Invasive elodea leads to Alexander Lake shutdown

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed sportfishing on Alexander Lake with the goal of controlling the spread of elodea.  Mat-Su Valley residents and state agencies are trying to gather enough support to stop an invasive water weed in the area before it’s too late. Elodea, an aggressive aquatic plant, has made itself at home in several large lakes in the Susitna River drainage. When it was first detected in Alexander Lake in 2014, it only covered about 20 acres; by this year, it had increased to 90 percent of the lake’s area. Nearby Sucker Lake is in a similar state. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed Alexander and Sucker lakes to all sportfishing this summer, specifically targeting controlling the spread of elodea. The plant often hitches rides on boat propellers, in bilgewater and on floatplane floats. Kristine Dunker, who manages the invasive species program for ADFG, said she didn’t expect the closure this summer to impact the invasive northern pike population in the lake much because it will open again in the winter, when people frequently fish for them there. ADFG encourages people to harvest as many northern pike as they can, which can devastate salmon populations in lakes. While elodea is just a plant, it’s more than an innocent bystander. When it’s invasive, it can grow so thick as to make lake water anoxic. Salmon can have a hard time navigating a deeply forested lake to find food as juveniles or spawning areas as adults, and other fish can be flat out strangled in the lakes for lack of oxygen. What’s more, it can spread by fragmentation — only a small piece has to be introduced to good habitat for the plant to flourish. It can survive under ice, and does well in slow-moving, shallow water. “It’s really gotten bad in the Mat-Su,” said Mike Wood, the president of the Susitna River Coalition, a conservation group focused on protecting Susitna River fish habitat. The Susitna River Coalition is among the participants in a task force aimed at eradicating elodea from the Mat-Su Valley. Led by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the group includes ADFG, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Tyonek Tribal Conservation District and a number of landowners. The main point is not the direct threat to fish at present, but the potential for elodea to move out of those two lakes and affect the rest of the system, said Dan Coleman, a natural resource specialist with DNR’s Alaska Plant Materials Center. Coleman said he thought the chances of keeping elodea out of the rest of the Mat-Su were “very good” if the project successfully eradicates the weed in Alexander and Sucker lakes. “These are just source populations sitting out there right now,” he said. “The sooner we get going on this project … the better.” With the current prescriptions needed to kill the elodea, DNR estimates the cost at $850,000 for the first year for both lakes — and that’s just for the herbicide. Some organizations have already committed funding, including the Mat-Su Salmon Habitat Partnership and the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission, but it’s not enough to carry the project through. The group is looking for federal and state grants to support the eradication program, said Nicole Swenson, the conservation director for the Tyonek Tribal Conservation District and coordinator of the elodea task force. The local funding they’re looking for would serve as match funds to access federal grants, she said. The sticker price may look high, but the price to eradicate it in the future would be much higher, she said. “This project is getting close to a million (dollars) per year based on the predictions,” she said. “And the state is hurting, as we all know, for money, and we were just chasing grants and putting it all together. We’re piecemealing it together — when it takes a million dollars a year to get it done, (it’s difficult).” Alexander Lake is complicated, with multiple streams feeding into it, multiple outlets and a system of wetlands around it. The strategy the group would use would include releasing two herbicides — diquat and fluoridone — into the lakes and maintaining high enough concentrations for long enough to kill the elodea. Alexander Lake in particular has high water turnover — all the water in the lake is flushed out within 10 days, Coleman said. Seeking additional funding, Wood said the Susitna River Coalition approached Donlin Gold for help. Donlin, which is working to obtain permits for a proposed gold mine in Southwestern Alaska, has proposed a pipeline to run through the Mat-Su Valley to Cook Inlet for natural gas to power the operations. However Donlin’s community projects committee did not receive the request with enough time, and the requested amount — $700,000, according to the company — was too much for the budget, according to external affairs manager Kristina Woolston. The company only had a few days to respond, and when the Susitna River Coalition reduced its request to about $172,000, Donlin’s community investment committee did not have enough time to adequately consider engaging in a project of that size. “We would consider working with Fish and Game, sport fish groups, industry and other local entities to solve the problem, not just treat the symptoms,” Woolston wrote in an email. Melissa Heuer, the executive director of the Susitna River Coalition, said the group saw the project as a way for Donlin to contribute to a conservation area near the pipeline corridor, which will be impacting wetlands in the construction process. Donlin has agreed to conditions set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do 4.5 acres of wetlands mitigation in the Mat-Su Borough in connection with its project, in addition to wetland conservation projects in the Calista region and in Cook Inlet. “Where things could actually make a difference, I don’t think this was a time for (Donlin),” she said. “Hopefully they’ll come through in the future. I think they still would be a good partner, and people would appreciate seeing a company step up.” The Mat-Su is far from the only place with elodea infestations in Alaska. The plant was first discovered in Eyak Lake near Cordova in the 1980s, thought to have been introduced from someone dumping an aquarium in the lake. Since then, it has spread to Chena Slough near Fairbanks, Lake Hood in Anchorage and several lakes on the Kenai Peninsula, among other locations. Residents say they think the elodea in Alexander Lake was likely introduced there by floatplanes arriving to fish in the lake. There haven’t been any definitive documented cases of elodea infestations negatively impacting salmon runs in Alaska yet, but that may be due to a lack of data, Swenson said. It would have been great to address the elodea a few years ago when it first surfaced, but time is of the essence now, Heuer said. “I think if we could have done it two or three years ago, that would have been great,” she said. “I think we’re really just reaching a key time that we still have an opportunity to stop it before it gets out of control. If we don’t stop it now, it’s just going to grow exponentially. Once it moves out of these water bodies and into the rest of the Mat-Su, it’s going to be almost impossible.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Narrative of fear doesn’t need facts to win

Alaskans know that the future of our state depends on our ability to responsibly extract natural resources. Perhaps more certainly than citizens of any other state, we understand how our economy and livelihood depends on whether we are allowed to utilize our own land as we please, without interference from the Lower 48. That’s why recent attempts from some politicians in Washington to limit the rights of Alaskans are so counterproductive. Just last week, Former Vice President Joe Biden rolled out an energy plan that included a ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic. Senators and representatives from states like Rhode Island and Maine – Republicans included – have rolled out legislation to do the same. Recent history suggests that every major development in Alaska will be “controversial” going forward. The proposal to expand Alaska’s economy by permitting responsible development in ANWR is just one example. Yet there is nothing wrong with that word; it simply means there are strong opinions on both sides. But “controversy” isn’t a reason to stop progress. Here’s why: Every major development will be met by a narrative of fear perpetrated by its opponents, often environmental activist groups. Stoking fear is the easy way to try and halt development. It doesn’t rely on winning the facts or making the best case – it’s all about denigrating opponents and being the loudest voice in the room. The funny thing that typically accompanies these fear-inducing declarations? They’re nearly always ended with a plea for campaign donations. Environmental activists do this because it works. Fear-mongering produces a fortune for the groups who use them. In Alaska, we’ve seen these narratives since before I was born. In 1968, with the plan to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System underway, eco-groups wrongly predicted the end of caribou herds and the destruction of the pipeline due to earthquake activity, and the demise of Alaska Native cultures. Check your watch – it has been 51 years, and none of those have happened. You may look at those predictions now and see them as absurd, but many believed them in the moment. After all, those statements preyed on many peoples’ fears. Eco-groups are using the same tactics today, but with even larger platforms on social media, e-mail blasts and online-organized activist rallies. They use these tactics to stifle development, often by trying to halt the already-long permitting process that accompanies major projects. There are rules for approving resource projects. Lots of requirements. Lots of time for the public to weigh in. The rules tell you the terms and how to prepare. For mines, there is a book printed by the Environmental Protection Agency, titled EPA and Hardrock Mining: A Source Book for Industry in the Northwest and Alaska. This book outlines the requirements for pursuing approval for mining projects, and knowing the information in the book is critical to the prospect of having any mining opportunities in our state. It simply costs too much money and time to enter a project without a clear understanding of the requirements. For those willing to undertake the process, years and several million dollars (at a minimum) of scientific and technical work will be required. Impact studies must be done, branches of the federal government must approve, and the public has plentiful opportunities to comment. All this must be done while fending off the alarmists hard at work on their narrative of fear. As Alaska’s future resource opportunities develop, here’s hoping that the activist groups who speak factually-inaccurate, emotionally-charged fear in hopes of dimming Alaska’s bright future are seen for what they are. If fear is given credence over fact, Alaska will lose out on significant opportunities. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power the Future, a nonprofit advocacy group focused on energy and resource development.

B2B meetings give Alaska producers international exposure

Canadian food brokers and marketers recently gave a handful of Alaska startups a taste of what it would take to go international with their products in a first of its kind trade mission. Lyndsey Smith, a marketing coordinator with the state Division of Agriculture who helped organize the business-to-business meetings, said the goal of state officials is simply to help retail-ready Alaska food products gain exposure in a new market. “We are helping build relationships for local Alaska and Made in Alaska businesses to be able to strengthen a secondary market,” Smith said. The initial round of speed-dating style introductions took place the mornings of June 13-14 at the Grand View Inn in Wasilla. Brokers and marketers from across Canada discussed products, market opportunities and challenges with representatives from five Alaska brands in a series of half-hour, one-on-one meetings. The seven-member Canadian contingent then spent the afternoons touring retailers and farms in Anchorage and the Mat-Su area. Pola Schacter Ley of Vancouver said she came to the meetings with the hope of finding natural food products made from as many local ingredients as possible — and she found what she was looking for. “We’re really focused on plant-based; we’re really focused on vegan, clean ingredients and simple and traditional,” said Schacter Ley. She is not opposed to working with meat or protein-based products; however, they require adhering to a much more complex set of regulations when being sent across the border, she noted. A chef by trade, Schacter Ley said she enjoys working with food producers to find ways to tweak or add value to their products or develop new recipes with them. “I’m open to innovative ideas, always,” she said. Schacter Ley and her husband work with a variety of retailers from large “banner” stores to independent grocers, convenience chains and food service providers. The size of the producer company doesn’t matter as much as its backing, she said. Companies need to be on a positive trajectory and have substantial support to enter a new market. “If the company is small and they can’t supply, let’s say a large banner store, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to work with them. We circle around them with independents,” Schacter Ley said, adding that niche products are often a better in smaller retailers willing to try new products. Selling into large chains also comes with listing fees and other costs smaller stores don’t require, she noted. The meetings were set up through Alaska’s membership in the Western United States Agriculture Trade Association, which helped link the Canadian buyers and marketers with the nine Alaska companies looking to grow. “We are excited to offer these meetings to encourage innovative strategies to expand opportunities for Alaska’s agricultural businesses,” Agriculture Division Director David Schade said. “Leveraging our partnership with WUSATA to help agribusinesses find new markets, including international markets, is one of the many important services we provide to private-sector businesses.” Similar meetings are in the works for August to highlight the state’s booming peony and cut-flower industry. Schacter Ley recommended that the Alaska startups trying to enter a new market such as Canada find additional ways to get their products in front of more sellers, such as committing to trade shows and using social media campaigns. “Nowadays you can’t just work with a store. It takes a lot more,” she said. The trade mission didn’t come with a big set of expectations, either. Schacter Ley said she was happy providing advice and perspective from another market for the Alaska companies and making a single connection during the meetings would make the whole trip a success. She and other brokers from New Brunswick and Alberta said they believe Alaska-sourced products have a similar draw in Canada as they do elsewhere, despite the fact that the country and state share many features. “Vancouver loves Alaska,” Schacter Ley said. “It’s got that raw, rugged beauty and I think B.C. has a bit of that same vibe.” Angele Miller, with Edmonton, Alberta-based Abundant By Design Inc., said she believes many Canadian consumers are comfortable with the slightly higher price point that often comes with Alaska-sourced foods because Alaska is seen as “mysterious” and “pure and clean.” “I think people will pay more for Alaska products than if it came from (the Lower 48),” Miller said. Both Miller and Schacter Ley were impressed by Heather’s Choice, an Anchorage-based dehydrated food startup — think backpacking meals with Alaska ingredients. Sales representative Zach Menzel said all of the eight Heather’s Choice breakfast and general meal options are hypoallergenic; they’re free of gluten, dairy, soy and corn. The meals are based on Prince William Sound sockeye, grass-fed bison from Delta Junction and other Alaska-grown foods. The dehydrated meals have a shorter shelf life than traditional freeze-dried camp foods, “but higher quality ingredients — things a five-year-old could pronounce,” Menzel described. “There’s no preservatives, no artificial ingredients, no flavoring agents, nothing like that. Everything is just whole food dehydrated in our kitchen in Anchorage.” Heather’s Choice products are in about 20 Western states and several Alaska outdoor retailers, despite the company being just five years old, according to Menzel. “We’re just trying to aggressively grow this thing,” he said. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

MSA reauthorization still stalled with 2018 House bill expired

More than a decade has passed since the last reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act was signed into law, but the latest effort has stalled in Congress. The act, originally passed in 1974, is the nation’s landmark legislation on federal fisheries policy. In the intervening years, Congress has passed a number of reauthorizations, most recently in 2006, tweaking language and adding provisions. The House passed HR 200, sponsored by Rep. Don Young, in July 2018. However, it never progressed through the Senate and thus expired at the end of the 115th Congress. Young’s bill included a number of new provisions — most notably, changing the word “overfished” throughout the bill to “depleted” — and allowing regional fishery management councils consider economic impacts to communities when determining catch limits. One of the reasons Young decided to include changing the word “overfished” to “depleted” was to recognize non-fishing impacts on stock abundance, said Zack Brown, Young’s press secretary. “The term ‘overfish’ implies that our commercial fishing industry alone has the potential to impact fish stocks and the overall health of our marine ecosystems,” Brown wrote in an email. “’Depleted’ is a far more comprehensive term that takes a broader and more evidence-based assessment of the risks to marine life.” The language change applies in a situation like the St. Matthew’s Island blue king crab stock. The stock hasn’t been fished since the 2016-17 season because of low abundance, and only four years overall since 1999, but was declared overfished in October 2018 because the estimated biomass was below the minimum stock size threshold specified for the crab fishery management plan. A protected area was established in 2008 and expanded in 2010 to include blue king crab habitat. The MSA requires a stock rebuilding plan to be established for overfished stocks, and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted a purpose and need statement for the rebuilding plan at its June meeting in Sitka. But it’s not just fishing affecting the stock. Stock projections show recruitment in the St. Matthew’s blue king crab stock falling since the mid-1990s. Fishing and bycatch have played roles in the fishery’s decline, but fisheries have been restricted or closed off and on since 1999, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Environmental factors on the populations may be at play impacting the stock, according to a report to the council. Young wanted the language to reflect threats to stocks beyond just fishing pressure, Brown said. “While using the term ‘depleted’ still allows for oversight of fishermen, it also encompasses other potential threats such as predation and ocean acidification,” he said. Young’s bill would have also granted more flexibility to councils in crafting rebuilding plans to account for species’ lifecycles. The current MSA requires stocks to be rebuilt within 10 years of being declared overfished, which may not be possible for certain species. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council agreed with allowing for the term “depleted” to be used in the act to account for cases like the St. Matthew’s blue king crab, but didn’t agree with the proposed change of including economic impact to communities in the determination of catch limits, according to a February 2019 letter to Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. The letter, signed by council chairman Simon Kinneen, noted that the measure would tilt the development of harvests away from their scientific basis. The council would have two choices: ask the Scientific and Statistical Committee to consider social and economic consequence, driving it away from science, or close fisheries early before the total allowable catch has been reached, according to the letter. “Incorporating social and economic factors into the determination of annual catch limits as proposed in the draft will severely impact the conservation and management of resources in the North Pacific by increasing scientific and management uncertainty and reducing public transparency and participation in the decision-making process,” Kinneen wrote. “From our perspective, this may be a cure in search of a problem.” Though HR 200 expired with the last Congress, some elements made it into law as a separate bill: the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018, or Modern Fish Act. The rest of the provisions will have to start from scratch back in the House, likely with some edits, Sullivan noted in an email. “With the changeover in the House leadership, I expect the Democratic majority will have their own priorities and will want to advance their own legislation on this, and other topics,” he wrote. Sullivan agreed with the inclusion of the language change from “overfished” to “depleted,” noting the North Pacific council’s support. He said that while on the whole the MSA has resulted in Alaska’s fisheries dominating the nation, eliminated foreign fishing off Alaska’s coasts and kept stocks from being overfished like those in other regions, there is room for reconsideration as time goes on. “While I think it’s always healthy to reexamine and update our laws as a matter of course—particularly as technology and science evolve—I have heard from Alaska’s fishermen that my role as a steward of the MSA should largely be that of a doctor practicing the mantra of ‘First, do no harm,’” he wrote. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Alaska senators gain support on transboundary mining issues

Senators from the Western U.S. are joining the Alaska congressional delegation to press the issue of Canadian mining practices in transboundary watersheds . The bipartisan group of six senators — Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Patty Murray, D-Wash. — sent a letter along with Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan June 13 to British Columbia Premier John Horgan highlighting the steps states and the federal government have taken to monitor transboundary rivers and what they want provincial officials to do in return. They were compelled to send the correspondence because there weren’t enough delegates to the International Joint Commission from either country to hold its biannual meeting in April, according to the letter. IJC spokeswoman Sally Cole-Misch said it took roughly a year for President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the commission to be confirmed by the Senate and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed three new Canadian commissioners as soon as the terms of those appointed by his predecessor were completed. The panel of six new IJC commissioners was sworn in May 17. The Boundary Waters Treaty with Canada established the IJC in 1909 specifically to settle disputes over watersheds that cross or comprise the international border. For years, members of the Alaska congressional delegation have been asking provincial leaders, and domestically, State Department officials, to address potential water quality problems from large hard rock mines at the upper reaches of transboundary watersheds in British Columbia; this is the first time senators from other border states have formally joined them. In the Lower 48, transboundary concerns have centered on Canadian coal mines. While numerous Alaska environmental, commercial fishing and Alaska Native groups have called for IJC involvement to provide further protection for Alaska salmon fisheries downstream from mining activity, the commission can only be spurred by a formal call from either the State Department or Canada’s Global Affairs Department. Attempts by the Alaska delegation to get former Secretary of State John Kerry to review Alaska’s concerns regarding Canadian mining activity in transboundary watersheds largely proved unfruitful. Concerns over the British Columbia mine permitting process were heightened after the 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings dam failure. The Mount Polley copper and gold mine is in the upper reaches of the large Fraser River watershed, a major salmon producer for Canada and the U.S. A British Columbia auditor general report concluded the Mount Polley dam breach was the result of inadequate engineering and poor oversight from regulators. The senators’ letter notes that the departments of State, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency set up a joint working group to determine what could be done to safeguard U.S. economic interests related to the commercial fisheries and tourism enterprises that could be compromised by the impacts from upstream mines. Congress last year approved $1.8 million for Interior Department agencies to spend on improved downstream water quality monitoring systems in transboundary rivers. “While we appreciate Canada’s engagement to date, we remain concerned about the lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers that originate in B.C. and flow into our four U.S. states,” the senators wrote to Premier Horgan. “To address these concerns, we have taken steps in partnership with our federal and state governments to improve water quality monitoring and push for constructive engagement with Canada. “In sharing an update on our efforts, we hope to encourage you, in your role as Premier, to allocate similar attention, engagement, and resources to collaborative management of our shared transboundary watersheds.” Alaska Tribes and conservation groups insist a host of mines proposed in the Canadian portions of large salmon-bearing transboundary rivers that flow into Southeast Alaska, such as the Stikine and Unuk, could degrade water quality and endanger those fisheries. They also contend Canadian bonding requirements for mining companies are inadequate. “This is a multi-state, international problem for which we need a multi-state, international solution,” United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach wrote in a formal statement following the release of the senators’ letter. “Right now B.C.’s massive open-pit mines and waste dumps put some of Alaska and B.C.’s most important salmon rivers, and the fishing jobs that rely on them, at risk. Alaska fishermen and the thousands of people across the world who enjoy wild salmon expect and deserve better from B.C regulators.” Former British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said in a prior interview with the Journal that the provincial and federal Canadian governments have environmental protection requirements for mines on par with the U.S. and Alaskans’ concerns come from a lack of adequate communication between the governments on the issue. Bennett is now a director for the British Columbia-based mining exploration firm Eagle Plains Resources Ltd. The Alaska delegation specifically has asked provincial environmental regulators to provide State of Alaska officials, tribes and Alaska Native corporations a formal consultation process during mine permit reviews. In November 2015 former Gov. Bill Walker and then British Columbia Premier Christy Clark signed a memorandum of understanding to create a transboundary Bilateral Working Group to facilitate the exchange of best practices, marine safety, workforce development, transportation links and joint visitor industry promotion. Bennett said at the time that the MOU represented a significant change in how the state and province interact. Last November British Columbia mine regulators began the process of seeking firms to clean up acid rock leakage from the Tulsequah Chief mine in the Taku River drainage east of Juneau. State officials contend the multi-metal mine that operated for just six years has been leaking acid wastewater into the Tulsequah River, which feeds the Taku, since it was closed in 1957. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Report: US needs more domestic sources for critical minerals

Filling the country’s domestic deficit of numerous minerals and metals has been a priority of the Trump administration, which on June 4 released a plan for addressing what it considers to be a national security issue. The Commerce Department report, entitled, “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals” lays out the ways in which the administration believes the U.S. can improve domestic control over 31 of the 35 often hard to pronounce minerals designated as “critical” in a May 2018 Interior Department report. Interior’s critical minerals list notes that the country imports more than 50 percent of its supply of 31 minerals and relies completely on outside sources for 14 of those, including graphite and many minerals that are essential for modern energy storage and advanced technologies. For several years, the U.S. imported all of its rare earth elements — used in very small quantities in many electronic devices from smartphones to components for fighter jets — until the Mountain Pass rare earths mine in southern California reopened last year. The Interior Department also highlights the fact that China is the country’s primary source for many of the minerals it imports, which provides leverage to a government the administration is now at odds with over trade issues. The reports were compiled following a December 2017 Executive Order signed by President Donald Trump directing the Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy and Interior departments to prioritize addressing the nation’s critical mineral situation. Among the priorities in the critical minerals strategy is a push for federal agencies to thoroughly assess the country’s resources for the various imported minerals and for specifically the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to reform their land-use planning methods to protect access to those resources. BLM oversees 245 million acres of federal land — about 10 percent of the country — and subsurface mineral rights to roughly 700 million acres. According to the bureau, BLM-controlled lands hold approximately 30 percent of the nation’s minerals. The Forest Service manages nearly 193 million acres. The report states that many mineral deposits cannot be developed because of existing land withdrawals, reservations or other land-use restrictions. It notes that those designations can serve useful purposes for everything from wildlife protection to military use, but recommends the Forest Service and BLM coordinate with the U.S. Geological Survey along with state and Tribal governments and mining industry representatives to evaluate areas with use restrictions for mineral resources. “Any (mineral resource) analysis performed should quantify and qualify the economic and national security implications of: reducing the size of an existing withdrawal, reducing the area affected by a land-use designation, changing planning allocations, or revoking an existing withdrawal,” the report states. It further emphasizes a desire to prioritize reviews of withdrawn areas based on the potential for discoveries of critical minerals. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she welcomed the strategy report in a statement from her office. “(The report) provides clear direction on how to reduce our reliance on foreign minerals and thereby strengthen our economy and national security. I urge the administration to swiftly implement its recommendations, especially those that encourage domestic mineral production and continued research into processing technologies, and will continue my work to compliment these efforts with new legislative authorities,” she said. In May, Murkowski co-sponsored the American Mineral Security Act along with Sen. Dan Sullivan, which, among other things, would require the Interior Department to update a list of critical minerals every three years. The Mineral Security Act would also mandate nationwide assessments for the availability of each mineral on the critical list as well as direct Interior and Forest Service mineral project permitting reforms aimed at reducing the time to reach permit decisions and authorize research for critical mineral recycling or replacement materials. While many policymakers and national security experts regularly raise concerns about the United States’ reliance on China for many of the minerals the country imports — such as graphite, rare earths, bismuth, barite and others — the strategy recommends strengthening trade ties with current geopolitical partners and allied countries that could be preferable sources for some minerals. Bokan rare earths Alaska is rich in many minerals and a deposit near the southern tip of the state has the potential to be a significant domestic source of rare earth elements. The Bokan Mountain rare earth underground mine prospect near tidewater on southern Prince of Wales Island holds more than 4.7 million metric tons of indicated rare earth ore, according to a 2015 resource assessment by Nova Scotia-based Ucore Rare Metals Inc., the company working on the project. That translates to approximately 63.5 million pounds of collective rare earth metals. However, Ucore has shifted its attention away from advancing the mine since 2015 following a drastic fall in global rare earth prices. Instead, the company has focused on developing a small mineral processing facility in nearby Ketchikan by late 2020. Ucore leaders have discussed the prospect of financing at least part of the estimated $25 million strategic minerals complex through the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. The Alaska Legislature in 2014 authorized AIDEA to issue up to $145 million in bonds to help finance the Bokan mine project, which the company estimated in 2013 would cost $221 million to develop. Ucore CEO Jim McKenzie said recent U.S.-China trade tensions have highlighted the importance of addressing domestic mineral supply issues and have recently boosted prices particularly for heavy rare earth elements. There are 17 minerals defined as rare earth elements, but “heavy” rare earths — such as europium, terbium, and ytterbium with a greater atomic weight — are the most sought after and are used in products that rely on high-temperature magnets. More common lighter rare earths are used in a plethora of applications including LED displays. Heavy rare earths account for roughly 40 percent of the mineralization at Bokan, according to Ucore. “The Bokan deposit is unique in the U.S., with its unusual skew towards these valuable (heavy rare earth elements). Bokan is also unique in its ease of access, its limited projected development cost, and its significant financial backing by the State of Alaska,” McKenzie said in a formal statement. “We applaud the Trump administration for identifying these critical resources and streamlining their route to production.” Ucore officials declined to comment on the progress of the Ketchikan processing facility because of Utah and Nova Scotia court battles the company is in with Utah-based IBC Advanced Technologies, a metal processing technology company Ucore had entered into a joint-venture agreement with. The companies are now in litigation over that agreement. Ucore Vice President Randy MacGillivray did write via email that the company completed drilling and resource assessment work in 2014 and is satisfied with the results of the 2013 preliminary economic assessment of the Bokan project. Once Ucore officials decide to move ahead with the mine, they expect it will require two-plus years of permitting before construction can begin, according to MacGillivray. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for June 23

Alaska USA Federal Credit Union hired Tim Woolston as its new senior vice president of marketing. Woolston joins the credit union with more than 30 years of experience in the marketing, advertising and communications industries. His previous experience includes president and owner of a marketing and public relations firm, corporate communications director, and as managing editor and anchor for Channel 2 News in Anchorage. Woolston will oversee Alaska USA’s marketing and member engagement strategies, including research and analysis, brand oversight, product and service marketing, and membership growth. Keith Champagne will take on a new role as leader of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks athletics program. Champagne, who currently serves as vice chancellor for student affairs, will assume the duties of athletics director, as well as continue to serve as the leader of UAF’s student affairs division. He will take over for Sterling Steward, who stepped down June 11. In his new role, Champagne plans to focus more on fundraising, marketing and community engagement. Champagne has a bachelor’s degree in communications public relations from Loyola University, a master’s degree in communications, training and development from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Washington. His doctoral work focused on intercollegiate athletics leadership and sports management. Prior to joining the leadership team at UAF, he served in a variety of athletics and student services leadership positions at Central Washington University, including chief diversity officer for intercollegiate athletics and interim athletics director. He is a graduate of the Sports Management Institute and a member of the Sports Lawyers Association. Karlin Itchoak has joined The Wilderness Society as Alaska state director and will be expanding his role as a spokesperson for our organization. Karlin has undergraduate degrees in Alaska Native studies and political science from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a law degree from Gonzaga University. He most recently worked for the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Native Corp. as chief administrative and legal officer. His other professional experience includes directing Alaska rural and indigenous programs at the Institute of the North; helping run the gubernatorial campaign of Ethan Berkowitz; clerking for Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexander O. Bryner, producing economic development plans for the Bering Strait region while serving for the nonprofit Native corporation Kawerak Inc.; and co-founding a consulting company focused on Arctic business relations, partnerships, and diplomacy. Karlin has served as elected president of the Nome Eskimo community Tribal council. He is currently on the boards of the Alaska Center and Alaska Institute for Justice. He teaches a segment of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to federal, state and Tribal employees. Rasmuson Foundation President and CEO Diane Kaplan has received a prestigious national leadership award from Grantmakers in Health, a nonprofit that helps funders work to improve health of all people. The Terrance Keenan Leadership Award in Health Philanthropy, named after an executive who led the field for more than four decades, was presented to Kaplan June 13 in Seattle. Kaplan became the Foundation’s first employee in 1995 and since 2001 has served as president and CEO. Rasmuson Foundation last year launched an initiative to target homelessness in part through new partnerships for housing and supports designed for individuals who have been on the street. On the issue of alcohol, the foundation convened leaders in 2009 to work on how to address a problem so big. The result was Recover Alaska, which aims to reduce alcohol’s harm through public health messaging, policy changes and a shift in social norms around drinking. In 2000, the foundation worked with Tribal health partners to establish a groundbreaking dental health aide therapist program, which sends trained therapists to rural communities to provide a variety of oral health services. She currently serves on the boards of the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics, The Alaska Community Foundation, and United States Artists. Channel 2, KTUU-TV was honored with three regional Emmys, including the most prestigious award for Overall Excellence at the NATAS Northwest Regional Emmy Awards in Seattle. The category is a year-long review of the entire station and its contributions to the community. Nominees included stations serving coverage areas with a higher population than the entire state of Alaska, such as Portland and Seattle. In 2018, that meant delivering immediate coverage online following the magnitude 7.1 earthquake, and bringing television viewers some of the first aerials of the damage. A KTUU News team embedded with the military in Afghanistan to deliver a series of special reports titled Operation Afghanistan. KTUU also traveled to China for a series examining the trade relationships and economic impact between the two regions. The station’s commitment to covering Alaska includes travel throughout the state and a bureau in Juneau during the legislative sessions. While more than 22 hours of news coverage each week, KTUU is built on providing a community service. From volunteer work to participating in fundraisers for non-profits, station employees appeared at more than 85 local events last year.

Alaska becomes a ‘First Frontier’ for 5G

GCI is partnering with global telecom giant Ericsson to make Anchorage among the first cities worldwide to have a standards-based 5G data network. The leaders of the Alaska- and Sweden-based companies made the announcement June 18 during a project unveiling at Alaska Pacific University. The transformation to a 5G network will be “one of the biggest initiatives in GCI’s history,” CEO Ron Duncan said. “The result will be a wireline-wireless experience that will provide our customers nearly ubiquitous data connectivity across the city,” Duncan said. GCI has worked with Ericsson for roughly a decade; the companies also partnered on the recently completed TERRA project, which offers fiber-based high-speed broadband internet to more than 80 Western Alaska communities. Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm said GCI is joining “an elite group of operators” in being one of the first to launch a true 5G network. “Maybe it’s time to rephrase and not call Alaska the Last Frontier, but the ‘First Frontier,’” Ekholm said. The roughly $30 million project will increase Anchorage’s wireless data capacity by 10-fold and will make Anchorage the 22nd city worldwide to utilize Ericsson’s 5G technology, through GCI’s network, according to Duncan. Ericsson is a telecommunications technology developer that sells network infrastructure and software to telecom retailers and others. About 40 percent of the world’s mobile phone traffic occurs through an Ericsson network, according to the company. 5G is a term used for the fifth generation of wireless networks. The speed and capacity of 5G networks will make such data networks increasingly critical infrastructure, Ekholm said, comparing them to bridges, roads and airports, while acknowledging that it’s still unknown what uses others will come up with for the faster networks. He noted that developers did not consider mobile phone e-commerce or banking when building 4G networks. Supporting artificial intelligence, autonomous cars and “smart city” infrastructure were some of the things 5G networks could be utilized for, the men surmised. “What we know is that 10-times speed, 10-times lower latency, 100-times more connected devices per surface area — we will offer a lot of innovation,” Ekholm said. He estimated there will be roughly 1.9 billion 5G subscriptions globally by 2024. Duncan said he expects the Anchorage project to be done by the end of next year, with the first 5G being available in parts of the city early next year. The work will involve installing Ericsson’s standards-based 5G New Radio equipment and software at 82 cell tower sites across the city, according to GCI. Those towers will work in conjunction with “microcells” — through wireline connections in buildings and elsewhere — across the city to fully form the new network, Duncan explained. He said it’s unclear when the company might expand 5G coverage to other parts of the state. Ekholm added partnering with GCI allows Ericsson to test its products in and get feedback from one of the northernmost markets in the world with a harsh climate. Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said GCI’s work will help make the city a more competitive place to attract new people and businesses and retain existing ones. “We live in a time of rapid acceleration where we are more connected than ever before, where things are moving more quickly than they ever have in the past. Unless we are on the cutting edge, we will be left behind,” Berkowitz said. For the Municipality of Anchorage, a faster, higher-capacity mobile network will help the city better deploy resources, such as police, monitor more of its assets in real-time and generally operate more efficiently, according to Berkowitz. “I know that GCI is one of our largest taxpayers; Ron reminds me of that periodically and I am sure that he’s going to appreciate the fact that with 5G we will be able to spend his tax dollars much more efficiently,” he quipped. He said the network would have been immensely helpful while officials were responding to last November’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake. AT&T, GCI’s primary mobile phone competitor, announced last year that Anchorage would be part of its 5G network rollout, which was set to be deployed this year and next. So far, the AT&T has updated its network to 5G Evolution in Anchorage, Bethel and Kusilvak in Western Alaska, which enables customers in those areas with 5G-enabled devices to access faster speeds, spokesman Brent Camara wrote in an email to the Journal. “While we have not yet announced specific plans for 5G cities in Alaska, we continue investing in building the network our customers need today and preparing for the future,” he said. Duncan said in a follow-up media briefing that only AT&T customers in Chicago and a handful of other Lower 48 cities are able to realize the benefits of the new networks. He added that rates for GCI mobile data plans shouldn’t change with the deployment of the 5G network, but noted that more expensive, 5G-capable devices are required to harness the network’s capabilities. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

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