SOUND-RICH FEATURES

A complete archive of clips is available at KSTK.org and Alaskapublic.org

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On a recent Sunday, Pastor Kem Haggard gave a sermon on being content despite your situation. He’s shown in a corner of the church with a monitor displaying key passages.

“’I just can’t wait 'til this is over, I can’t just wait till things get back to normal.’ Paul’s message is this, you have what you need,” he says.  

His church has arguably adapted better to the shelter-in-place order than any organization in town. Haggard immediately saw the need to broadcast their services virtually.  They had the sound equipment, and went from there.



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One of the best shooters on Wrangell’s basketball team doesn’t get a lot of court time. One senior is sidelined by a congenital heart condition. But that doesn’t keep him from being front and center of the action.

Voltz studies the game. He knows all the team plays. And he’s not afraid to coach his peers when he sees a way he can help.

“Sometimes watching the kids maybe do something I could do better or watching them not put any effort in it,” he says.

After four years, Voltz got the chance to prove if he could really do it better.  In a game against the Haines Glacier Bears, Voltz got to don the uniform and be part of the starting lineup.  

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A tenth of the moose taken last season by hunters in Wrangell, Petersburg and Kake ended up being confiscated by authorities. It could be for a number of reasons, but these Southeast Alaska communities are making sure none of the meat goes to waste. 

On a Friday in December, a small crew of hunters are moving hundreds of pounds of moose meat from the public cold storage freezer into Chris Guggenbickler’s truck.

It’s his job to deliver more than 400 packages of roast and burger to individuals and organizations in town. 

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Some funny money has been circulating in the Southeast city of Wrangell. Authorities aren’t calling it counterfeit, since the fake Benjamins were likely purchased online as play money. Still, the c-notes were realistic enough to dupe a few cashiers in this island town.

Word of the fake hundred dollar bills has since spread through town almost as quickly as the funny money. 

So grocery store manager Jake Hale made sure his cashiers knew what to look for. Still, at least one got through.

“The Chinese letters printed on it basically say ‘THIS IS FAKE,’” Hale said. “But if you don’t read Chinese you can’t read the stamp.”

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For the second year in a row there will be no king salmon derby in Wrangell. For 30 days, everyone tried to catch the biggest king salmon for a shot at the $6000 cash prize, and the glory. While most agree that protecting the the run up of the nearby Stikine River is critical, the absence of the derby nevertheless has left a king salmon-sized hole in some hearts.

“Right now, Saturday, it’d be the second week of the derby. As flat calm as it is, there’d be so many boats right now, coming and going,” former-derby organizer Shawn Curley says. “Instead no one’s out fishing at all, just that blue heron, he’s fishing.”

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This Labor Day weekend, anglers in Wrangell have a chance to catch a fish worth $10,000 in cold, hard cash.


A few days before the weekend, Aaron Powell and Shawn Curley went out on this mission:  catch an ordinary halibut and release a prize winning fish. The crew is tasked with catching a halibut, tagging it for the fishing derby, and releasing it back into waters not too far from town. Aaron Powell talks through the game plan.

“Hopefully it’s a small enough halibut that we can get him on board, tag it, and let it go,” Powell says. “That’s plan A. Plan B we haven’t got there yet.”

 

IN-DEPTH REPORTING

A complete archive of clips is available at KSTK.org and Alaskapublic.org

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Biologists in Southeast Alaska are racing to examine a wave of whale carcasses to try and find what’s killing gray whales up and down the Pacific Coast. Nearly 170 have been reported, triggering NOAA Fisheries to launch an investigation.

When a dead whale was reported floating near Wrangell, the troops had to rally. U.S. Forest Service workers found the carcass on this remote beach and tied it to trees so it wouldn’t float away.

“It is sad to see but it is also an amazing opportunity to be part of this team and be part of this phenomenon,” says NOAA Fisheries Veterinarian Kate Savage.

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Mariners in distress are without a decades-old means of contacting the Coast Guard in much of coastal Alaska. The federal search and rescue agency says its VHF signal is down, making communication on Channel 16 unreliable. The issue had been going on all summer and there’s no solution in sight.

“VHF radios have been for decades the primary go-to source to get a hold of the Coast Guard,” said Jerry Dzugan, the director of the Alaska Marine Education Safety Association in Sitka. “That’s what we’ve taught everyone in our classes for decades, so what they’re saying is ‘Well, you’re going to have these other things instead,’ and that’s unacceptable.”

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Southeast Alaska tribal communities who were excluded from forming village corporations in the 1970s continue to push for a land settlement. Residents and descendants of natives in Wrangell, Petersburg, Tenakee Springs, Ketchikan and Haines call themselves landless tribes. The effort backed by Sealaska regional native corporation has released a series of maps with acreage it’d like sliced out of Tongass National Forest. 

“We recognize that every year that passes without settlement that other land uses are found for the Tongass,” says Leo Barlow, a Wrangell representative of the Southeast Alaska Landless Corporation. “We are not going to be stepped on any further in terms of losing the land base that we once enjoyed,” he says.

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Domestic violence exists everywhere in Alaska, but many small communities have no designated shelter.

The island community for decades has built an informal network of safe homes instead. These are the personal homes of folks, mostly church-goers, willing to put up a survivor for a night or two.

“So there’s other resources that can become available if needed, but they’re not advertised resources," says Jessica Whitaker. She’s a part of BRAVE, Wrangell’s fledgling domestic violence support network. 

"If people were to know where these safe homes are, then that kind of defeats the purpose of them being safe homes,” Whitaker says.

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The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium reported its first positive coronavirus case. As of Friday, at least 252 tests across 28 communities have been administered, with 70 of those results pending. But the tribal health provider won’t say how many people it’s tested from each community. 

“We recognize that by providing the specific numbers in specific communities we have the potential to violate the privacy of patients,” says SEARHC’s Medical Director Dr. Elliott Bruhl.

Asked about this, Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink told reporters on Wednesday she’s open to releasing community testing data. 

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In 2015, remote Southeast Alaskans were hopeful that the Rainforest Islander would connect small Southeast towns. 

But with constant delays and mechanical issues, the ferry was shortly out of service. The ship had a major crack, so it went to Wrangell’s boatyard where it sat for three years.

Now a veteran tour operator in Wrangell hopes to turnaround a ship that’s had years of bad luck.

“Everybody has a weakness, buying boats is mine,” says Eric Yancey. He owns Breakaway Adventures, a 30-year-running tour company based in Wrangell. 

 

VIDEO

A complete archive of clips is available at KSTK.org and Alaskapublic.org

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KSTK spent the celebration documenting Randy Oliver’s last logging show. The event is named after Randy’s dad, Chuck Oliver, who started the event in 1975. The father-son duo ran the event for years to add some showmanship and competition to the holiday. Chuck passed away this year in March, and Randy is retiring from the event. But the show will go on. Randy is passing all the axes, chainsaws and “misery whips” down to the next generation.

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As part of KSTK’s video series on this year’s celebration, we spent some time with Darian Gerald. She comes from a long line of women who organize events for the holiday. She’s doing the same.

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As part of KSTK’s video series on this year’s celebration, we spent some time with Jeff and Kay Jabusch. Their family has been building floats for the annual parade for 40 years.

 

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