GUEST COMMENTARY: America’s sickening lack of health care options

In a country that prides itself on checks and balances, freedom and independence, the health care industry seems to have self-selected a different path. Our current system prioritizes complexity, opacity and insider deals over direct care, transparency and competition — leaving consumers powerless to act in their own best interest. In the U.S. health care debate today, much of the blame for our broken and overpriced system is pinned on the medical-industrial complex: big pharma, insurers and massively integrated hospital systems — many of which are tax-exempt while being extremely profitable. We keep trying to tackle this highly complex problem with one-size-fits-all policies like “Health care for all” or “Medicare for all.” Yes, making sure everyone in America has access to quality health care and can live their lives without fear of medical bankruptcy, is no-doubt the right idea, but disabling consumer choice and customization is not. One size fits all approaches mean many of us are left with a solution that just doesn’t work. We live in a free-market economy, and that economy has produced innovative products and services that have changed the world. This entrepreneurial spirit gave way to thousands of products and new ideas, so why does our health care system look relatively the same as it did decades ago? Where is the individuality, creativity, and passion that shapes most other major industries in our economy? We deserve health care options that make sense for our individual needs based on our personal life experiences. Put in a different context: imagine we are all forced to only throw away items we no longer desired, eliminating different or varied options such as hosting a garage sale, or using a technology platform like eBay, DePop, Craigslist, or Amazon. That might work for some people, but many would prefer a different option. Lucky for us, this menu of ecommerce options exists, and competition has led to constant innovation, a variety of options, and transparency. This, too, is the case with insurance. Consider you’re a father who needs medical treatment maybe once or twice a year. However, these treatments still don’t meet the annual deductible—and you are forced to pay out of pocket, with money that you don’t have, especially considering the high premiums you’ve already paid. Or you are the owner of a small business and want an affordable option for your employees, but no one network comes close to meeting everyone’s needs. Or you have found that alternative, integrative forms of medicine work better for you, but your insurance plan does not cover them. This is to say, insurance, as a health care solution, should not be a consumer’s only choice. Coverage does not guarantee care, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee affordable care. There are many non-insurance options for people eager to play a bigger role in their health care decision making and engage in negotiating lower health care costs, such as direct primary care, or DPC, and medical cost sharing, or MCS. Direct primary care allows patients unlimited access to their physician, without insurance, in exchange for an affordable monthly subscription payment. By cutting out the middleman, direct primary care physicians can spend more time, effort and focus on treating patients without the heavy administrative burdens that plague the insurance system. DPC providers prioritize patient relationships and high-quality care. DPC also pairs well with medical cost-sharing organizations which provide an innovative, non-insurance approach to managing large health care costs. Sedera and other medical cost-sharing groups promote transparency and autonomy in health decisions while encouraging mindfulness about the impact on the broader sharing community. Members of medical cost-sharing organizations are also cash-pay, which can help decrease the administrative burden on physicians. Alaska needs to be fueling the fire of competition and making the incumbent systems work harder to provide solutions that are actually beneficial to the patient, like DPC and medical cost sharing, not mandating the purchase of a product that falls short. Rejecting the current one-size-fits-all mandate is the only way we will achieve the efficient, affordable, and transparent care that we so desperately need. Our complex care system is explicitly sick, and the cure is more simple than most Americans realize. ^ Jamie Lagarde is the CEO of Sedera and Bethany Marcum is the CEO of The Alaska Policy Forum.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Show us the money — Citizens, candidates can build Alaska budget

Alaska is noisy right now. Radio ads, television commercials, mailers, and social media videos from candidates asking Alaskans for their votes bombard us daily. Most legislative candidates claim solving the state’s budget crisis will be their top priority, if elected. Few provide much detail. It doesn’t have to be that way. A new website, www.akbudget.com, offers all Alaskans, including political candidates, the opportunity to make revenue and spending choices to address the projected $1.3 billion dollar shortfall in the State of Alaska’s fiscal year 2022 budget. The interactive website was developed by Commonwealth North’s Fiscal Policy Study Group. Our nonpartisan group has worked tirelessly since May to flesh out the most likely options for balancing the state’s budget. During that tedious process, a dozen work groups and more than 60 diverse Alaskans closely examined spending and revenue choices. Because the state budget is complex and multi-faceted, the web tool focuses on undesignated general fund spending and programs that most rely on those funds. In other words, the areas where legislators can choose to spend money. The website, which is the only one of its kind in Alaska that we know of, works like this: Visitors read basic descriptions of different budget categories, and choose what actions to take. They can cut spending, add new revenue, increase current taxes, and any combination of the above. As they make choices, the website updates the budget gap in real-time. For example, when a hypothetical user chooses to implement a new tax, the site shows how much revenue would be raised and how large a gap remains. The site is meant to give Alaskans a holistic look at what balancing the budget looks like, and how large and serious the challenge is. Perhaps to the dismay of some candidates, there is no reason they cannot visit the site and make their proposed choices public. In fact, we encourage them to do so. And we encourage voters to ask candidates to “show them the money” by producing their completed budget plan. The exercise is not just for legislative candidates. All Alaskans can visit the site and have their say, which empowers citizens to provide input to elected officials as they prepare for a grueling session in Juneau. We urge Alaskans to roll up their sleeves and struggle with the same choices and trade-offs the administration and legislature will face in 2021. Make your voice heard and spending priorities known. Even better, be an informed citizen. Our elected leaders take feedback and criticism much more seriously when we demonstrate an understanding of the challenge and have done the hard work ourselves. Ultimately, Commonwealth North will collect responses from Alaskans, and share them with legislators and the administration. To be clear, our intent is not to hold up a single budget solution, but rather to engage Alaskans so they have a better understanding of the difficult choices all of face in the next year. We invite Alaskans to be part of the process now as the debate heats up. Cheryl Frasca is a former director of the State Office of Management and Budget, and former director of the Office of Management and Budget, Municipality of Anchorage. Eric Wohlforth is an attorney, and former Trustee with the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. He served as the commissioner of the State Department of Revenue in the early 1970s.

State CARES plan splits $50M among fishery sectors

Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials plan to evenly distribute $50 million in fisheries pandemic relief aid among the sport, commercial and processing sectors with smaller amounts set aside for mitigating impacts to aquaculture businesses and subsistence harvesters. The department’s draft plan allocates 32 percent of the $50 million, or about $16 million, for the three major sectors of Alaska’s fishing industry; $500,000, or 1 percent of the funds would go to aquaculture businesses and $1.5 million, or 3 percent of the total would be dedicated to offset challenges to subsistence harvests. The money is Alaska’s share of $300 million Congress directed for fishery relief nationwide in the $2 trillion CARES Act passed in the early days of business shutdowns and travel restrictions nationwide. While the state reliably accounts for more than half of the country’s commercial seafood landings and has a robust sport fishing industry, the CARES fisheries money was calculated state-by-state based on the residency of commercial harvesters and the homeport for at-sea processing vessels, per guidance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the seven-page spending plan states. According to the plan, NOAA Fisheries calculated the total revenue from the sport, commercial and processing sectors in eligible jurisdictions. “For Alaska, average annual landings revenue data in the commercial harvesting sector was adjusted to attribute landing to each vessel owner’s state of residence to better reflect where fishing income accrues,” the plan states. “The adjustments were made by determining the proportion of landings in Alaska fisheries attributed to vessel owners residing in another state and attributing that portion of the revenue to the respective states of residence.” Eligible applicants in a fishing business must certify that they incurred a revenue loss of more than 35 percent during the period from March 1 to Nov. 1 directly resulting from the pandemic. Revenue figures from that period will be compared against gross revenue totals from the previous five years for the period. Applicants must have operated their business in 2018 and 2019 but those without revenue records for all of the previous five years will be able to average gross revenues from the available years. Projections of income or losses will not be accepted, according to the plan documents. The revenue information NOAA Fisheries used to reach the $50 million allocation for Alaska attributed 5.5 percent of qualifying revenue to the sport charter sector, 35.2 percent to the commercial harvesting sector and 59.3 percent to seafood processors, wholesalers and distributors. However, those revenue splits were based on historical information and do not reflect the likely loss in each sector due to the pandemic, according to ADFG. The sport charter allocation was increased significantly “to help mitigate loss to that sector resulting from travel restrictions and health mandates that reduced demand for sport charter services,” the plan states. While state officials deemed fishing an essential industry in spring when other business sectors were forced to temporarily close, nonresident sport charter customers were not given special clearance to travel to Alaska as nonresident commercial fishing and processing workers were. United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said she could not comment on the plan because the large organization’s board of directors had not formally reviewed it. Leaders of several other commercial fishing groups across the state said they were similarly in the process of reviewing the plan. ADFG is taking public comments on the draft plan through Oct. 19. Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ben Mohr said the even split among the three large sectors is a recognition of that issue. Mohr noted that many commercial fishery participants dealt with lower market prices stemming from a lack of restaurant demand, particularly in spring, but emphasized that they were still able to fish. “Many of our sport and charter folks didn’t get to fish at all. The tourist business that these guys rely on didn’t materialize,” he said. Mohr said anecdotal reports indicate many Southcentral sport fishing guide and charter operators took between a 60 to 70 percent loss in revenue this year and the losses were often worse for those in more remote locations where travel was even more difficult. In Southeast, where cruise ships bring more than 1 million potential charter customers to Alaska each year, the losses for some businesses have reached 90 percent of their usual revenue, according to Mohr. He added that some operators likely offered deep discounts or resident specials in order to generate more business and questioned how many of them would not hit the 35 percent loss threshold because of it. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission will publish the final application materials and review and approve the federal aid applications for the state, according to the plan. The $1.5 million subsistence allocation is set to be split evenly among qualify applicants, provided a member of an applying household participated in a marine or anadromous subsistence fishery in at least two of the previous four years. ADFG Legislative Liaison Rachel Hanke wrote via email that discussions with members of communities with high rates of subsistence harvests revealed that the biggest impact to them was from travel restrictions. Many younger Alaskans that have moved to urban centers were unable to travel to their home villages and communities to participate in harvests, according to Hanke. She wrote that the eligible subsistence impacts could be broad and “any impact at all that meets the intent of the act” will be allowable. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Judge denies State request for injunction against Subsistence Board

Rural subsistence hunters won the initial round in the latest battle between state and federal wildlife managers that also underscores the long-simmering tensions between Alaska’s rural and urban fish and wildlife harvesters. U.S. District Court of Alaska Judge Sharon Gleason denied the State of Alaska’s petition for a preliminary injunction to reopen federal lands in the area of the popular Nelchina caribou hunt to hunters from across the state in a Sept. 18 order. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration filed a lawsuit against the Federal Subsistence Board Aug. 10 in an attempt to overturn the board’s July decision to close federal public lands in state game management units 13A and 13B to non-local moose and caribou hunters for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 fall and winter hunting seasons. State officials contend the federal restrictions on moose and caribou hunting in the Upper Copper River basin violate the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, and impair the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s ability to fairly and effectively manage the game resources. They additionally allege in the same complaint that the Federal Subsistence Board overstepped its authority by opening special, unrelated moose and deer hunts in Southeast Alaska last summer. The board approved the closure at its July 16 meeting as a means to reduce competition for game between federally qualified subsistence hunters who live in the area and hunters from elsewhere in the state — often from the Anchorage, Fairbanks or Mat-Su areas. State law mandates that all Alaska residents are eligible to participate in state-sanctioned subsistence harvests across the state, while federal law can offer preferential harvest status on federally managed lands to residents of qualifying rural areas. The diverging structures have long spurred often convoluted but reliably contentious debates between state and federal land and resource managers. State Game Management Unit 13 encompasses most of the upper Susitna and Copper River valleys and is a particularly popular region among urban hunters because of its road access. The 13A and B subunits can be reached by Denali, Glenn and Richardson highways. Many residents of the area have long insisted the annual influx of non-local hunters hinders their ability to successfully harvest moose and caribou for subsistence purposes. The closure, which applies to nearly 3 percent of the land within Unit 13, was first proposed to the board by a resident of Glennallen. Those federal lands are largely along the Delta and Gulkana rivers. State attorneys wrote in their original complaint that the board first violated ANILCA and related regulations by issuing the closure to reduce hunter competition, which they claim is an unlawful justification for the move. “Congress (in ANILCA) did not authorize restrictions on hunting based on competition or number of hunters in the area,” the complaint states. The board also extended the proposed closure to two years so the board wouldn’t have to address future special requests rather than limiting it to the “minimum period necessary” required by regulation, according to state attorneys. According to state and federal data compiled by board staff, between 600 and 700 hunters participated in the federal moose hunts for all of Unit 13 in recent years with an average success rate of about 11 percent, compared to state moose hunts in the unit that attract an average of about 4,700 hunters per year with a success rate of about 17 percent. The number of state Unit 13 caribou hunters — and their success rate — can vary widely year-to-year, primarily due to animal abundance, according to board reports. In 2016, state hunters harvested 5,785 caribou in Unit 13, but the harvest dropped to 1,411 animals by 2018. Qualified hunters participating in the Unit 13 federal subsistence hunts harvested 320 caribou and 61 moose in 2018 and 102 caribou and 71 moose in 2019, according to Office of Subsistence Management Wildlife Biologist Lisa Maas. ADFG officials typically do not limit the number of Unit 13 subsistence caribou hunting permits — known as Tier I permits — issued to Alaska residents; rather, managers limit harvest by closing the season early if hunters approach the yearly harvest quota based on in-season reporting. The Unit 13 Tier I caribou hunt started Aug. 10 and closed Sept. 20. It is scheduled to reopen Oct. 21 following a closure to protect the animals during their breeding season, or rut. The season could remain open until March 31 if the harvest quota is not met before then. Dunleavy administration officials also argued that the board overstepped its authority in June by approving special moose and deer hunts requested by the Organized Village of Kake. Tribe leaders claimed in court filings that the COVID-19 pandemic caused shortages of food and cleaning supplies in Kake, a Kupreanof Island community with about 550 residents. In June, the Federal Subsistence Board authorized area U.S. Forest Service officials to permit a special 30-day hunt in which two bull moose and five male Sitka blacktail deer could be harvested by Tribal members. Hunters harvested those animals in the hunt that took place from June 24 to July 24 and distributed the meat to more than 100 households in Kake, according to court filings. The Organized Village of Kake intervened as a defendant in the state’s lawsuit against the board. As for the Unit 13 issues, Gleason in part agreed with the board’s justifications that the closures would “ensure continued subsistence use opportunities” and “address public safety concerns resulting from overcrowding and user conflict along the Richardson Highway,” she wrote in an order denying the state’s request for a preliminary injunction. Gleason also concluded that at first blush that the two-year closure appears to be in line with the regulatory cycle of the Office of Subsistence Management, or OSM, which the board operates under. “Because the closure term is consistent with the outer limits of (OSM regulations) — the end of the current regulatory cycle — and the record provides support for the conclusion that two years might be the ‘minimum time period… necessary under the circumstances’ due to the ongoing nature of the issues in Unit 13, the Court finds that the State has not demonstrated either a likelihood of success or serious questions going to the merits of its claim,” she wrote. Gleason did not rule on the state’s claims regarding the Kake moose and deer hunt or the state’s claims overall. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

‘Pebble tapes’ send project leaders into damage control mode

The Pebble Limited Partnership is trying to patch its battered image after secretly recorded videos last month caught its two top executives boasting about their influence over Alaska politicians and regulators. The controversial Pebble mine proposal faces new challenges after Alaska’s U.S. senators, the governor and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denounced the statements as false. But despite the blowback from the videos’ Sept. 21 release, the developer of the copper and gold prospect in Southwest Alaska continues its effort to win a key construction permit from the Corps. “The idea that Pebble is dead, no matter whose opinion it is, is just not accurate,” said Mark Hamilton, vice president of public affairs at Pebble Limited Partnership. “(Pebble) can go forward and it is going forward as we speak.” Amid the fallout: • Pebble’s chief executive, Tom Collier, resigned after he and Ron Thiessen, president of Pebble parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals, were recorded talking freely on the tapes. Thiessen has not resigned, a Pebble official said Oct. 5. • Democratic members of Congress have raised the possibility of investigations into what they say are discrepancies between the executives’ statements in the tapes and comments that Collier made before a House subcommittee. • Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan came out solidly against the project. Sullivan’s challenger in this year’s election, Democratic-nominated independent Al Gross, is using the leaked tapes in campaign ads against Sullivan. • Alaska’s speaker of the House has asked Gov. Mike Dunleavy not to support a mitigation plan Pebble needs to win the Corps permit. • House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said he would donate the $500 he received from Collier to charity. The group opposing Ballot Measure 2 said it would return Collier’s $2,500 donation. It retained donations from some current Pebble employees. Pebble opposition groups remain wary Collier’s resignation does nothing to eliminate the questions raised in the videotaped conversations about the credibility of the permitting process, said Nelli Williams, Alaska director of Trout Unlimited. “A full investigation by Congress is absolutely necessary — Alaskans and Americans deserve to know the truth,” she said in a prepared statement. If built, Pebble would be located about 200 miles southwest of Anchorage, near headwaters of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. Pebble would like to secure a Corps permit soon, before entering a three-year permitting phase with the state. John Shively, Pebble’s interim CEO replacing Collier, released a statement Oct. 1 trying to distance the company from the statements made on the tapes. He reminded readers that Northern Dynasty has given an unconditional apology to Alaskans, while he personally apologized to Alaskans and Pebble staff. “The people working on the project, from our site staff to our corporate staff, have the utmost integrity — and I know all of them felt betrayed by what they saw expressed on those tapes,” Shively said. “Much of the content was boastful, embellished, insensitive and stretched credulity to its breaking point.” In the videos, secretly organized by an environmental group, Collier and Thiessen spoke with people hired to pose as potential Pebble investors from Hong Kong. Collier and Thiessen said in the recordings Alaska Republican U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Sullivan were just being political when they said in August that Pebble has not met the high bar for environmentally safe development and should not be permitted. They described friendly relations with Corps officials. They said they could call up Dunleavy, and he’d reach the White House on their behalf, whenever they want. The leaked conversations add to the uncertainty the mine faces, said Bob Loeffler, previously the director of Alaska’s Division of Mining, Land and Water under former Alaska Govs. Tony Knowles and Frank Murkowski. “It can’t be good for a project when so many politicians are going against it,” he said. The mine has lost its major mining partners over the years, including Anglo American in 2013. Pebble and Northern Dynasty, a small mining company from Canada, need investors to help cover enormous development costs. Finding an investor could be even harder now, said Bruce Switzer, former director of environmental affairs for Cominco, now Teck, in the early 1990s when the mining company owned the Pebble deposit. Teck Cominco left the project in 2005 because it’s not economically viable, despite what Pebble claims about the mine’s enormous value, Switzer asserted. Switzer is also a former mining consultant who advised Pebble opponents after he left Cominco. The leaked conversations underscore that Pebble is a politically motivated project, rather than one that can stand on its own financial merits, Switzer said. If Pebble is the world-class deposit the company touts, “why would you have these two promoters essentially lying” about the project’s relationships with politicians, said Switzer. Federal lawmakers raise specter of investigations After the tapes were leaked, Alaska’s U.S. senators have taken pains to emphasize their opposition to the project receiving a permit. Sullivan, facing pressure from challenger Gross, came out forcefully against the mine on Twitter, saying “No Pebble Mine.” Lisa Murkowski, who described herself as “absolutely, spitting furious” in reaction to the tapes, retweeted Sullivan’s message with three heart emoji for support. Sullivan later said in an interview with Alaska Public Media that he would not support the project even if it presented a satisfactory mitigation plan. Hamilton, with Pebble, said officials with any project in Alaska would like to have the vocal support of the state’s U.S. senators. But it’s the Corps that will decide whether to award a permit or not. “Everyone who was insulted by that display (in the videos) appropriately does not hold us in the highest regard,” Hamilton said. “But these are professionals at the Corps ultimately, and the Corps will do what the regulations tell them to do.” Other federal lawmakers are raising the specter of possible probes into Collier’s written testimony to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in 2019, when he said, “Pebble has no current plans, in this application or in any other way, for expansion.” But while Pebble has submitted a 20-year plan to the Corps, Thiessen said in the video that the mine could potentially produce minerals for 200 years. He said expansion beyond 20 years will be unstoppable once development begins. Collier said “we,” presumably Pebble, will at some point request a mine expansion. As he had before, he said that will require a new state and federal permitting process. Longtime Pebble opponent U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., called for a Department of Justice investigation into the comments. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, R-Oregon, chair of the House transportation committee, said Collier may have misled Congress in 2019. His investigative staff are reviewing the comments, he said in a recent statement. Thiessen and Collier did not say in the videos that Pebble has a “defined” plan for expansion beyond the 20-year proposal, according to a statement from Northern Dynasty last month. “What we have said consistently, and is reinforced in the ‘Pebble tapes’ released this week,” is there is no current “formal” plan for expansion, Northern Dynasty said. Pebble still aims to win the permit — and change minds The U.S. Army, the Corps’ parent agency, said in August that the project can’t be permitted as currently proposed. The land-use protection plan that Pebble is pursuing, showing how Pebble will compensate for damage to wetlands, will satisfy regulators and many critics of the mine, Hamilton said. “I expect that compliance (for the project) will switch the opinion of many individuals who have been insulted,” Hamilton said. It appears that the so-called compensatory mitigation plan will need to use state land, requiring state support, according to a letter to the governor last week from Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent from Dillingham, and Rep. Louise Stutes, a Republican from Kodiak. The lawmakers asked Dunleavy in the letter to not support Pebble’s mitigation plan. Edgmon, in an interview, said the leaked videos raise serious doubts about the objectivity of the permitting process at both the state and federal level. Both the Dunleavy administration and the Corps have said they are committed to a fair and vigorous review process. In a three-page reply letter on Oct. 6, Dunleavy defended the economic argument for Pebble construction, though he does not expressly state support for it. As he has before, the governor did not express support for the mine, but said he does support a fair review process. “No serious person would disagree that accessing the mineral deposits within the Bristol Bay Mining District, if done in a way that protects the watershed, would transform the lives of Alaskans living in the region,” he wrote. “My role is to ensure that each project is subject to a fair and rigorous review process, and that every opportunity to create thousands of jobs is fully explored.” In the videos, Collier said Pebble plans to set aside state land for a preserve. He said the state has supported Pebble “behind the scenes.” Collier also said he recently met with the governor “to get his commitment that they would be there” to support the project. The governor’s office rejected that statement on Oct. 2. “The governor has not committed to any proposal, including a draft mitigation plan,” said Jeff Turner, a spokesman for the governor, in a statement. “As far as Mr. Collier goes, both Pebble and Northern Dynasty have said he embellished his statements.” Hamilton said Pebble has survived other challenges, including a threat by the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration that essentially halted the mine’s progress in 2014. Those earlier challenges were based on what Hamilton calls a false narrative that the mine would destroy the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. That message has been more harmful to the mine over the years than the tapes, he said. Hamilton said the Corps has determined that the mine and the fishery can safely coexist, though conservation and fishing groups counter that the Corps’ determination is flawed. The opponents add that the Corps found that damage from the mine would be extensive, including permanent destruction of more than 100 miles of streams. The debate over the mine’s potential impacts to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery remains Pebble’s toughest challenge, Hamilton said. “The idea that someone acted out and insulted people is not trivial,” Hamilton said of the videos. “But it’s not the heavily advertised narrative of fear that has had people concerned about the actual workings of this mine.” “It’s bad, but this is not like the constant screaming that a mine will kill all the salmon,” he said. “That has been a powerful message of our opponents, but they are wrong.”

Short salmon supplies send prices upward

Now that the 2020 pack of Alaska salmon has been caught and put up, stakeholders will get a better picture of how global prices may rise or fall. Nearly 75 percent of the value of Alaska’s salmon exports is driven by sales between July and October. And right now, lower supplies of wild Pacific salmon by the major producers are pushing up prices as the bulk of those sales are made. For sockeye salmon, global supplier and market tracker Tradex reports that frozen fillets are in high demand and supplies are hard to source for all sizes. With a catch this year topping 45 million, Alaska is the leading producer of that popular commodity. “Luckily, sockeye harvests were once again abundant in Bristol Bay as fishermen caught nearly 200 million pounds. Although that’s a bigger than average harvest for Bristol Bay, it’s still down 9 percent from last year. With lower sockeye harvests in Russia and closures in Canada, we estimate the global sockeye harvest declined by 26 percent in 2020,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association speaking on the Tradex Three-Minute Market Report. Tradex reports that sockeye prices are “significantly higher than last year” and suggests that suppliers are stockpiling inventories in their freezers. “Our recommendation for sockeye buyers is similar to a few weeks ago, which is to secure your supply now. Sockeye prices are anticipated to make a good bull-run before moving into a bear-type market,” said correspondent Tasha Cadence. Tradex predicts the same for wild chum salmon due to low catches from all producers. “In speaking to our VP of Asia Operations, he advised they are anticipating that new season chum won’t be available until the end of September and that salmon will certainly be very short this year,” Cadence added. “Both from Russia and Alaska, and the estimated raw materials price will go up to $4,300 per metric ton, which translates to about $1.95 to $2 per pound.” And the same holds true for pink salmon, where big shortfalls from Russia are biting into the global supply. Prices for pink salmon that are processed in China and distributed back to the U.S. and other countries have increased from $2,600 to $3,400 per metric ton, or from $1.20 to $1.55 per pound. “Going back a few weeks it was reported that Russian boats did not even want to make commitments at the higher prices as they wanted pricing at even higher levels,” Cadence said. A weakening dollar also means foreign customers can buy more U.S. salmon for less. How the initial uptick in salmon commodity markets might play out in fishermen’s paychecks remains to be seen. Alaska processors typically post a base price as a placeholder when the salmon season gets underway. Then, bonuses for fish that is chilled, bled or delivered are often sent to fishermen in the fall, and any profit sharing checks usually arrive the following spring. “Retro-payments more than anything are a payment to appease the fleet and keep them from jumping to another processor,” said a longtime Bristol Bay fisherman. “There are many instances where a processor has paid their ‘retro’ or adjustment in the spring, only to have to make another payment in early June to match competitors. Price adjustments are a dark art and there is no set formula as it relates to the sale of the pack.” Fish on! Salmon numbers continue to trickle in but Alaska’s total catch won’t add up to much more than 114 million fish, about 85 percent of what state managers predicted for the 2020 season. Of that, more than 45 million are sockeyes and 58 million are pinks. Landings of just more than 2 million cohos are the lowest since the mid-1970s and a chum salmon harvest of just less than 8 million is the weakest since 1979. Chinook volumes also are well below historical levels. The preliminary value of Bristol Bay’s 40.7 million salmon catch, nearly all sockeyes, is $140.7 million, ranking ninth in the last 20 years. That doesn’t include any postseason price bonuses. As always, there is a lot of fishing action going on after salmon. At Southeast Alaska, beam trawlers are back on the water targeting 650,000 pounds of pink and sidestripe shrimp in a third opener. Southeast’s Dungeness season reopened on Oct. 1 and a few million pounds are likely to come out of that fishery. There will again be no opener for red or blue king crab due to low abundances. On Oct. 5, a hundred or more divers also could be heading down for over 1.7 million pounds of red sea cucumbers. A catch of just less than 3 million pounds of sea urchins also is up for grabs, but there may be a lack of buyers. Southeast divers also are targeting giant geoduck clams. At Prince William Sound, a 15,000-pound test fishery is underway for golden king crabs through October; likewise, a nearly 7 million-pound golden king crab fishery is ongoing along the Aleutian Islands. Kodiak crabbers have pulled up more than 2.3 million pounds of Dungeness crab so far with a few weeks left to go in the season. A sea cucumber fishery opened at Kodiak on Oct. 1 with a 130,000-pound limit. Halibut landings were approaching 13 million pounds, or 79 percent of the 16 million-pound catch limit. Homer, Kodiak and Seward are the top ports for landings. For sablefish (black cod), the catch was nearing 17 million pounds, or 52 percent of the nearly 32 million pound quota. Seward, Kodiak, Sitka and Dutch Harbor were getting the most deliveries. Both of those fisheries end in early November. The Bering Sea pollock fishery closes on Nov. 1. Alaska pollock is the nation’s top food fishery and the Bering Sea will produce more than 3 billion pounds again this year. And as always, fisheries for cod, flounders, rockfish and much more are ongoing in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Finally, the state Board of Fisheries has accepted 275 proposals to address at its as yet undetermined meetings on Prince William Sound and Southeast subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries and statewide shellfish. Meeting dates have been bumped from this winter to sometime next year due to COVID-19 constraints. The board will consider new meeting dates at an Oct. 15-16 virtual work session. Halibut survey success A “resounding success” is how scientists summed up this summer’s Pacific halibut survey despite it being shortened and scaled down a bit due to COVID-19 constraints. The so-called fishery-independent setline survey uses standardized methods to track population trends in the Pacific halibut stock, which ranges from the west coast and British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. For two months this summer, 11 longline vessels (down from the usual 17) took halibut survey experts aboard to fish at 898 stations, down 30 percent from the planned 1,283. The foregone areas were waters off California, Oregon and Washington. Survey areas in the Bering Sea near the Pribilofs also were cut, along with stations at the Aleutian Islands near Unalaska and Adak. “We also thinned out a little bit in the Western Gulf of Alaska, and we also removed the stations off Vancouver Island,” said David Wilson, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission which oversees the stock for the U.S. and Canada. Still, Wilson said roughly 70 percent of the Pacific halibut biomass was sampled overall and 100 percent in the core areas of the central Gulf, Southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia. “Normally we would have done a thinner sampling in those areas but to ensure that we had enough samples coming out we went for 100 percent in those areas,” he explained, calling it the “most data-rich setline-survey in the IPHC’s 97 year history.” The halibut that are caught during the survey are sold to cover the cost of the operation. Wilson said the poundage and prices will be revealed next month at the IPHC interim meeting. “The key thing is that we were able to meet both our scientific requirements and also maintain our economic goal of revenue neutrality,” he said. The Nov. 18-19 meetings, which will be held online, also will provide a first glimpse at how the halibut stocks are holding up. “The interim meeting is usually an information sharing meeting for stakeholders where we present the preliminary stock assessments and the outcomes of other research activity. We also put out some of the regulatory proposals we will be considering at the annual meeting,” Wilson said. Halibut catch limits and other regulations will be revealed in late January. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Getting our ‘Fair Share’ of a bigger pie

Meet the Fair Share Act: a ballot initiative that will be presented to Alaskans in November, marketed as a measure to make oil companies pay their fair share in taxes. I did a bit of research to bring some simple analysis forward and present it to concerned Alaskans, to help cut through the noise and disinformation. Starting with where we are currently, more than 70 percent of total Alaska state revenue from private business is provided by oil and gas: In addition, Alaskans benefit from the philanthropic activities by oil and gas companies every day. The University of Alaska Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment, Covenant House, the Alaska Performing Arts Center, and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art are just a few examples. The budget cuts that Alaskans are currently adjusting to would be modest compared to cuts stemming from a significant reduction in petroleum activity. The initiative calls for a rework of our current oil tax structure. It claims to have the potential to generate billions in additional taxes ($1.1 billion in in 2018). This increase amounts to at least 50% of the taxes that oil companies are currently paying on the majority of the barrels in the state, doubling or tripling it at higher oil prices. With BP leaving Alaska fresh in my mind, I asked myself if taxes really had the ability to incentivize development activities. Last time we thought about this was when our legacy tax regime (ACES) transitioned to the current SB-21 framework. The data is available to the public: Each year we were losing 40,000 barrels per day of production under ACES, a trend that was almost immediately arrested under SB-21. The trend line above indicates we are hundreds of thousands of barrels per day (hundreds of millions in royalties) better off than we would be if the decline had continued under ACES. To reverse the decline, BP flattened their decline curve, and ConocoPhillips and Hilcorp both grew production significantly. I think a similarly unfavorable tax regime like the Fair Share Act could cut our production in half within seven years. This will more than offset amounts gained in the very short term, and cripple any growth in the industry that employs the most Alaskans and is fundamental to our economy. So how are we going to bring in more state revenue under the current tax regime, and how much? Let’s look at the three biggest development projects on the horizon since SB-21 was passed: •Willow, ConocoPhillips: 130,000 barrels/day (Source: Willow Draft EIS) •Pikka, Oil Search: 120,000 barrels/day (Source: Oil Search Annual Report, 2018) • Greater Mooses Tooth 2, ConocoPhillips: 25,000 to 30,000 barrels/day (Source: ConocoPhillips GMT-2 Fact Sheet) These projects have the potential to add 280,000 barrels per day, or more half of Alaska’s current production. This could amount to $1.1 to $1.4 billion in additional royalties and taxes, a number we can expect to continue to grow as the recent flurry of exploration and development activity continues. Staying the course is the most financially sound decision. Fundamentally, I think people forget that oil companies have a choice about where to invest their money. In recent years, we have watched the major companies gravitate towards the Permian Basin. Texas is now at record production levels (a condition that Alaska has not enjoyed since the late 80’s). Oil companies make these decisions, in part, based on a predictable, business-friendly geopolitical environment. A stable environment creates jobs. As our partners in development continue to invest in Alaska, confident in their future here, Alaskans are enriched and our economy is built. Staying the course will put Alaskans back to work. When we passed SB 21, Alaskans made a commitment to host a responsible industry with a particular tax regime so we could maximize our benefit from developing our rich resources. Industry has responded by placing Alaska high within the global portfolios of ConocoPhillips, Oil Search, Hilcorp, and many others, through tough operating conditions and stringent environmental standards. Staying the course is, beyond being a good financial decision, the right thing to do. Alaskans who want to see our beautiful State’s revenues increase should support the continued health of Alaska’s oil industry, and vote no on the Fair Share Act. Do not move the goalposts for our children; vote no to keep Alaska’s future sustainable for our next generation. ^ Liam Zsolt is the Director of Technology for ASRC Energy Services LLC. His work in applying new technology to responsibly extract oil and gas in Alaska has been published multiple times by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and led to multiple patents.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 Means Jobs

Ballot Measure 1, the Fair Share Act, amends the current production tax regime created under Senate Bill 21 to make it fairer and more transparent for Alaskans. The major Texas-based producers and their surrogates who fashioned SB21 will say anything to keep Alaskans from amending SB21 and getting a fair share for our oil. One thing they are saying is that if we get a fair share for our oil, it will hurt our economy. Common Sense. No one can seriously believe the Alaskan economy will be better off if we keep giving away our oil for less than it is worth. In the five years since SB21 has been in effect (2015-19), the major producers have taken $57.4 billion of our oil from Alaska. During this same period, we have paid and still owe them more in awarded credits ($2.1 billion) than they have paid us in production taxes ($2 billion). Yes, you understood that correctly, they have taken $57.4 billion of our oil, and we paid and owe them more in awarded credits than they paid us in production taxes. If we get a better deal for our oil, it will help keep more of our oil wealth in Alaska, saving and creating jobs for Alaskans. Fool us once They told us SB 21 would help our economy and create jobs when it passed. We believed them, and, after SB 21 and before the pandemic, they took our net production revenues to zero and then cut 5,500 jobs or one-third of the total oil and gas workforce in Alaska. Of the 9,000 oil and gas jobs left in Alaska before the pandemic, they filled 3,000 of those jobs with people living outside of Alaska. We know we can give away billions of dollars of our oil and not get a single job out of the deal because we just spent the last five years giving away billions of dollars of our oil without getting a single job for it. After SB 21 and before the pandemic, Alaska had the highest unemployment rate of any state while our sister oil state North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate of any state. The main reason North Dakota did so much better was because it kept more of its oil wealth in North Dakota, saving and creating jobs for North Dakotans. Great for jobs If Ballot Measure 1 would have been in effect instead of SB 21 for the last five years, Ballot Measure 1 would have brought in $1.1 billion per year or $5.5 billion in total more than SB 21. This is the economic equivalent of 11,000 new jobs at $100,000 per year outside the oil and gas industry. Importantly, Ballot Measure 1 will not cost Alaskans jobs inside the oil and gas industry. Ballot Measure 1 only applies to the three largest and most profitable oil fields in Alaska that can afford to pay a fair share without any harm to investment or jobs. In fact, before SB21, these major fields payed us more than Ballot Measure 1 for over 30 years and were able to attract investment and create jobs the entire time. Further, Ballot Measure 1 does not even apply to new and developing fields that may generate new jobs for Alaskans. Business Environment Alaska’s economy and business environment completely collapsed after SB 21 and well before the pandemic. We exhausted $18 billion in savings, cut our PFDs by two-thirds, and have been unable to properly educate our children, repair our roads, maintain our public buildings, provide for our elderly, operate an effective marine highway system, or provide jobs for Alaskans. The primary reason our economy and business environment collapsed after SB21 and before the pandemic is because we went from a five-year average of $3.8 billion a year in net production taxes to zero. This collapse in net production revenues was primarily because of SB 21 and not because of changes to the price of oil. Next year, 2021, we are expected to get only $122.3 million in production revenues under SB 21 while we still owe $728 million in unpaid awarded credits, i.e., we owe 6 times more in awarded credits than we will be paid in production revenues next year. With a fair share from our oil, we will be able to stabilize Alaska’s economy and business environment and add Alaskan jobs. Never enough While Alaskans were economically suffering after SB 21 and before the pandemic, ConocoPhillips raised dividends to their shareholders by 60 percent in the last two years, paid off billions in debt, and repurchased billions of its stock from shareholders with our money. Since SB 21, ConocoPhillips has made 68 percent of its world-wide net income from Alaska and only invested 15 percent of its world-wide capital in Alaska. Alaskans should not be intimidated out of a fair share for our oil. The Texas-based major producers say the same things every time Alaskans stand up for themselves and want a fair share. We gave up $1.1 billion per year and got nothing; we should give Ballot Measure 1 a chance. Frankly, there is no reasonable solution to addressing our State deficit without Ballot Measure 1. Vote yes For Ballot Measure 1. Robin Brena is a life-long Alaska and is an original sponsor of Ballot Measure 1, chair of the Oil and Gas Transition Committee for Gov. Bill Walker, and founder of Alaskan law firm Brena, Bell &Walker.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 casts a pall over future of ANSEP

The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program has been guiding Alaska Native people and other Alaskans to success in our state’s resource development industry for more than 25 years. To say a lot has changed since I founded ANSEP in 1995 is an understatement — especially this year — but the support ANSEP has received from the oil and gas industry has been unwavering. The industry’s commitment to Alaskans is something we can count on. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t received the same consistency when it comes to Alaska’s tax structure. Their future investment in the state is in question as Alaskans vote this November on whether to change the oil tax structure yet again. By voting No on Ballot Measure 1, we can ensure the energy industry will be able to continue supplying jobs for our communities for generations to come. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Oil Search, Udelhoven Oilfield System Services, PEAK, and others that make up Alaska’s resource industry have provided financial support as well as internship opportunities for ANSEP students for more than 25 years. In fact, it was our partnership with ExxonMobil that led to the development and launch of ANSEP Middle School Academy, our entry-level programmatic component. It’s here we kickstart an interest in STEM and help students identify career goals that keep them motivated for a lifetime. ExxonMobil is also the founding partner for the ANSEP Acceleration Academy where students graduate from high school with two years or more of college completed thereby saving the state and families thousands of dollars per student. Acceleration Academy is a model we can adopt for every student in Alaska to reduce costs for the state and dramatically improve outcomes. This is transformational. What parent does not want their student to leave high school with years of college completed? Over the last decade, thousands of new students joined the ANSEP community as part of these industry-supported components. Our students go on to contribute to the strategy and execution of resource development in Alaska. The industry plays a valuable role in everyday life for the approximately 3,000 hardworking Alaska students and professionals who make up the ANSEP community. For many of our students, it is a lifelong goal to play a role in improving the quality of life for Alaska’s people and ensuring our resources are managed responsibly. The success of ANSEP alumni in the industry provides a model for students across the state. If you work hard, there are top-tier companies waiting to hire you so you can guide our state’s future. Our partner companies provide learning opportunities for ANSEP students now and the promise of economic stability for the future. Even during the pandemic, the oil and gas industry stepped up to provide paid internships and scholarship support for ANSEP’s Summer Bridge students so they could spend the summer before college gaining industry experience and envisioning a full-time position in the industry after college. To put the future of the industry in jeopardy is to do the same to these students’ futures. That is why I am voting no on Ballot Measure 1 in November; it is how we vote for a bright future for our state and our young people. ^ Dr. Herb Schroeder is the founder and Vice Provost for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.

Chum, chinook returns fall short across Yukon, Western Alaska

Poor chum and coho returns led to some of the lowest commercial harvests in decades across much of Western Alaska and biologists are unsure why far fewer Yukon chinook are making it to Canada in recent years. The Yukon River summer chum return of approximately 733,000 fish was sufficient to meet the minimum escapement goal for the entirety of the massive drainage but it did not allow for a significant commercial fishery and was far less than expectations. Fishing was closed through the first half of the run while it was unclear if a harvestable surplus of chum would be available according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preliminary Yukon River summer fishery summary. Commercial fishermen, primarily in the lower Yukon, harvested just 13,968 chums in the summer fishery, which was 97 percent less than the five-year average of nearly 449,000 fish. The minimal catch translated to a total-fishery ex-vessel value of just $51,440 in 2020 for a fishery that typically generates roughly $1.5 million, though prices of 60 cents per pound for lower Yukon chum and 29 cents per pound were in line with previous years. Prices in some other salmon fisheries were low — particularly early in the season — as the pandemic slowed restaurant demand for fish. Managers had predicted a rather average return of about 1.9 million summer chum, which would have left a harvestable surplus of about 1.1 million fish, according to ADFG. The summer fishery comprises chinook and chum that enter the river generally before July 15, at which point management in the lower Yukon transitions to the fall chum and coho runs. The chinook return of an estimated 161,859 fish to the Pilot Station sonar was less than last year when 219,624 chinook reached the lower Yukon, but was in line with the expected return. However, an unusually small portion of the fish passed the sonar at Eagle near the Canadian border. Managers estimated 77,000 of the chinook were of Canadian origin based on in-season run assessments, yet just 33,005 fish were counted at Eagle, according to the summary. The minimum escapement goal for passage beyond Eagle is 42,500 chinook, which also does not provide for harvest in Canada per the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Managers speculated that near record-high water levels in the Yukon from a deep snowpack possibly fatigued fish that otherwise would have reached Eagle. They also documented reports of high rates of Ichthyophonus, a parasite, in salmon caught in the upper river, which could have increased mortality. On the bright side, the chinook sampled by ADFG biologists at Eagle were older and more of them were female than in recent years. Age-6 chinook comprised 53 percent of the sampled fish — above the 10-year average — and 3 percent were age-7 salmon. Females comprised 54 percent of the sampled fish, compared to 44 percent over the past decade, according to department data. Biologists have documented a general decrease in the size of chinooks across their range in recent years, largely because more of the fish are returning at age-4 or age-5. The smaller salmon are less likely to spawn successfully and smaller females carry fewer eggs, which also reduces the odds of offspring. Kotzebue Sound To the north, low commercial catches in July and concerns from subsistence harvesters about poor chum catches along the Kobuk River caused Kotzebue-area managers to cut commercial fishing time from 60 hours per week in July to as little as 24 hours per week in early August. The harvest of 149,808 chums was the lowest in the Kotzebue District set net fishery since 2007 and netted $542,308 in ex-vessel value, according to ADFG figures. The fishery has a long-term average harvest of approximately 230,000 chum but it produced a catches of greater than 400,000 fish from 2016-2019. Kotzebue chum sold for an average of 45 cents per pound this year, which was up from 39 cents a year ago. Norton Sound In addition to also having their smallest chum harvest since 2008, Norton Sound fishermen dealt with a very small coho return. The poor showings from the primary species targeted in the district led to a catch of 50,679 salmon in all, which was just 15 percent of the 10-year average harvest, according to the Norton Sound season summary. The cumulative ex-vessel value of $290,302 for the five-species harvest was just 12 percent of the five-year average. The Norton Sound catch generated approximately $2.1 million last year and more than $4 million in 2018. The Norton Sound pink salmon run was — as it has been of late — a near-record return. However, processors shied away from purchasing them, according to ADFG managers, resulting in a catch of 6,950 pinks. That was down from a harvest of more than 75,000 a year ago. The 2020 Norton Sound coho harvest of 14,650 fish was less than 10 percent of the five-year average and the 26,365-fish chum harvest was 17 percent of the five-year average of 151,442 salmon. Additionally, 906 Chinook and 1,808 sockeye were harvested from Norton Sound. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Elders & Youth focused on language for virtual convention

In the days preceding the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage, the First Alaskans Institute brings together teenagers, elders, and everyone in between for the Elders and Youth Conference. But like so many things this year, the usual attendees will have to be together while apart. The First Alaskans Institute is preparing for its first entirely virtual Elders and Youth Conference, set to begin on Oct. 11. The event will be livestreamed on firstalaskans.org as well as broadcast statewide on GCI’s channels 1 and 907, on 360 North, and ARCS. FAI isn’t providing any broad support to elders who may need help with technology to go online and participate, but may do so on a case-by-case basis, said Karla Gatgyedm Hana’ax Booth, the Indigenous Leadership Continuum Director for FAI. Throughout the conference, they’re also encouraging people to get up and move around, as they’ll be in front of a screen this year. The 37th annual conference will also be entirely free. Usually, attendees are required to register, but with the combination of online and broadcast elements this year, the institute decided to make the event free. Booth said the sponsors helped make that possible this year. “I feel like it wasn’t that hard to reimagine, because we just knew that we had to have this very important statewide event,” she said. “It had to happen, no matter what. We wanted to make sure we were being good relatives to our statewide community and provide something that could lift all of our spirits up in this time of COVID. I don’t think we ever had a doubt that we would host something, but I think the real challenge was figuring out what the format is going to be.” First Alaskans Institute announced the plan to go entirely virtual with the conference and the annual Smokehouse Gala back in July. Since then, the organizers have been reworking plans for how to take the events virtual, which will enable vulnerable people to stay home and prevent the spread of disease from a major event back to dispersed communities. The conference usually takes place in Anchorage, which is also the single largest city in the state and the center of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic. The Elders and Youth Conference always starts with an opening ceremony called the Warming of the Hands, and that won’t change, Booth said. Sunday Oct. 11 will run from 1-5 p.m., and the following days from Oct. 12-14 will run from 8:30-5 p.m. Oct. 12 also happens to be Indigenous Peoples Day, and the events of the conference will line up with that, including language workshops. “(On Monday) we’re going to have our ‘Living and Loving Our Cultures’ workshops, focused on language learning,” she said. “(We’ll be) adding extra time to that session as well, just to celebrate our languages even more, to allow people to really get into learning and practicing, and hopefully they’ll continue that learning after the conference, too.” Some things will look a little different. The Elder Keynote speaker — Dr. Rev. Traditional Chief Trimble Gilbert of Arctic Village — will pre-record his message and make it available on Monday Oct. 12, Booth said. Gilbert is a tribal leader, Episcopal priest, Native knowledge and culture bearer and Gwich’in teacher, among other roles. The youth keynote speaker, Kiley Kanats Burton of Cordova, will follow suit on Tuesday Oct. 13. Instead of the regular dance group performances, First Alaskans Institute will air a compilation of the best Chin’an dance group performances over the past decade on Oct. 12 at 6 p.m., Booth said. Each day will begin with optional dawn prayers and well-wishes, which were requested by a community member last year and will continue this year. Workshops will pack the day, as they usually do, including listening circles, regional gatherings, and crafting workshops. For those who pre-registered before Sept. 24, the FAI staff have been mailing out some arts kits, Booth said. There are about 14 workshops to choose from, seven of which require kits. “(Some workshops are) cottonwood carving, cedar basket weaving, canvas rifle case sewing, salmon skin pouch sewing and embroidery, cedar bracelet making, acrylic painting, and COVID-19 mask sewing,” she said. “Some of our workshops that don’t require any kits.” The theme for this year’s conference is “Asirqamek Aprucilutna” in Sugt’sun or “Asisqamek Aprut’liluta” in Alutiiq, both of which mean “We are making a good path.” Language preservation continues to be one of the major goals in the conference, Booth said, the Alaska Native Preservation and Advisory Council appointed by the governor will hold a listening sessions during the conference as well. One of the events many people look forward to are the men’s, women’s, and LGBTQIA+ houses, she said. “They get to share their truth, they get to listen to other people’s truth,” she said. “I think for a lot of people, it adds to their healing journey.” “Part of our job is to host these dialogues,” she said. “We wanted them to be as engaging as we could make them in these virtual settings. You don’t have the same tools… we adapt, and we use what’s available to us. Just the physical experience of our participants being in a virtual meeting, it takes a toll physically on people. We know the importance of encouraging people to get up and take care of themselves. We will try to introduce things that are physical.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

AFN’s first virtual conference eyes 2020 Census, elections

The halls of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage will be much quieter this October without the buzz of the thousands of attendees at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention. Instead, they’ll be plugged in from home, watching, listening, and participating to the virtual presentations of the 54th year of the event. The Alaska Federation of Natives announced the 2020 convention would be completely virtual this year back in August, looking ahead to the risk posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The AFN convention regularly brings people from all over the state, including from many far-flung communities off the road system. The risk of getting a large group of people together in an indoor facility was too high, according to the AFN. As of Oct. 6, there was still no agenda available for the full convention. It will be available on social media, KNBA radio, GCI channel 1, ARCS, and 360 North. “It was a really tough decision, but the health and safety of our delegates, participants, and attendees comes first,” said Julie Kitka, AFN President, in a press release. “The high risk factors of holding a large, indoor meeting, with lots of Elders and delegates coming in from across Alaska, far outweigh the benefits of gathering in person.” Instead, like the First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference and so many other events this year, the organizers are converting the events to virtual ones. On Oct. 15 and 16, attendees will be able to watch pre-recorded videos and live presentations from Native leaders and elected officials as well as interactive panels and other workshops. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, will deliver the keynote address. This year’s theme is “Good Government, Alaskans Decide,” based on the upcoming federal election on Nov. 3 and the 2020 Census, two issues heavily affecting federal actions in Alaska and, thus, many issues in Native communities. Delegates to the AFN also traditionally meet during the convention. This year, they’ll meet virtually as well. AFN is requesting that delegates register as soon as possible, but they can register up until 10 a.m. of the final day of the convention, as it is entirely virtual. According to the delegate packet, some things will change: for example, the live debates on the resolutions and co-chair election won’t happen as usual. The election will happen through an e-voting platform instead. Because of the difficulty of ensuring equal participation among participants on the online platform, the packet also outlines types of resolutions that won’t be accepted. For example, endorsement of candidates or ballot initiatives for 2020 will be considered, and Elders and Youth resolutions will be considered at the Dec. 8 AFN Board meeting. Instead of the regular cultural dance performances, AFN will air a compilation of performances called “Quyana Alaska” over the two evenings as well, from 6-9 p.m. on the AFN Convention virtual meeting app, 360 North and ARCs, or by webcast. Though there won’t be an in-person exhibition hall with booths, there will be a virtual exhibition component, where artists and crafters can sell their work in an online marketplace created for the convention. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

The new norm in HR: Top 5 questions managers have in the current age of COVID

Business continuity and risk mitigation have always been an element of any strong strategic plan. In 2020 it is more relevant than ever. In just a matter of 12 short weeks, “back to work” is anything but back to normal. Now more than ever leadership is being challenged with questions where the answers rely heavily on risk tolerance and critical thinking. In a recent poll, employers here in Alaska provided feedback of their concerns and we have summarized below: 1. Half of my staff wants to work from home, what happens if I “make” them come back to work? 2. If an employee is provided a workstation to work from home and gets carpal tunnel, is that grounds for a worker’s compensation claim? 3. How do I gauge and monitor progress? 4. What about overtime? Can I still require “normal” workdays if an employee is working off-site? 5. How do I respond to an employee who goes on vacation, travels, or has family in town from out of state? Can I require a quarantine, and do I have to cover the salary if I do? The short answer to all these questions is: it depends. In our research we have found similar concerns even prior to COVID-19; the simple truth is that all the best resources and experts do not have black and white answers that can be applied in an industry agnostic manner. However, we can offer some best business practices that are already proving successful during this uncertain time. Here is your list of what is within your control: If the employee concerns can be met with some accommodation, while understanding job roles and responsibilities, then, by all means, take a step in that direction. Making accommodations that are fair to all employees are policies, not accommodations. So first ask yourself; can this modification to the work schedule (or other change) benefit the organization by majority? Then review workflows and required resources, perhaps, we can relieve other areas of resource allocation. Second, regardless of the industry, as leaders, we must keep our employees as safe as reasonably possible. In the context of a virus that can be difficult, however as leaders and managers we should be developing a safety and response plan that is reasonably monitored and easily executed in the event of a COVID-19 report. Establishing a policy that allows employees to continue working from home after vacation, travel, or potential exposure maintains productivity and ensures the safety of other employees. Finally, there very best thing you can do to relieve angst and apply risk mitigation is to open communication with your staff. Allow them to voice frustrations, and work through those concerns with the job requirements as a focal point. Making accommodations should be a win-win for the organization and employees to ensure business continuity. Keeping staff employed and engaged depends on it. ^ Paula Bradison is the President of Alaska Executive Search and Bradison Management Group

Appeals court rules ANCs ineligible for CARES Act Tribal aid

Additional pandemic relief aid could be out of reach indefinitely for nearly 200 Alaska businesses following a ruling by Washington, D.C., Appeals Court judges. A three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 25 that Alaska Native corporations are ineligible for a portion of $8 billion allocated to Tribal organizations across the country in the $2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress in late March. The decision reversed a June 26 District Court ruling in favor of the Native village and regional corporations, in which D.C. District Court Judge Amit Mehta determined Native corporations are eligible for CARES Act funds, “as Congress intended — no more, no less,” Mehta wrote in his order. Title V of the massive spending package lays out how $150 billion in coronavirus relief funds were to be distributed by the Treasury Department, stating that $8 billion of the broader pool going to states, municipalities and Tribes shall be reserved for “making payments to Tribal governments.” However, the appeals panel concluded that specific wording in the 1975 Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, or ISDA, excludes Alaska Native regional and village corporations from receiving the aid intended for Tribes, regardless of what Congress meant in the CARES Act. The CARES Act defines a Tribal government as “the recognized governing body of an Indian Tribe,” according to the court, and uses the definition of an “Indian Tribe” found in the ISDA. The ISDA generally references Alaska Native village and regional corporations among other organizations in its definition of a Tribe, but also requires the entities be “eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians,” according to the ruling. The appeals court concluded that Alaska Native corporations, commonly known as ANCs, cannot be eligible for a portion of the $8 billion “because no ANC has been federally ‘recognized’ as an Indian tribe, as the recognition clause requires, no ANC satisfies the ISDA definition.” The ruling stems from lawsuits filed by 18 Tribes from across the country, including six Alaska Tribes, against the Treasury Department in late April, in which the Tribes argued the for-profit corporations should not get money set aside specifically for Tribal governments. The members of Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation said in a joint statement that the Tribal funds were intended to provide pandemic relief for all American Indians and Alaska Natives; it matters not how they would receive the money, according to the delegation. “It is unconscionable that COVID-19 aid would be withheld from a subset of Alaska Native people simply because of the unique tribal system that exists in Alaska,” the delegation said. “Furthermore, this decision goes beyond the CARES Act, erasing more than 45 years of precedent and practice, with the potential to undo tribal systems of health care, housing, education, workforce development, and more in our great state.” The delegation’s statement eludes to the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which established the 12 current Alaska Native regional corporations and the 174 village corporations in operation today and collectively allocated them 44 million acres in the state in-lieu of the Tribal reservation system used across the country to resolve land disputes between Tribes and the federal government. The Alaska Regional and Alaska Native Village Corporation associations, which intervened in the case on behalf of their members, said in a joint Sept. 25 statement that the “deeply flawed” ruling will only worsen the effects of the pandemic in Alaska by limiting access to critical health services and economic relief in remote communities across the state. “For forty years, courts and administrative agencies have consistently recognized that Alaska Native communities are uniquely organized, as designed by Congress. Within this framework, that includes both regional and village corporations, we strive every day to bring our ‘shareholders’ — our Alaska Native brothers and sisters — economic opportunity as well as vital social, health, cultural and educational services. Until today, our status as Indians under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which expressly includes Alaska Native corporations among other types of Indian Tribes, has never been called into doubt,” the ANC associations said. Treasury officials have not disclosed exactly how much of the $8 billion was set-aside for ANCs, but the Appeals Court ruling indicates $162 million was meant for the Alaska companies. The ruling does not prohibit the 229 federally recognized Tribes in Alaska — some of which backed the original lawsuits — from receiving a portion of the $8 billion. Additionally, many of the smaller village corporations and regional corporation subsidiaries were among the roughly Alaska-based small businesses that collectively received more than $1.2 billion in forgivable federal loans through the Small Business Administration’s popular Paycheck Protection Program. Leaders for the Alaska Regional Association did not respond to questions in time for this story about whether or not the group will appeal the decision, among other issues. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Kinross adds Tok-area gold deposit to portfolio for $93.7M

The operator of the Fort Knox gold mine north of Fairbanks paid $93.7 million for a majority stake in a gold deposit south of Tok, roughly 250 miles away. Kinross Gold Corp. announced Sept. 30 that it has acquired a 70 percent interest in the Peak Gold project from Royal Gold and Contago ORE Inc. Kinross intends to develop the Peak Gold deposit into a short-lived open pit mine and truck the ore north to the Fort Knox mill for processing. The trip would involve hauling the crushed ore up the Alaska and Richardson highways, through Fairbanks and up the Steese Highway to the mine site near Chatanika. Scheduled to open in 2024, the Peak Gold mine is expected to produce roughly 1 million ounces of gold equivalent from grades of about 6 grams per ton over 4.5 years. Kinross estimates the $110 million project will have an all-in sustaining cost of approximately $750 per ounce. Paul Rollinson, CEO of Toronto-based Kinross, said in a company statement that it is a high-margin project at current gold prices. “The relatively high-grade, low-cost Peak Gold project is an excellent addition to our portfolio, as it allows us to leverage our existing mill and infrastructure at Fort Knox and strengthens our medium-term production and cash flow profile,” Rollinson said. The project would add roughly 220,000 ounces of gold equivalent production to Fort Knox, more than double the mine’s production from 2019 of just more than 200,000 gold equivalent ounces, according to Kinross, which expects blending the ores will cut the mine’s all-in sustaining costs by about $70 per equivalent ounce. In the deal, Kinross sent $49.2 million to Royal Gold for its 40 percent stake in the project and $44.5 million in cash and Contago ORE shares purchased from Royal Gold to a Contago subsidiary. Contago, which previously held a 60 percent stake in the project, will retain a 30 percent interest in Peak Gold. Royal Gold CEO Bill Heissenbuttel said the deal allows the company to focus on its core royalty and streaming business. Kinross said it expects to conduct initial permitting and drilling for the open-pit mine concurrently and hopes to complete permitting and feasibility reviews by the end of 2022 before a year of construction. The company will charge Contago a management fee and mill toll to process its 30 percent of the ore mined from the project. Kinross plans to rename the project after consulting with leaders of the nearby Native Village of Tetlin, according to the statement. Tetlin Chief Michael Sam said in a statement issued by Kinross that he is pleased to see the company investing in the project. “We look forward to the safe and responsible development of the project and the positive benefits it is expected to generate for our community,” Sam said. The 675,000-acre Peak Gold property also holds other exploration targets that could extend the life of the project, according to Kinross. A 2018 preliminary economic assessment of the project estimated measured and indicated resources of about 1.2 million ounces of gold equivalent at a grade of 4.1 grams per ton and inferred resources of about 116,000 ounces of gold at an average grade of 2.7 grams per ton. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

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