Looking back on the top stories from 2022
As we start the new year, KYUK is looking back on some of the defining stories from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in 2022.
2022 began with a return of sports. The Bethel Regional High School varsity teams finally donned their Warrior uniforms for the first time in nearly two years of COVID-19 precautions. The teams competed in Kodiak at the 54th Annual Joe Floyd Basketball Tournament and the Lady Warriors took third. COVID-19 surges and variants continued to impact the basketball schedule.
In early January, travelers were left stranded at Grant Aviation. Bethel’s tight-knit community responded when Aggie Gregory helped coordinate the donations by word of mouth and social media. Residents donated food and music to the stranded travelers.
The Secretary of Commerce declared 14 Alaska fisheries as federal disasters on Jan. 21. The announcement included Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta salmon fisheries.
At the end of the month, three former championsovercame an icy, windy trail to finish at the front of the 2022 Kuskokwim 300 (K300). The race also teased at the future of local mushing, with other local teams finishing in the top 10. It was a return to normalcy in a lot of ways for the K300, and a return to the traditional course from Bethel to Aniak and back. And it was a return to Pete Kaiser’s dominance in the race.
Rookie John Snyder of Akiachak won the 2022 Kuskokwim 300 Red Lantern Award, the 16th and final musher to cross the K300 finish line.
Bethel-raised musician and Pamyua frontman Stephen Qacung Blanchett has been creating music for almost three decades, but 2022 may have been his biggest year yet. The Yup’ik culture-bearer and multi-disciplinary artist has received two national honors. In early February, he was named a 2022 United States Artists Fellow.
Still mushing, Pete Kaiser won the 2022 Bogus Creek 150, sweeping both Kuskokwim mid-distance sled dog races for the season.
We ended February with a lot of sewage. Hooper Bay’s sewer lagoon spilled out following a leak.
Pete Kaiser finished 5th in the 2022 Iditarod, followed by Aniak's Richie Diehl in 6th.
The Toksook Bay Islanders were the underdogs of the 2022 1A state basketball tournament and came out on top. A true Cinderella story.
TheHooper Bay girls basketball team won the 2A state basketball championship.
Lastly in March, the Cama-i Alaska Native Dance Festivalreturned. After two years without the gathering, Cama-i’s return signaled the revival of yuraq, and of coming together again as a community after the long isolation of the pandemic.
The largest April wildfire in Alaska in a quarter century burned near the community of Kwethluk. The fire began burning on April 16 near the communities of Kwethluk, Bethel, and Napakiak. Around 650 acres the first day, it grew to more than 10,000 acres over the course of 12 days. The Kwethluk Fire was finally extinguished on April 26.
The upper Kuskokwim River communities of Sleetmute and Red Devil were both declared local disaster emergencies following flood damage that occurred on May 8. The water receded, and the National Weather Service ended its flood warning for the Kuskokwim River.
Dolena Fox became one of the world’s first female Yup’ik commercial pilots. Only about6% of professional American pilots are women. At regional airline Grant Aviation, where Fox works, only five of their 60 pilots are female. Fox is modest, though, and thinks it might be a stretch to call herself the first ever female Yup’ik commercial pilot. But everyone else calls her that.
We ended the month with a whale of a story. In an unusual event, a pair of beluga whales swam about 60 miles up the Kuskokwim River to Bethel. After word got out, boaters pursued the belugas and took at least one of them. Officials collected samples of the animal to better understand where it came from.
June started with flames and smoke again. A large tundra firewas sparked by a lightning strike on May 31 and threatened the village of St. Mary’s. The fire continued to burn through June 9, threatening St. Mary’s, population 599, and Pitkas Point, population 120. The two communities along the lower Yukon River began the process of readying residents to evacuate. It continued to burn enough for the Gov. Mike Dunleavy to issue a disaster declaration on June 10.
Prime fire conditions existed across most of the region. The National Weather Service issued aRed Flag Warning for the lower Kuskokwim River Delta. The warning was in effect until 10 p.m. on June 10.
This year’s Kuskokwim salmon run saw what has become an average number of king salmon in recent years, well below the historical average. And the chum salmon run crashed to record lows. Meanwhile, federal and tribal managers wrestled with state managers for control of the Kuskokwim salmon fishery, and local subsistence fishermen increased pressure on state and federal organizations to limit salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea. But when the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council met in December, it took no action.
Fishery management on the lower Kuskokwim River switched from federal to state control. This change was applied from theKuskokwim River mouth upstream to Aniak. That meant only one change for subsistence fishers. Under federal regulation, king salmon caught by rod and reel in the area known as the “Aniak Box” at the confluence of the Aniak and Kuskokwim Rivers could be harvested. Under state regulation, kings from there would have to be returned to the water alive.
Also in July, the Yukon River switched over to fall management. The numbers for the summer season came in and did not look good for king and summer chum salmon. It was the second lowest summer chum run on the Yukon and the lowest ever king run. Fishermen along the river said that they had to rely increasingly on expensive store goods and food stamps to meet their caloric needs.
KYUK reflected on how people on the lower Yukon River were faring two years into the chum crash. Scientists honed in on one primary cause for the chum collapse: recent marine heatwaves in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Dr. Katie Howard from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that those heatwaves were linked to climate change. There have always been marine heatwaves, but the recent ones are different.
There was an August fire at an AVCP Regional Housing Authority building that killed three people.
The federal government announced plans to take over management of silver salmon in the federal waters of the lower Kuskokwim River for the first time ever. In mid-August, for the first time ever, state fishery managers were closing the Kuskokwim River and nearly all its tributaries to coho fishing to conserve the species' low returns.
And finally, at the end of August, former Bethel legislator Mary Peltola won election to the U.S. House of Representatives to fill the remainder of Rep. Don Young’s term. She spoke with KYUK and talked about salmon, bipartisanship, and winning the Alaska U.S. House race.
Bethel Search and Rescue (BSAR) looked for three moose hunters that had been missing since the end of August. Two of the three bodies were recovered before freeze up.
In mid-September a massive storm was projected to hit, with wind gusts up to 85 miles per hour and coastal flood warnings. On the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta coast, villages helped residents move boats to higher elevations. Some identified shelters in case people needed to evacuate their homes. Although the vast majority of the people who evacuated their houses over the Sept. 17weekend returned home, some no longer had any home to return to. Almost a week after the storm, five families and a total of 22 people were still displaced from their homes in Hooper Bay.
Newtok was among more than 40 communities in Western Alaska impacted by the dramatic remnants ofTyphoon Merbok. The Native village has garnered years of national media attention as severe erosion and melting permafrost cause a wide range of serious public health problems. The September storm heightened the race to relocate the roughly 200 people still in the village to higher ground.
The traditional council in Kipnuk told parents not to send their children to the local school until further notice, citing concerns about the school’s administration. Roughly 200 students attend school in Kipnuk and were soon back in school.
In October, the Indigenous People’s Council for Marine Mammals(IPCoMM) met in Anchorage for two days with federal scientists from agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Council members said that the federal agencies aren’t doing enough to manage marine mammal populations and subsistence resources across the state.
At the Alaska Federation of Natives, there was passionate debate over a resolution to curb commercial salmon fisheries along the coast of the Alaska Peninsula that have been intercepting Kuskokwim-bound fish.
The month of November started with an election. Votes were still being counted on Nov. 9, a day after residents of U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola’s hometown headed to the polls in the rain in the state’s first ranked-choice general election. Peltola won.
A new documentary profiled Ayaprun Loddie Jones. The film followed her final few months teaching full-time at the school. The documentary was shown at the movie theater in Bethel on Nov. 17, with Katie Basile, Ayaprun, and editor Gabby Salgado holding a question-and-answer session after the showing.
There was an armed robbery at ALASKAbuds. The police are still looking for the suspect.
There were plenty of arctic lamprey in the Kuskokwim River in the final days of November.
Finally, in December, four students graduated from a new nursing program in Bethel. The LPN program is a partnership between Yuut Elitnaurviat and Alaska Pacific University. The four students started in January 2022; they’re now qualified to provide culturally safe, evidence-based, patient-centered nursing care.
The Alaska National Guardbrought Santa to Scammon Bay to spread toys, joy, and Christmas cheer. Ho, ho, ho.
Bethel junior Isabel Liebwon the Alaska Student Athletic Association State Wrestling Tournament in the 138 lbs girls weight class to win her first state title.
In a rare feat,two village wrestlers made it all the way to the Alaska State Championship finals. Jason Ekamrak of Akiachak (103 lbs.) and Garrett Nicolai of Nunapitchuk (145 lbs.) both placed second in their weight classes.
We end the month and year with some good news. Rebecca Trimble’s private legislation was signed into private law, giving her a path to legal residency.
And we’ll leave it there until next year. Happy New Year, and thank you for sharing your stories with us throughout 2022.