Archive for December, 2012

Magical Mono Lake

Sunday, December 30th, 2012
Magical Mono Lake

Mono Lake in the Great Basin of the Eastern Sierras in California is a popular photography destination.  With the bizarre tufa formations, created from the accumulation of numerous minerals over thousands of years, and the backdrop of the Eastern Sierras, it presents many opportunities for the landscape photographer to explore.  Like many photo destinations in the area, it is not often photographed in the winter.  Since this was my first time to the lake, located near the town of Lee Vining, I was there more for scouting than to fulfill a particular photographic vision.  Having never been there before, it was hard to pre-visualize.

Mono Lake is considered one of the oldest lakes in North America, with an estimated age of somewhere between one and three million years.  High in alkaline content, the lake contains an unusual combination of chlorides, carbonates and sulfates.  It has fluctuated in depth over the years (current average depth is 57 feet),  but has steadily been losing water levels since 1941 when the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began diverting water from the lake to meet the water demands of California’s largest city.  As a result, the volume of the lake dropped while its salinity doubled.  The Mono Lake Committee was formed in 1978 to bring legal, legislative and social pressure to bear in an effort to protect the lake, and its unique tufa features, from destruction.

Most of the tufa formations are located in what is called the South Tufa area, approximately a ten-minute drive from where we stayed at the Lake View Lodge in Lee Vining.  My first view of the tufas came by headlamp when Michelle and I hiked down to the lake from the parking area for the first time about a half hour before sunrise.  It was cloudy that morning, but return trips in the evening and next morning and evening produced some good results.  Temperatures were a bit chilly on the second morning; as the clouds cleared, the temperatures dropped to -11 F on the road, and a meager 3 degrees at the lake itself.

That raises a few points worth mentioning about visiting this part of California in the winter.  As we were driving north from Bishop after visiting Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery, we diverted to the community of Mammoth Lakes to refuel.  As we came into town, we noticed several vehicles pulled over in pullouts, parking lots and side streets so that drivers could position chains on their vehicle’s tires.  It was an interesting experience, as people generally don’t use chains on their tires in Alaska – we get to use studded tires in the winter.  But it brought to light the fact that this is winter in high elevations (7,000 to 8,000 feet) in the Eastern Sierras.  The area gets a lot of snow, and it can be cold.  Plus, businesses are generally closed.  When we stayed in Lee Vining, there was nothing really open other than the General Store and one restaurant, Nicely’s Diner.  I must say, though, we really didn’t need much more – Nicely’s turned out to have very well done American diner cuisine at really reasonable prices. 

But the drive through this stretch of Highway 395 exposed me to some incredibly inspiring scenery – I can see why Galen Rowell chose to make this part of California his home.  Michelle and I determined that another, longer trip to the region in the autumn would definitely be in our future.  Then we would also be able to explore Yosemite National Park from the east, an option not available in the winter as the mountain passes into the park from the east are closed in winter. 

 

A couple days in Death Valley

Saturday, December 29th, 2012
A couple days in Death Valley

It is the largest national park in the Lower 48 of the United States, as well as the lowest, hottest and driest point in the United States.  Originally envisioned as a mining mecca, various mining operations quickly learned that it was not very profitable.  Instead, entrepreneurs focused their efforts on the economic opportunity of tourism.  Death Valley National Monument was established in 1933.  It was expanded and established as a national park in 1994.

I have been to the desert Southwest in various locations, but have never been able to make it out to Death Valley National Park.  Given its proximity to Las Vegas (only a two-hour drive), it seemed like a perfect place to start our Southwest road trip – after spending a couple of days exploring photo galleries on the Vegas Strip and enjoying the spa services at our hotel.  I was aware of a couple of choice photo locations – Zabrieske Point, the Mesquite Sand Dunes and the Racetrack Playa.  I certainly wanted to examine those and see how I might interpret them, but also wanted to do some broader exploring in the park.

I found the open flats of the park the most interesting area to explore that has been under-explored.  Take, for example, the Devil’s Golf Course.  Perhaps, the better name for it would have been Golf Course from Hell, as in, this is what a golf course would look like in Hell.  It is a massive field of large clusters of salt crystals, creating a bumpy field of sharp salty boulders.  Given how “good” light doesn’t hit the main part of the valley floor at this time of year, I chose to photograph the field after sunset, with the colors of dusk to add an interesting element to the scene.  I also, after coming back one morning from the sand dunes, saw open water out on the salt flats, providing a perfect reflection of the mountains of the Panamint Range as morning light struck them.  A scattered field of clouds added additional elements of interest.  I also found the Devil’s Corn Field (just a couple of miles away from the parking for the Mesquite Sand Dunes) a really strong, potential subject, but the light and timing just didn’t work out.  Next time.

Michelle and I also visited the Ryollite ghost town, just outside of the park, which provided an interesting change to the usual scenery.  On the way back into the park, we came down through the area where Scotty’s Castle is located.  While the castle itself was not particularly interesting, its location was – a water-rich drainage replete with several groves of California palm trees and a variety of plants and trees.  A true oasis, it will be worthy to explore again at another time of the year – spring.

The drive out to the Racetrack Playa is certainly worth it, even if it is an hour and a half of driving on rocky, narrow road.  The Racetrack is a mysterious location where rocks are moved across a dried lake bed when the conditions are right, leaving behind dragged trail marks.  Fun to explore and photograph, there is one downfall to the location – there are no toilet facilities of any kind.  As you photograph the rocks and their background scenery, you know that you will have to clone out people in the background when you process in Photoshop.  In one case, I had the image blown up to 100% and was cloning out a couple of people when I noticed that one of them was taking a leak.  Chuckling to myself, I removed his activity and presence from the image.

When we left the park, we headed west out on Highway 190.  I found the western, higher part of the park fascinating; almost like a desert Scottish Highlands.  But, since we were on a mission to visit Galen Rowel’s gallery in Bishop on our way up to Mono Lake, there was no time to stop.  I enjoyed what I was able to capture, and took notes for future return trips to the park.

 

 

A visit to the Pahrump Winery

Thursday, December 27th, 2012
A visit to the Pahrump Winery

When Michelle and I go on vacation, there are typically two objectives of the trip: photo locations and wineries.  Our first vacation together was in the Texas Hillcountry in the spring; I wanted to photograph wildflowers and there are a lot of vineyards and wineries in the area.  Then there was the  Big Island of Hawaii – the Volcano Winery near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  When we were in Maui, and we visited the Maui Winery at Ulupalakua Ranch.  For this trip around the American Southwest, we planned our route for good photo locations as well as wineries.  Our first stop after a few days in Las Vegas was the Pahrump Valley Winery about an hour outside of Vegas on our way to Death Valley.

I found the grounds at the winery to be particularly inviting, with nice paths along the vineyard, a gazebo seating area and an outdoor dining area.  Unfortunately, at this time of year, it was a bit chilly to really take advantage of the surroundings.  Once inside (we were there when they opened at 10:30 a.m.), we were instantly greeted and welcomed to winery.  We took a few minutes to examine the retail area and a spacious, warm sitting area near a fireplace.

The winery offers a complimentary tasting of seven wines, so Michelle and I each selected the wines we were most interested in.  We generally have three categories of wines we select: those that will go well with certain dishes, those that will be great for casual sipping, and those perfect for a hot day or hot tubbing.  While there was some overlap, we also had a few wine selections that were different.  As is the correct way of tasting, our host started us with the lighter ones and took us through the bolder wines. The staff person assisting us was very knowledgeable about the wines and answered many of our questions.  In the end, we selected five wines for purchase: two bottles of their Pinot Grigio, a Burgandy, a Merlot, two bottles of the Syrah, and one of the Creme Sherry.  While we enjoyed many of the diverse selections they had available, we had to stop somewhere.

 

Alaska Airlines shows its holiday spirit

Monday, December 24th, 2012
Alaska Airlines shows its holiday spirit

It is our first vacation in two years, and our first road trip vacation.  Our plan – fly into Las Vegas on the red eye to get an early start, maximize the days.  I had been in touch with one of my high school buddies, Bill, whom I have not seen in twenty years.  He is going to pick us up at our hotel and take us on a hike in a wilderness area near Vegas – a perfect start to our desert Southwest vacation.  The anticipation for this trip was palpable – not only had we not had a vacation together in two years, Michelle had spent the last year busting her ass on a big project for an important client.  This trip was our reward in so many ways.

The first leg of the trip was a direct, non-stop flight from Anchorage to Portland.  We had not been able to secure First Class seating for this leg – the longest leg of the trip to Vegas – but we had for the second leg.  I earned a MVP upgrade and we paid for an upgrade for Michelle’s seat.

I have enjoyed the slightly-elevated level of privilege of being a MVP member ever since flying to Africa last year to do some photo work for Tony Robbins during one of his Platinum Partner outings.  Michelle and I were both Club 49 members, so that gave us some additional perks, like free checked bags and the opportunity to purchase flex fares at reduced rates.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to go through security and have a couple of drinks before going to the gate.  When we arrived at the gate, we learned that our flight was going through Seattle on the way to Portland.  “That’s not right,” I said to Michelle, “this is supposed to be a direct, non-stop flight to Portland.”  Well, I wasn’t wrong, it was supposed to be a direct, non-stop flight.  What had changed?  Alaska Airlines had determined that the current aircraft crew would exceed its authorized time in air if it went all the way to Portland.  The solution?  Divert to Seattle and pick up a new crew there.  No, not contact a standby crew in Anchorage (of which there were plenty), divert to Seattle and pick up a new crew there.  While it was mildly inconvenient – I would not have uninterrupted sleep all the way to Portland – it wouldn’t mess with our connection.  We made sure to arrange a connection that would give us enough leeway in the layover if there were problems on the first leg of the trip. The gate attendant stated that the estimated arrival time in Portland would be 6:00 a.m., giving us a full hour to make our connection to Las Vegas.

We arrived in Portland right at 5:00 a.m. local time.  The pilot announced we would be going to the gate, disembarking some passengers, and working to swap crews.  The disembarking passengers were added to the flight when the Seattle leg was included, allowing the airline to get these passengers to their destination – an ever-important opportunity during holiday travel.  It was, after all, Christmas Eve.

Everything happened as planned – we pulled quickly up to the gate, the disembarking passengers lined up and were quickly off.  The crews silently made their switch, and then, we waited.  Silence.  After a while, a flight attendant announced that additional passengers would be disembarking; the only way to make their connecting flights was to get them off and adjust their travel.  The attendant called off about twenty names, and told those people to grab their things and head toward the exit.  I dozed for a little bit during this process, woke briefly to hear that a fuel truck was on its way, would refuel us, and we’d be on our way.

I woke up an hour later expecting to look out and see clouds below.  Instead, I saw the asphalt of the tarmac, right where we had been an hour before at the gate.    Not really sure of how much time had elapsed, I turned on my phone to see – it was now 6:45 a.m.  Our connecting flight in Portland that would take us to Vegas was leaving in 15 minutes.  I depressed the attendant call button.  A flight attendant came to our aisle, and I started with, “Our connecting flight to Vegas is leaving Portland in 15 minutes; what’s going on?”  What followed was a flow of flimsy apologies, an assurance that reservation staff were aware of many passengers with connecting flights and that it was being dealt with.  I asked, why were other passengers disembarked so they could make flights but Michelle and I were still on the plane, and no one had called our names?  The flight attendant again apologized and said that everything was being done that could be.  No answer, though, as to why we were still there and when we were leaving.  Shortly thereafter there was an admonishment over the speakers reminding us to stay in our seats with the seatbelts secured; we were, after all, on an “active taxiway.”  Really?  We were still at the gate; the only difference was the ramp was no longer attached.

We ultimately took off at 7:15, a full two hours and fifteen minutes after landing.  During take off, the ensuing half-hour flight, and on landing, neither the crew nor the pilot said anything indicating that anything out of the ordinary had happened.  The usual scripts were followed all the way through to Portland, right up until we pulled up to the gate.  Then, finally, an apology was issued for the delay, but still no explanation.  We deplaned and proceeded immediately to the gate customer service counter.

We had three concerns: we wanted the next flight, we wanted our First Class seats, and we wanted some sort of compensation and acknowledgement for the screw up.  When we finally had the chance to speak to someone (there were only three people at the counter, and only two of them were handling the changed travel needs of passengers), we wanted to make sure we were on the next flight.  He confirmed that we would be on that flight – five hours later – but we were lucky; the couple next to us was only on standby for that flight, and could only be guaranteed a spot on the 8 pm flight to Vegas.  I also mentioned that we originally had First Class seats for the Las Vegas leg of the flight.  The man on the other side of the counter noted, “Oh, but that was just an MVP upgrade.”  Actually, I responded, “we paid for an upgrade.”  His attitude took me more seriously once he realized that cash had been exchanged (apparently MVP status really means “Meaningless Vile People”). Ultimately, he told us not only were there no First Class seats available for the next flight at 1:05 p.m., there were none for any of the return legs on our trip, either.  He made it clear that all he could do was get us set up for the next flight available; if we wanted some sort of satisfaction for the serious inconvenience – ruining the first whole day of a long-awaited vacation – we would have to call the national customer service number. He helpfully provided us the toll-free number to call.

Once we were speaking to a real person on the phone, they asked Michelle if we were still in travel status.  Yes, Michelle responded.  Well, Alaska Airlines explained, they could not process a complaint ticket until our travel was completed.  What did that mean?, Michelle asked.  Did that mean once we were in Vegas or once the entire trip was done, when we were back home in Anchorage in almost three weeks.  The latter, of course, was the response from customer service.  “That’s not acceptable,” Michelle responded.  They relented and said that they would process a complaint and get back to us on December 26 (I will update this blog if they do respond).

So we hung up and started thinking about our options of how we would spend five hours of unanticipated layover in Portland.  Then we remembered – they had an Alaska Airlines Board Room.  Michelle suggested that perhaps we could spend time there – didn’t my MVP status or our Club 49 status count for something?  Apparently not, I learned after doing a little research on the Alaska Airlines website.  You had to buy into the privilege, and a day pass was $45 per person.  Didn’t Alaska Airlines at least owe us that for sticking us in the airport for five hours?  We called the customer service number again to inquire; they did not have the authority to issue any compensation while we were in travel status, we would have to speak to local customer service personnel.

We returned to the customer service counter we had dealt with before to find it completely abandoned.  Fortunately, we ran into someone from Operations, who also explained that they would not have the authority to issue a complimentary pass to the Board Room either.  (She did offer food vouchers – something the customer service counter had not offered – but we had already paid for breakfast.) She was aware of what had happened with our flight, and noted it was the first time in 15 years that she had seen a plane diverted for a crew change.  After chatting with her for a while, we learned of the “official reason” for our 2+ hour wait on the tarmac at Seattle – our plane was too heavy to be authorized for a flight to Portland.  Our minds did a double- and triple-take.  Yes, FAA requires that whenever a plane leaves an airport, it must have a backup airport to go to, and the backup for Seattle was Portland, and our plane was too heavy to fly from Seattle to Portland, so they had to offload passengers.  But, they did offload passengers, about 30 of them, we explained, and yet we took on more fuel and stayed at the gate for another two hours.  “Yes, but you were still too heavy,” she responded.  “But if we had not diverted to Seattle, and instead flown straight from Anchorage to Portland, we would  have been heavier because we had more passengers and bags,” we responded.  “Yes, but you were not too heavy to fly to Portland from Anchorage.”  Wait a minute, we were not too heavy to fly into Portland if we left from Anchorage, but we were too heavy to fly into Portland from Seattle?  She made it clear that we didn’t understand the intricacies of managing weight balance of aircraft.  Of course, as Alaskans, we routinely have to deal with managing weight issues of aircraft, whether on a small plane or helicopter.  Both of us have been required to leave things behind in order to meet weight requirements; heck, I even got bumped off two flights out of Holy Cross earlier this year because of weight issues.  Before we went too deep into the rabbit hole, we decided to disengage with the lady and move on.

We stopped into an electronics store, Soundbalance, because we needed to get a splitter to listen to two headphones with the iPad.  A salesperson, Michael, was not only helpful in finding us what we needed, he graciously listened to our story, which I tried to make funnier than it really was.  He and his coworker were very sympathetic and appalled at our story.  When we made our purchase, he reminded us we would need batteries, so we picked those up as well.  While I continued our story, he stripped out the splitter from its package, added two batteries, and threw away the trash for us.  It would also be the only satisfactory customer service experience we would have during our entire travel period.

After leaving Soundbalance, we decided to see if the Alaska Airlines Board Room itself would appreciate our situation and offer us a complimentary visit to the Board Room to help ease our ordeal.  In the end, I felt like I was living out the scene of a Charles Dickens story, or perhaps that flashback scene from “Lost” when Jin Kwon was working as a doorman at a prestigious hotel and a pauper and his son ask to be able to come into the hotel to use the bathroom. The visibly squirming boy simply can’t make it to the nearest public restroom, and, hey, aren’t you from a fishing village, too, don’t you understand?  Jin ultimately relents, knowing he is going to get into trouble as his boss had earlier warned him to not do such a thing.  Don’t let the lowly street rabble into the hotel; we have standards.

Well, apparently, the Alaska Airlines Board Room has standards as well.  When we entered the Board Room, there was a kind-looking gentleman in a suit standing behind the type of reception counter you find at an expensive hotel.  “Is this where we check in?” I asked.  “Yes,” Frank responded, “you can either show me your boarding pass or your Board Room membership card.”  “Well,” I answered, “we’re not exactly members,” I said.  And as I proceeded to tell him our story and how we were hoping that he could help us with a complimentary pass, his previously warm and embracing demeanor changed to one of practiced politeness supported by a forced smile.  They could not issue such complimentary passes, he explained, because they had limited capacity and they needed to make sure there was enough space for paying Board Room members.  As I looked out at the only 30% capacity with an exasperated look on my face, Frank anticipated my next move: “If we let you in now, then we would have to do it for everyone and soon we wouldn’t be able to support our members.”  “Are you telling me,” I responded, “that the sort of fiasco we have experienced today is so commonplace with Alaska Airlines that you would be overwhelmed with similar requests?” No, he responded, and then proceeded to present the usual dominoes theory justification for whey they couldn’t let us in.  The ultimate reason was simply that allowing us in “would diminish the value” for the Board Room members who pay for the privilege of using the space.

Of course, if we wanted to pay $45 each for a guest day pass, we would be welcome to stay.  But they would not let us in as compensation for losing a whole day of our vacation due to Alaska Airlines’ gross incompetence.  Well, we didn’t think we should have to pay to have a place to relax because of their screw up.

I have been an air traveler for 39 years.  My first flight was from Rapid City, South Dakota to Phoenix, Arizona, when I was six years old.  A few months later, I made my first Trans-Pacific flight on Pan American Airlines from LAX to Guam.  Since then, I have flown into or out of South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Bahrain, London, South Africa, Zambia, and a whole host of cities in the U.S.

I have flown countless miles on countless airlines, and never in all of those years of travel have I ever been subjected to such incompetence (the original scheduling fiasco that forced us to make a diversion just for a crew change to the 2+ hour wait on the tarmac that ensued) and such indifference (from the customer service counter to the national number to the operations person to the Board Room).  We heard a lot of apologies, but not one single offer of compensation for the value of our lost time.  From its marketing campaigns to its Club 49 program, Alaska Airlines makes a nice show of caring for its customers, particularly its Alaskan customers (despite its name, Alaska Airlines is based out of Seattle).  Today’s experience has shown that it is all smoke and mirrors.  Alaska Airlines’ message:  We don’t care if you see that man behind the curtain; we just don’t give a shit what you think of our operation because you are a captive audience.  You are, after all, only Alaskans, and we have standards.

2012 Year in Review

Friday, December 21st, 2012
2012 Year in Review

In many ways it was a busy year, in others, it could have been much, much busier.  There were essentially two things that drew my attention the most this year: my Bristol Bay project and the aurora borealis.  In between, I had some opportunities to photograph the nearby landscapes, chase critters (not literally, that would be illegal) up in Denali National Park & Preserve, and to study the night sky when the aurora wasn’t cooperating.  Almost all of my travel was within Alaska, but it took me to many places: Barrow, Nome, Holy Cross, Dillingham, Naknek, Nondalton and Sitka.  I also had the pleasure of visiting Yellowstone National Park for the first time in over a decade, and enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with fellow photographer Nick Fucci

Click here to view my 2012 Year in Review gallery.

New happenings with my Bristol Bay project

Thursday, December 20th, 2012
New happenings with my Bristol Bay project

While I have a few stories from field trips out into the Bristol Bay region I need to enshrine in this blog, there are some current developments that are worth noting. 

First and foremost, I have launched a new crowd funding effort on USA Projects. USA Projects is a program created by United States Artists (USA), a nonprofit grantmaking and artist advocacy organization that has awarded over $17 million to America’s finest artists in the last six years.  I was able to raise $5,000 earlier this year to fund fieldwork in Nondalton, Iliamna and Dillingham, as well as Seattle, Washington and Butte, Montana.  My new fundraising effort has a minimum goal of $6,000, which must be met by February 4, 2013 in order to retain those funds for my project.  If that goal is met, I will be able to earn as much as $40,000, the amount needed to complete all fieldwork for the book by September 2013.  You can visit the fundraising page, which includes an introductory video, and make a tax-deductible contribution.  One-to-one matching funds are currently available from the Rasmuson Foundation, so you can really maximize your contributions and get some great contribution perks!

Next, I will be on the Shannyn Moore Show this evening (December 20) to talk about my project!  Shannyn Moore has been very active in promoting the protection of Bristol Bay from harmful development.  As a former commercial fisherman and an avid angler, Shannyn has spent a lot of time out in Bristol Bay and has a lot of passion.  Plus, she’s just a hoot to talk to or listen to.  I am honored and excited to be able to appear on her show.  I will be on the air from 7-8 p.m. Alaska Standard Time (that’s four hours behind EST), so you can either listen locally on the radio at 95.5 FM or 1020 AM, or stream online.

Finally, for the last year, the main source of information about this project was the project Facebook page.  Soon, the dedicated website for the project, designed and produced by BuzzBizz Studios, will be available.  The graphic design for the site is complete, and they are creating the content right now.  Content will include a gallery, information about project partners, stills and video of scenery and wildlife, biographical descriptions of people in the region, as well as audio and video of people I have interviewed for the project.  This is going to be a gorgeous site and a fantastic resource for people who want to virtually experience what Bristol Bay is all about. 

More updates and stories will be coming soon, so stay connected!

We take wildlife records seriously

Sunday, December 16th, 2012
We take wildlife records seriously

In December of 2010, I was one of the attorneys sitting at the table on the Plaintiffs’ side of the courtroom in Nunamta Aulukestai v. State of Alaska, a lawsuit filed in 2009 challenging the constitutionality of the State of Alaska’s exploratory permitting scheme for upland hardrock mineral exploration.  Namely, the State of Alaska had (and still has) a practice of not conducting what is called a “best interests” determination before allowing hardrock mining exploration, while requiring a best interest finding for similar activity for oil and gas exploration.  The lawsuit focused on the 20+ years of exploration conducted at the Pebble Prospect – it was a perfect illustration of why such findings should be conducted: the State would have to take a hard look at the long term benefits and impacts of such activity and allow the public the opportunity to comment on the project.  In its 20+ years, the Pebble exploration effort itself had not been subject to public comment to any State agency – and it still hasn’t.

During the trial, one of the Plaintiffs’ experts was Lance Trasky, a fisheries biologist with extensive fisheries and wildlife management experience after a career in the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.  His opinion focused on the impacts of Pebble exploration to wildlife and the adequacy of Pebble’s mitigation measures involved in water use to protect fish.  On cross-examination, the Pebble attorney, Matt Singer with Jermain, Dunnagan & Owens, sought to discredit Mr. Trasky’s opinion by pointing out that Trasky had not relied on all available information to form his opinion.  Namely, Mr. Singer sought to point out that Mr. Trasky had not considered data reported in wildlife sighting logs maintained by exploration drill rig crews.  All crews on site were required to write down in this log the wildlife sighted while out at the work site.

After establishing that Trasky had not relied on the logs, Singer then went on to question Trasky about why he hadn’t relied on them.  Wouldn’t other wildlife experts preparing an opinion rely on such a document?, Singer asked.  No, Trasky replied.  He didn’t rely on them because they were unreliable, Trasky said.  And why were they unreliable?, Singer queried.  Because one of the reports noted that the crew observed mountain goat in the region, a species not present in that part of the state.  But that wasn’t the real problem.  The same crew had also reported sighting a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Outburst of laughter in the courtroom, with Mr. Singer looking like he wished he would have personally examined that exhibit before presenting it to the expert witness.

I was reminded of this the other day with a report from the Alaska Dispatch about Matthew Terry, a young fishing guide from Alabama who spends his summers helping to catch fish on the Kasilof River on the Kenai Peninsula.  It turns out that Mr. Terry has caught the unfavorable attention of Alaska State Troopers with his logbooks from his summer 2012 catch.  Among the species that Mr. Terry reported harvesting with his clients were tuna, blue whale, “jack” beluga (adopting the term from “jack” king, which is a juvenile king salmon that has returned too early), and Chupacabra.  Yes, Chupacabra, the mythical monster from Mexico that is famous for its fondness for goat bloodletting, and featured in the “X-Files” episode, “El Mundo Gira.”  Unfortunately for Mr. Terry, Alaska’s fish and game enforcement officers expect guides to take seriously their responsibility to accurately report their catch, leading to their issuing a summons for his appearance in court.

Alaskans take their fish and wildlife and laws related to them rather seriously.  You can earn stiffer penalties for poaching than for your first (or even probably second or third) DUI.  (Not that I agree with such results – DUI penalties should be much stiffer than they are.)  The abundance of fish and wildlife resources are among the things that make Alaska truly special.  One of the important tools for fisheries or wildlife managers is knowledge of the population.  The State lacks the initiative (certainly not lacking the money with a $15 billion budget reserve) to actually go out there and conduct population counts on major fish and wildlife populations at all locations in the state, so one of the things that the Alaska Department of Fish & Game relies on is self-reporting.  Individuals who are out there in the country (for example, drilling crews) or harvesting fish or wildlife (users and guides) will have much more opportunity to report on population status than state biologists.  Part of keeping track of that population is the consumption of it.   Knowing the harvest levels of certain species aid fisheries and wildlife managers in determining harvest levels in the future.

And while the Pebble drilling crews or the young man from Alabama provide us some much-appreciated entertainment value, their creativity in reporting on official documents – and the reaction to those reports – highlights that in Alaska, you don’t mess with fish and wildlife management.