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Gear Review By Bjorn Dihle When Ditale, an outdoors women’s clothing company, reached out to me about testing their Sofia Adventure Pants, my wife, MC, happened to be looking over my shoulder. I felt weird at the idea of reviewing women’s clothing, so, luckily MC was happy to take the task on herself. She loves Sofia Adventure Pants. They’re clearly high quality, and are warm in cool conditions, breathable, and rain-resistant—all prized qualities in southeast Alaska’s cool, rainy, temperate rainforest. She’s worn them hiking, sledding, foraging, fishing, and kid-wrangling (which is a part of most her activities) and is planning to wear them hunting when Sitka blacktail season kicks off. They have several big pockets, including the typical hand-sized front pockets and big, snap-closed pockets at about mid-thigh that are handy for things you might want easy access to and have proven handy multiple times. She was initially afraid they…

Glaciers are Alive connects young audiences to wonders In her latest book, released in May 2023, Alaskan author Debbie Miller introduces young readers to the fascinating world of glaciers. Aimed at readers between four and eight years old, it is her 12th collaboration with long-time Alaskan illustrator Jon Van Zyle. Glaciers Are Alive is a journey down an Alaskan glacier, from its source high in the mountains to its terminus in the ocean. Along the way, readers meet the goats, bears, birds, and even the ice worms who thrive in glacial landscapes. Where the ice meets the ocean, Miller highlights the rich habitat it creates for seals and other marine life. And she describes how glacial ice keeps Earth cool. “Glaciers build habitat as much as they carve their way through it,” says Miller, who found inspiration for the story while writing her 2018 nonfiction book, A Wild Promise, about…

July brings the height of Alaska’s busy wildfire season. At this time, lightning, dry vegetation, long hours of warm daylight, and human activities all conspire to light new fires and keep old ones going. Wildfire is a natural part of most Alaskan ecosystems. As elsewhere, it contributes to forest health, nutrient cycling, and wildlife habitat. It occurs most frequently in the state’s interior and least in the south-coastal rainforests. But climate change is altering fire’s dynamics. First, Alaska’s snow season is arriving later and ending earlier, leaving more time for fire to burn. Summertime temperatures are also rising, leading to more dryness, heat, and expansion of fire northward. Lightning is also increasing. And warming nighttime temperatures help fires retain more energy overnight. Many Alaskan fires are allowed to burn in remote areas to maintain natural processes, but wildfires threatening communities are suppressed. Fighting fire is an important career in Alaska,…

Remembering Alaska’s “Moose Man” I got the hard news in a group email last September—biologist Vic Van Ballenberghe was gone. I could practically feel the collective sigh as the news radiated outward across Alaska, the Lower 48, and worldwide to scientists, conservationists, writers, filmmakers, and others who had known him, or his work. His passing hadn’t come as a surprise; at age 78, he’d been struggling with Parkinson’s for years. But letting go of Vic and imagining Alaska without him would take a while. Though they should, most Alaskans probably wouldn’t recognize his name. A short version of Vic’s bona fides goes like this: he was regarded as a (some would argue the) premier moose biologist, especially noted for his keen observational skills and uncounted thousands of hours of boots-on-the-ground field research stretching over a 50-year career. He published scores of peer-reviewed scientific papers, editorials, and articles, plus a fine,…

Gear Review by Bjorn Dihle All serious berry pickers have their preferred techniques. Some are aggressive; some are Zen-like. I’ve tried different methods and even dabbled with a Jonas Swedish Berry Picker. Presently, I use a method I’ve learned from ravenous yet meditative bears that involves stripping bushes of their berries. Instead of using my jaws, though, I use my paws. My wife takes berry picking seriously but does not like to pretend to be a bear, at least when she’s in the woods. (Home life is a different story.) Numerous times she’s mentioned wishing she had a berry picking bucket that would allow her the use of both hands. So, last year I gifted her a Sagebrush Dry Hands-Free Berry Basket for her birthday. I was already a fan of Sagebrush Dry, as they’re a small-town southeast Alaska company and make great waterproof backpacks and other gear. My wife…

Kevin Johnson of Ketchikan Native Tours Kevin Johnson loves his hometown. He and his wife, Melissa, own and operate Ketchikan Native Tours, which offers hiking, sightseeing, and more, all while sharing insight into southeast Alaska’s Indigenous cultures. “We love sharing our Alaska Native heritage and our connection to the land and ocean. We’re Ketchikanites too, so we know all the little intricacies of our beautiful community. Ketchikan has a tremendous Indigenous history with our Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people, and our Aleut community and World War II internment camp history. There’s Norwegian influence, too. So we have this diversity of art, religion, and industries. It’s fascinating how it all forms the community of Kichxáan, as the original Tlingit inhabitants called Ketchikan. One of my favorite spots is Totem Bight State Historical Park. It’s a collection of restored totem poles from neighboring villages and it sits right on the water with…

A surge in both residential, utility scale development continues. A growing number of Alaskans are turning to solar energy. “In the last seven years there’s been a huge uptick in grid-tied solar in homes and businesses,” says Chris Pike, research engineer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Center for Energy and Power (ACEP), which studies solar energy at high latitudes. Pike says that solar panels were once limited to cabins or other remote sites in Alaska but have now become mainstream. He gives Alaska’s high energy costs as one reason. “People are always looking to save money,” he says, explaining that solar is increasingly competitive with other energy sources. Pike adds that while a state like Arizona can produce more solar energy, the savings on Alaska’s high energy costs can add up quicker. A well-placed solar array can pay off installation costs in a decade and the 20-year return on…

Alaska’s Other Trout by Joe Jackson Alaska is a place of fish stories. Between our abundance of Pacific salmon, whose annual runs generate staggering amounts of biological productivity for virtually everything on the food chain, along with the state’s incomprehensible quantities of pristine water, we’ve got big fish—and lots of them. It only takes a quick Google search of “Alaska fishing” to verify this. You’ll be instantly met with photos of king salmon as large as Labrador retrievers, speckled rainbow trout with not a scale out of place, Dolly Varden all colored up like clowns for the impending spawn. But one fish you probably won’t find on the internet, at least without some more pointed investigation, and one fish you most definitely won’t find featured in tourism ads, is, in my opinion, the coolest one out there: Oncorhynchus clarkii clarkii. The coastal cutthroat trout. The first time I ever fished…

Biologist and Expert on Sheefish, Whitefish, and Cabin life Randy Brown first started fishing for whitefish when he was 18, living alone on a remote tributary of the Yukon. Sheefish was tasty and healthy, and gave him a good source of protein when the salmon stopped running. After 15 years during which his main jobs consisted of hunting, fishing, and bowl-carving, Randy moved to town with his wife and two kids and studied biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Today he studies sheefish, humpback whitefish, broad whitefish, and other whitefish all over interior and arctic Alaska with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, ensuring these populations stay healthy for others who depend on them. —AS TOLD TO AND EDITED BY MOLLY RETTIG What brought you to Alaska when you were only 18? I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was a great place to grow up, but…

A landslide has blocked travel since 2021 Work has started on a $100 million steel truss bridge that will bypass the Pretty Rocks landslide in Denali National Park. The slide has closed roughly half of the park’s 92-mile road since August 2021. Granite Construction is leading the project. For decades, National Park Service geologists have monitored the Pretty Rocks landslide at mile 43 of Denali’s sole access road. Its typical movement of a few inches per year caused regular but often minor road repair. But the slide accelerated in 2017, reaching nearly an inch per hour and eventually destroying the road. Scientists say dramatically warming air temperatures and increasingly heavy rainfall have deteriorated the ice and permafrost that once glued the slope together. Similar events are happening across Alaska and other high-latitude areas affected by rapid climate warming. Park superintendent Brooke Merrell says the road closure impacts work at the…