River Conditions At Napaimute As Of 11:00 PM Tuesday Evening May1

At about 10:00 PM on Tuesday a fair amount of ice came through, but it only lasted an hour and the water was dropping as it went by.

The River Watch folks say there is still a good amount of ice upriver waiting to come down still.


The last push of ice at 10:00 PM


Looking upstream at 10:00 PM


What was left behind


Safe for another year...maybe?


Tonight's moon

Some Ice Now Coming Down Past Napaimute

No sooner did I hit the publish key on that last post when I looked up and low and behold here came some ice.

It appears that a minor jam broke lose and we had ice passing for almost an hour (5:45 pm).  It’s now diminished, but the water did come up almost a foot in the past two hours.

First substantial ice all day.

Kuskokwim Still Ice-Free at Napaimute

As of 5:30 p.m. the river is still ice-free – although word is that there is a jam located between Sleetmute and Red Devil; so more ice is on the way.  The water level has dropped about three feet since this morning.


It’s been cold and windy all day, with the wind coming from the west.  The sun is finally showing itself!


This is what the river has looked like all day - but it won't last once the jam upriver breaks

The Harvester Is Up And Running


After returning from the training in Washington, I (Mark Leary) spent an additional three days in Anchorage purchasing and shipping additional supplies for the project.

This included things like food, steel for the log skids, parts, and assorted oils, grease, etc. needed for our equipment.

The start-up expenses for this project have been great. A lot of it was anticipated, but some of it wasn’t like the several thousand in spare parts for the harvester that we purchased in Washington following the recommendation given at the training. We’ve also been getting a hard lesson in the cost of shipping freight to Rural Alaska. Fuel surcharges are higher than ever. The lowest I could find was 29%. So for every dollar we spent shipping freight, we pay an additional $0.29 in fuel surcharges!

The week of March 12 we all came back to Napaimute to do preparations for the harvest. Our first priority was to transport over 9,000 pounds of freight from Aniak to Napaimute. Besides all of the things I personally shipped from Anchorage, there were items that had been previously ordered. This included things like: tire chains for our equipment, steel banding, oxygen & acetylene for our cutting torch, batteries and a port-a-potty.

Moving harvesting freight by snow machine

We intended to move all of this freight by truck – the cheapest and easiest way – but the snow is so deep this year – it would take a plowed road on the River so we spent time measuring  the ice and marking  the route for plowing.  We tried plowing the road, but first the grader broke down. Luckily it broke down right here at Napaimute and not way down the River somewhere.

Then we started to plow a simple one lane road with our little dozer. The dozer made it down to just above Anita’s (about 12 miles) before it broke down too.  We have since fixed it and brought it back to Napaimute, but each break down is another expense.

After all of this trouble we ended up hauling the freight by snow machine and sled. The whole crew went down and got most of it in one trip. I went back a couple of days later and moved the last 3,500 lbs in one load. It was hard on the snow machine but it got done.

3,500 lb. load - the little pallet in front of Job Johnny is 2,500 lbs of steel banding

With all of the supplies in Napaimute we could now work on getting ready to do the harvest. One of our crew was dedicated to hauling additional fuel from Aniak – 100 gallons a day by snow machine. We burned up a lot of our fuel plowing out everything around here: the runway, the road on the beach, etc. and starting to realize that this wood harvest was going to take longer than planned, we needed additional fuel.

Plowing the runway

After breaking for the week end, our crew went back to work on March 19th. I was in Bethel intending to return on the 20th (the trip to Bethel is too long to just stay for 2 nights). The guys called on the afternoon of the 19th to report that trying to work was just a waste of Napaimute’s money. It was minus 30 in the morning. They were spending all their time just warming up equipment and trying to get it started. We decided it would be best to hold off and everybody returned home. It turned out to be a good decision as the rest of the week was even colder.

One of the many preparations: putting on the chains

Sawmilling 6,000' of dunnage


The weather finally broke and we hit the ground running during the week of March 26th. There was a lot to do so work went on from 9AM to 9PM, with me cooking. Preparations that week included:

  • Finish putting tire chains on loaders and truck
  • Sawmilling dunnage for the log bundles (we need 6,000 lineal feet)
  • Many little repairs/maintenances of the equipment
  • Welding the skids to modify them for hauling logs
  • Prepping the harvester for work after sitting all winter
  • Loading up all of the necessary support supplies and equipment for the move down to the harvest site.
  • Moving it all down there

Moving down to the harvest site was a major job in itself.  Between the deep snow and a couple of break downs (more expense) it took us the better part of two days to move everything and set up the camp.


2012 Native Village of Napaimute Annual Meeting Rescheduled:

Parting gifts for retiring Council Members Stan Kelly & Bobby Kristovich at the 2011 NVN Annual Meeting

At their April 25th regular meeting, the Napaimute Traditional Council decided to reschedule and relocate the 2012 NVN Annual Meeting.

This year’s meeting will be held in October in Anchorage.

The Council felt that with the increasingly high travel expense to Rural Alaska, a meeting in October in Anchorage would be more conducive to increasing tribal member attendance. A firm date has not been set yet, but they are thinking it would be good to hold the meeting during AFN week.

Administration will also be working to include an electronic component so that those members unable to attend in person, can still do so via the Internet.

Updates will be sent as plans for the 2012 NVN Meeting are solidified.

Thank you.

Kuskokwim Relatively Ice-Free As of 6:00 AM May 1

The water level rose a little during the night then receded taking most of the ice with it.  Come Tuesday morning the only ice around was mostly on the north shoreline.


However, there is still plenty of ice upriver that will be working its way downstream during the next week…so anything can happen.  We’ll keep  you posted.


Looking downriver from the Chapel at about 8:30 am

If you look closely you can see a thin strip of ice stretching from bank to bank - but beyond that is open water

Looking upstream of Napaimute at 8:30 am Tuesday morning May1


The Ice Started Moving At Napaimute

I flew into Napaimute Sunday morning and this was the view from the air:

Looking at the mouth of the Holokuk

Looking upstream towards the Holokuk


Looking across at Napaimute


And then we landed and I tried to drive a four-wheeler the two or more miles to the village but ran into snow drifts and a deep creek crossings; it was sunny and warm – about 50 degrees and the snow was melting rapidly. I only made it half way and had to walk – and carry my gear – the rest of the way.


I made it 95% through the drift..until

Oh no!

Once I dug the four-wheeler out I couldn’t go much further…or at least didn’t want to take the chance.

The water at this creek crossing appeared a little too deep to comfortably go across

Once I got settled in I went to bed.  About 6:00 am I heard the ice moving or shifting.  It really started moving at about 3:00 pm once the sun came out.

Looking downstream from the Chapel

Looking upstream from the Chapel















Notes From The 2012 Alaska Forum On The Environment

I attended the Alaska Forum on the Environment the week of Feb. 6-10, and here is a list of the sessions attended with some notes describing their pertinence.  Besides attending the sessions, the networking was very beneficial.  I was also able to meet with several federal employees that I’ve been working with concerning several of our projects.

On Wednesday I met with Ryan Maroney with NRCS and discussed the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) projects and our plans to fulfill our obligations with the timber harvest scheduled over the next few months.  Ryan suggested we fill out an application for the high tunnels where NRCS would reimburse us for a portion of the cost (Unfortunately we were not awarded the Community Environmental Demonstration Grant that I submitted a proposal for).  We are hoping to grow our own seedlings in the high tunnel that will then be planted as part of our EQIP obligation.  Ryan said he has been in touch with Fritz Grenfell from Bethel who is growing some test seedlings in Bethel this winter.

AK Forum sessions I attended:

  • Realities of Kinetic Hydropower on Most of the Yukon River.  This was a good session because there have been several attempts to test hydropower in Ruby, Eagle and in the Tanana River.  All systems were hampered by woody debris, but the one in the Tanana (which was featured in this session) was affected least because it worked very much like a fish wheel; the others worked on a vertical axis and operated several feet further down in the water column.  The Tanana unit was fabricated on-site with local materials and quite sturdy compared to the pre-fabbed turbines.

I discussed the pro’s and cons of each type of turbine with Martin Leonard who actually worked on the Ruby turbine while working with the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council.  Martin, from Bethel, has worked all across the state on various renewable energy projects (e.g., wind, hydro & solar).  He knows, and introduced me to, several of the players with whom I submitted a recent proposal to; one acquaintance was Brian Hirsch with the U.S. Dept. of Energy/Office of Indian Energy.

  • Mining & Water QualityAcid rock drainage and dissolved metals.

Bob Loeffler with UAA, previously with DNR, discussed the various methods/techniques the mining industry uses to address potential acid drainage concerns.  One of the statements I picked up on was that liners are not forever.  Hmmm.  He also said that the state has never permitted any mines where the water will have to be monitored for perpetuity.  But it seems that several proposed mines may fall into that category…including Donlin.

  • Hazardous Waste Identification and Handling for Rural Alaska Villages

Two EPA employees described how to identify, categorize, consolidate, package and ship hazardous wastes.

  • Aggressive Plants, Fish & Sea Squirts: Invasive Species in Fresh & Salt Water

One aquatic invasive plant – Elodea – has been documented in three Anchorage lakes, including Sand Lake, which is used by floatplanes (it’s only a matter of time before they transport it to some remote location).  It’s also thick in and around Chena Slough in Fairbanks and in one lake near Cordova.  This is not good!  ADF&G is working hard (and spending quite a bit of $$) to reduce the pike that have been introduced on the Kenai Peninsula.  They have altered ecosystems by consuming most, if not all, sticklebacks and greatly reduced rainbow trout and salmon populations.  ADF&G is focusing on a few lakes where a unique strain of Arctic char resides.

  • Renewable Energy in Rural Alaska

Brian Hirsch (see kinetic energy discussion) presented along with Meera Kohler with AVEC (Alaska Village Electric Cooperative).   Moderating this session was the Deputy Secretary of the Dept. of Interior.  One of the main challenges of energy producers on the road system is tying their systems into the grid.  So far, we don’t have to worry about that.  Maintenance of systems in rural Alaska is a problem, mostly because of a lack of expertise.  However, Martin Leonard has been training local specialists.

  • Scenes From Coming Attractions: Mineral Explorers and Developers

Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse with NovaGold & a biologist with the Pebble Partnership gave presentations.  Van Nieuwenhuyse spoke mostly about the Ambler development up north.  I asked him what the potential was for smaller operations being more viable once the Donlin project builds much of the non-existent infrastructure (I was referring to the Holokuk and Buckstock/Aniak drainages).  He said that he wasn’t aware of any promising exploration work.  I also asked about the need for limestone at Donlin to offset the acid generating waste rock, and he said that they would likely bring it in from off-site.  I asked if the Holitna was a possible source and he insinuated that it wasn’t likely.

  • GPS Mapping For Geographical Information Systems on a Budget

I learned some tricks that will help with the biological monitoring and physical habitat quantification of the Holokuk River.

  • Water Quality Sampling in Rural Alaska

I talked with Ryan Toohey (PhD with Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council – one of the presenters) about our past data collection efforts from the Kuskokwim and various tribs (including the Holokuk).  I’ll be sending him the data to see whether or not we’ll be able to use any of it (if you recall, our meter wasn’t properly functioning much of the time).

  • Mercury In The Environment – An Introduction to Sources, Exposure and Health in Alaska

I attended several sessions on mercury (just prior to the Forum I submitted a proposal to monitor mercury deposition in the village).  Although we are getting mercury from Asian coal-fired power plants and are dealing with the remnants of the Kolmakof and Red Devil mines, not all mercury is harmful.  It is only when it is methylated, and the methylation process is not fully understood; that’s when bacteria acts on inorganic mercury to turn it into organic.  There is an ongoing study in the Yukon River drainage assessing the mercury levels, and one location where it was found was in an old dredged stream channel.  The presenter, a USGS scientist, believed that the dredging activity contributed to the triggering of the methylation process.  This has me wondering what levels of methyl mercury might be found in the area around NYAC.

The recent fish consumption advisories of the middle Kuskokwim resulting from the Red Devil study on pike and lush were discussed.

  • Shaping Fisheries: Skills for Participating in the Public Process

This session discussed public involvement in the management of fisheries.

  • Climate, Game Management & Subsistence Hunting

This session started out with a background previous predator control efforts by the state and Fish & Wildlife Service over the past 35 years.  Years ago there were bounties on Dolly Varden and hawks – things that would never fly now.  Then changes in wind patterns was looked at for disrupting subsistence opportunities in the Wainwright area.

  • EPA Region 10 Tribal Program and Funding Opportunities

This session provided an introduction to EPA and Region 10’s Tribal Program, and an overview of the agency’s grant programs.

  • Mercury, Permafrost, and Climate Change

Large stores of mercury are bound up in the permafrost from natural sources (e.g., volcanoes and forest fires) as well as far away human sources (e.g., Eurasian coal-fired power plants).  With climate change much of that mercury is being exposed and has the potential of being methylated and getting into the food chain.  I had really wished I had attended these presentations prior to submitting my mercury-monitoring proposal two weeks ago!

  • USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service Partnership Project

The NRCS has worked with several Alaska tribes in forming Tribal Conservation Districts – Kwethluk being one of them.  These Districts are a way of devising a comprehensive plan to preserve and enhance the natural resources of the area and sustain the traditional subsistence way of life.  This may be something that Napaimute would like to pursue in the future, although we are already pretty much doing that.

  • What’s Happening at Red Devil Mine?  A Talking Circle For Interested Kuskokwim Communities

This was a well-attended meeting, with people from up and down the Kuskokwim as well as representatives from Calista, Donlin Gold and DEC (Dept. of Environmental Conservation) being present.  The BLM (Jim Fincher, Mike McCrum and Matt Varner) gave an overview of where things stand today, and what we can expect for possible remediation and public meetings.  One Calista geologist was very interested in knowing how the state devised the fish consumption advisories, and how the levels in local fish compared to other Kuskokwim fish and tuna in the oceans that also have high levels of mercury.   

  • Friday – Film Festival

On Friday morning I attended the film festival and watch movies about changing environmental conditions due to climate change and their affects on Alaskan’s subsistence way life, marine debris scattered about the oceans, the village of Craig that has been conducting a successful campaign with collecting washed up debris, and local village efforts to improve landfills and address other local environmental issues.

On Friday afternoon I attended a tele-symposium at UAA titled: A synchronous failure of juvenile Pacific salmon and herring in the Strait of Georgia and the poor return of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River in 2009.  Dick Beamish, a highly respected Canadian scientist, was in Juneau presenting information on the problems in the Fraser River.  The Fraser River is a huge producer of salmon and one that is not highly impacted from dams like the Columbia River is.  However, it has seen numerous developmental activities that have affected the salmon runs.  Besides typical land development, there are also aquaculture activities nearby that have some concerned that sea lice and the concomitant control efforts might have some negative influence on salmon.

Like the Kuskokwim and our king numbers, there are fluctuations in salmon populations occurring that are not readily explained.  Much of the unknowns do occur in the ocean, although some research is shedding light on what might be the causes.


Dave Cannon

Environmental Director

Notes From The March AVCP Salmon Summit

I attended the AVCP Salmon Summit from March 6th-8th, which focused on ways to conserve Chinook salmon and develop ways to incorporate more tribal involvement in salmon management.  The meeting was filled with numerous presentations by state and federal agencies (i.e., ADF&G, USFWS and NOAA).  Personally I was somewhat disappointed with some of the presentations because they weren’t tailored to the audience very well.  There could have been lots of good information disseminated to the majority in attendance who’ve never participated in the Salmon Management Working group over the years; as is often the case, several presentations were too technical and loaded with too many graphs and pie charts.  That was particularly pertinent for the elders who aren’t used to seeing Power Point type presentations and being bombarded with such detailed information by fast talking ologists.  Although the presentations could have helped with the discussions and breakout sessions that followed, I think they contributed to some confusion and exacerbated inherent disagreements.

Overlooking that, the big message on the first day of agency presentations was that the production of Chinook salmon overall is way down.  That includes not only the Chinook returning to the Kuskokwim, Yukon and Norton Sound regions, but South Central AK as well.  You can see by the graph below that we had high returns in 2006 and 2007, but they’ve continued to drop to where 2010 and 2011 were the lowest on record (note how they mirror numbers prior to the very low returns of 1998-2000).  Unfortunately, I think that message was lost throughout much of the rest of the meeting.

ADF&G Kuskokwim Commercial Fisheries Division Graph

Those numbers indicate to me that something might be happening out in the ocean.  That something is most likely ocean conditions themselves…or maybe the hot topic that continually popped up which was bycatch; or, as is often the case, it could be a combination of both.  One presentation that everyone enjoyed and understood was one that explained the ecological relationships during the Chinook’s salt-water residency.  Kate Myers talked about how natural regime shifts affect populations in the oceans, particularly in reference to where and when different age classes spend their time growing up and feeding…and what they eat.  She also discussed the implications of climate change.

Kate Myers, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, University of Washington (Ret.)

I was surprised to hear that in some years, the Chinook have, as part of their stomach contents, offal from pollock discarded by the processing boats; unfortunately, that isn’t as nutritious as the natural prey which can shift from year to year.  They’ve even found small amounts of plastic in their stomachs!

Kate Myers, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences, University of Washington (Ret.)

If one were to have kept track of the words spoken over those 2 ½ days, I’m guessing that the word bycatch came up most often.  Unfortunately, that controversial topic is pretty complex and not something anyone in the Kuskokwim has any direct influence on.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t keep trying to minimize how much occurs by getting involved in the process and pursuing having a subsistence delegate on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.  As the discussion focused on how to reduce – or totally eliminate – bycatch, several residents pointed out how many people in our region benefit from the pollock fishery through CVRF’s fleet.

One presentation showed that after that very controversial year of 2007 when the bycatch topped 120,000 kings, it’s dropped substantially due to time-area-closures.  However, it did did have a jump to around 24,000 last year.  It’s not certain, but a ballpark assumption is that roughly 15% of the Chinook bycatch may be coming to the Kuskokwim.  If that’s the case, then about 18,000 – a fairly high number – didn’t return in 2008 from those 122,000 caught in late summer of 2007.  However, that year a total of about 240,000 did make it back.  Another assumption is that bycatch numbers are high when overall Chinook populations are high.  Conversely, when the numbers are lower in the ocean, bycatch is lower.  So about 1,500 didn’t make it back last summer from the overall 10,000 bycatch that occurred in 2010.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is responsible for allocation, and although they are concerned with the bycatch numbers, they tend to believe that bycatch in the Kuskokwim, for the most part, doesn’t have a strong influence on the escapement (This is from a discussion I had with a biologist last year).

ADF&G Commercial Fisheries Division Graph

Prior to the breakout sessions a sheet was handed out with possible questions to consider, one being, “What can I do to help conserve salmon?”   Unfortunately, it got overshadowed by a few heated discussions on bycatch.  It’s my belief that what we need to focus on in these years of low returns are the things that we can control…which are our actions.  First and foremost in my mind would be how are we affecting escapements…especially quality of escapement (e.g., how many females and what age classes)?

If we are to discuss quality of escapement, then another controversial topic pops up – the possible restriction of subsistence gear size.  As you might guess, that topic came up from Kuskokwim people, mostly from those strongly opposing any restrictions.  As Calvin Simeon used to say, “It’s the white elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.”

For last summer, both the Board of Fish and Federal Subsistence Board went to a 7 ½” regulation on the Yukon River to protect the larger fish, which tend to be females.  Preliminary data that I saw at the meeting showed that more and larger females made it back to the spawning grounds; but keep in mind that that is only one year’s worth of data.  Unfortunately, I heard that some of those now illegal nets have made their way down here to the Kuskokwim!

It’s important to keep in mind where that preliminary data come from.  It came from escapement projects.  How critical are such projects?  Well, the basic needs for managing the fish includes the number of fish returning to spawning areas, age and gender of those coming back, average size at a particular age, the genetic identifier of the particular spawning stocks (i.e., genetics that can tease out what fish are being caught where as bycatch), and run timing which shows when those fish show up at the mouth of the Kuskokwim and when they reach the spawning grounds.  One other component of fisheries management, and one that is derived from escapement goal projects is the harvest rate or exploitation.

I’ve included this bigger picture discussion about the need to maintain information projects throughout the drainage because it fits in with the theme of the meeting, which was to get more input into the management of the fisheries; in fact, many people are wanting co-management.  If the state or federal agencies are going to listen more to the people, then credibility is a must.  Traditional knowledge is important, but so is understanding the data and the need for it.

Look at the Kwethluk and Tuluksak weir information for kings on the following table.  Kwethluk the last two years had only 4,000 and 1,700 (10 year avg. was about 11,000) and Tuluksak 286 and 239 when the 10-year avg. was about 1,000 (one contributor to the decline of the run is the past habitat disruption of the river channel by dredge mining).  Keep in mind too that the majority of kings returning are almost always males.  So in 2010 only 62 females made it back to the Tuluksak while only 74 made it back last summer!  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that darn few eggs were deposited in the Tuluksak the past few years.

Projects like this are vital in understanding what’s escaping to the spawning grounds.

ADF&G Commercial Fisheries Division Table

If you go back to that very first graph you’ll see how many Chinook have been coming back each year and how many have been harvested in both the subsistence and commercial fisheries.  The black line is the exploitation rate that doesn’t seem to exceed 50%, and is usually much less than that.  Harvest is both commercial and subsistence with subsistence averaging around 70,000-80,000 a year, which is the largest subsistence Chinook fishery in the state.  Of late, the commercial catch has been very low and it generally takes the smaller kings that tend to be the males; the reason being the restricted mesh size that commercial fishermen are allowed to use.

So the subsistence harvest is pretty substantial and contributes the most to the exploitation rate.  Looking at the high level of subsistence harvest in 2008, it’s speculated that many people caught fish for relatives and friends in the Yukon that did extremely poor.  In years of low returns the subsistence harvest then is a large component of the exploitation rate…and you can’t keep taking too many fish.  Several people, including Earl Samuelson, pointed out the size of Bethel, and that they may need some restrictions before any of the villages.

ADF&G Commercial Fisheries Division Graph

That tells me that there is a real need for all to sacrifice, not just Bethel residents, and allow as many larger females to escape when runs get so weak.  The villages of Akiak and Kwethluk did their part by reducing their harvest by almost half!  The problem is that not everyone throughout the drainage did…but it’s time that we all do our part for the good of the kings.


Dave Cannon

Environmental Director