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3/3/14 - Iditarod sled dog race kicks off

Joaqlin Estus
Credit Joaqlin Estus
Iditarod champion John Baker, of Kotzebue, with Iditarider Roberta Glen, pass behind an office building near Tudor. In 2011, Baker set a new record for speed. He was the first Inupiaq musher to win the Iditarod, and the first Alaska Native to win it since 1976.

Sixty-nine mushers, each with a team of 16 dogs, are on their way to Nome in the Iditarod Sled-dog Race. Mushers include three Alaska Natives:  Inupiaq John Baker of Kotzebue, Yup'ik Pete Kaiser of Bethel, and Yup'ik Michael Williams, Jr., of Akiak.

In an attempt to increase the numbers of moose and caribou available for hunters, state officials killed a pack of 11 wolves the National Park Service had been studying for the past seven years.

The state Legislature will consider a bill to reject a pay raise for top state officials, another to end a tax credit for filmmaking in Alaska, and hear a presentation from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich.


The ceremonial start of the 1,049 mile Iditarod Sled-dog Race draws thousands of spectators

Saturday, thousands of people lined Fourth Avenue in Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race to Nome. Others watched the teams along the route to the Tudor Track. A few of those at 15th and Cordova said the Iditarod is a great Alaska festival, a way of life, and can’t be beat. Sixty-nine mushers, each with a team of 16 dogs, left the restart in Willow on Sunday.

Alaska Native mushers in the Iditarod include John Quniak Baker, of Kotzebue. The 51-year-old has run 18 Iditarod races, and finished in the top ten 13 times. He set a new record for speed when he took first place in 2011, the first Inupiaq Eskimo ever to win the Iditarod, and the first Alaska Native to win it since 1976. He says he’s going to try something different this year to repeat that 2011 win. “ We’ll definitely have a strategy that’s probably going to be taking more chances than I normally take, but I think it will work out pretty well this year."

Yup’ik Pete Kaiser, 26, hails from Bethel. He’s run the Iditarod four times, with his top finish being fifth place in 2012. He says his team is talented, but young.

“I’ll have to get 500-600 miles into the race to see how competitive this team is,” says Kaiser.

Twenty-nine-year-old Yup’ik Michael Williams, Jr., has run the Iditarod four times, with a top finish of 8th place in 2012.

Unusually warm weather in Alaska has left some parts of the trail bare of snow, with open rivers and streams in some places. Williams says the weather’s been warm in his home town of Akiak ,located 42 miles upriver from Bethel on the Kuskokwim river.

“I’ve trained on glare ice and dirt, frozen ground, all winter. My team is ready for anything,” says Williams. 

Dozens of volunteers and Iditarod crew members have rerouted parts of the trail for safety.

Top mushers are expected into Nome in the next eight to ten days.

State kills a pack of wolves under study near a national preserve.

Alaska Fish and Game officials killed an Eastern Interior wolf pack last week, and the National Park Service — which had been studying the animals — is none too pleased. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports all 11 wolves in the Lost Creek pack near Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve were shot. That included the pack's alpha pair, which had been fitted with tracking collars as part of an ongoing research project.

Doug Vincent-Lang, acting director for the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation, says the wolves were in an area next to the preserve that the state had targeted for aerial predator control, part of an effort to boost moose and caribou numbers. But Yukon-Charley Superintendent Greg Dudgeon said the shootings are a setback for a long-term study of wolf behavior that began roughly 20 years ago. He said the Lost Creek pack had been monitored for the past seven years.

Coming up in the state Legislature this week

This week in the Legislature watch for House Finance plans to take public testimony on the operating budget, and Senate Finance plans for public testimony on the gas line bill. Three other things to watch for this week include a bill that would reject pay raises for top state officials, another that would repeal the film production tax credit, and a speech to lawmakers by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich.