remarked.
The WP&YR, built during the 1898 gold rush, is North America’s busiest tourist railroad, carrying 461,388 passengers in 2007.

UPDATE: Danielson was right on. On July 23, the WP&YR broke the record again and hit 7,009 passengers.

For now, no shuttle to Gold Rush Cemetery

The number of tourists requesting to go to Gold Rush Cemetery is in for the first two months of the season, but the municipality is not ready to make a move toward a cemetery shuttle service.
The survey was conducted at the request of the Skagway Borough Assembly.
Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said 60 people asked about public transportation to the cemetery in May and June, with another 134 wanting to walk there, and 32 looking for a tour.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau staff told people their options for transportation to the cemetery: buying a tour or walking – when they inquired about things to do in Skagway, so the numbers might not represent every individual interested in going, Donahue said.
Stuart Brown, the SMART bus operator, said the CVB isnít the only place tourists go looking for a ride to the historic cemetery. Each of seven shuttle buses gets about a dozen requests a day to go the cemetery, he said. But they currently only go as far as 22nd Avenue, leaving passengers with a half-mile walk. Most tourists opt not to visit the cemetery because of that walk, he added.
This spring, when the borough considered the stop at Brownís and Klondike Gold Dredge owner Tom Hall's request, private tour operators didn't want competition from the SMART shuttle. Hall also wanted service out to his dredge and Jewell Gardens across the river.
After his attempt at running a private tour bus to the cemetery and dredge did not pan out, Hall said he would be happy to see the borough do the route. Hall ran his service for a couple weeks in June, but didnít have enough passengers to continue. He planned to try again in August, but thought the borough would be better off doing it on their own with SMART.
"I'm still interested in them doing it," Hall said."When I talked to them originally, they thought it would work," he said.
Hall's trip included a tour of the cemetery and dredge, and transportation, for $10.
Brown planned to pursue the stop but said he would probably wait until the winter to bring it up again.
"We're going to keep pressing it," he said. "We get so many requests. People want to go out there."
Donahue said he and CVB staff tracked the numbers for the first half of the season and e-mailed them to the borough July 17.
Brown added that upcoming cemetery improvements will make the park safer and more accessible, which will increase the demand for transportation to the site.
The borough recently completed the design for the improvements, and the project is currently out to bid. A pre-proposal conference was held July 24, and those contractors present have until July 31 to submit bids. A contract could be awarded at the next assembly meeting on Aug. 7. – MD

Ore ship Bludance began loading at the Skagway Ore Terminal on a Friday when just one large cruise ship was in port. JB

First ore ship of summer serviced by MSI

Mineral Services Inc. is back operating the Skagway Ore Terminal after an absence of 10 years. The company won a bid in April to take over the reconstructed terminal.
Up until then, the first four copper ore ships had been loaded last fall and winter by Hamilton Construction. Hamilton had the contract with terminal owner Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority for rebuilding the storage facility and constructing a new truck-dumping station.
MSI owner David Hunz said the owner of the Mayo Mine, Sherwood Copper, decided to bid out the terminal operations last spring, and MSI got it back.
Hunz said they loaded 10,500 metric tons on the ship Bludance last weekend with a crew of four working per shift.
The ship arrived at midnight on July 18 and was loaded and gone in 36 hours, Hunz said. "Everything went good."
MSI last worked at the terminal in 1998 when Anvil Range operated the now-closed Faro lead-zinc mine. The terminal reopened last July. – JEFF BRADY


LOW LEVEL, HIGH STAKES – The 2008 WHISKY Cup was decided at this meeting of the captains back of the 18th green at Mountain View Golf Club in Whitehorse. See who won the cup, what Skagway team took first at Dust Ball, and other sports and rec. news in features below. Photo by Jeff Brady

• FISH DERBY: 31-pounder takes the prize over one weekend

• SPORTS & REC.: WP women take B title at Dust Ball; WHISKY Cup heads north; Roller night

• JULY OBITUARIES: Alice Selmer, Mae Heidelberger, Tom Caposey

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