The late Al Dunton, in the words of Gary Baumgartner, “set the standard for BLM smokejumpers.”

That’s one reason why Baumgartner says he is especially honored to be named one of the first recipients of the national “Al Dunton Smokejumper Leadership Award.”

The award is a national honor to be presented to a Bureau of Land Management smokejumper and a Forest Service smokejumper each year.

Baumgartner, the first BLM recipient of the award, is a 24-year smokejumping veteran who has won praise for his dedication and leadership.

After smokejumper David Liston died in a training accident 12 years ago, Baumgartner worked many hours to identify the technical and procedural changes needed to improve the parachute system.

“He was the first person to test-jump the modifications and was instrumental in returning the BLM smokejumpers to operational capacity,” Bill Cramer, manager of the BLM Alaska smokejumpers, said in a press release.

Baumgartner has been parachuting into remote regions every fire season since 1988, but he has recently taken a new post as BLM’s state aviation manager, handling fire response and resource management assignments relating to all aspects of aviation safety.

“It was a tough choice. You never look forward to the day when you don’t jump any longer,”Baumgartner was quoted as saying. “But I was ready for the change.”

The Al Dunton Smokejumper Leadership Award is to be presented at 5:30 p.m. today at the smokejumper base in Fairbanks by Al’s widow, Mary Dunton, and by Ron Dunton, Al’s brother.

Ron is the acting associate state director for BLM in Anchorage.

“Big Al” Dunton began as a smokejumper in 1967 and later was promoted to be base manager in Fairbanks, a post he held for 12 years.

Tom Boatner wrote that “he was the man who turned it from a base on the way to extinction to a base that was aggressive and highly competent.”

Afterwards he was the state fire management officer for BLM in Nevada and the national fire director for the agency. He died in 2010.

Smokejumper base managers and the National Smokejumper Association decided to honor Dunton’s memory by creating this award.

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COMMENCEMENT: The University of Alaska Fairbanks commencement exercises Sunday at the Carlson Center are to include the presentation of 50 doctoral degrees, a record number, UAF says.

Thirty-four of the doctorates are for research work and study conducted through the College of Natural Science and Mathematics and the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. 

The graduating class totals 1,309 students, which is also a record. Some students receive more than one degree and a total of 1,356 certificates and diplomas are to be awarded.

Class of 2012 graduates range in age from 18 to 69 with 732 women and 577 men.

Emeritus status is to be conferred upon these retirees: John Keller, Clara Anderson, David Blurton, Charlie Dexter, Ralph Gabrielli, A.J. Gharrett, Thomas Jahns, Jeffry Leer, the late Debbie Moses, Jake Poole, Larry Roberts and Diane Ruess.

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DUI SENTENCING: Despite the statements by the judge and prosecutor this week, 45 days in jail for a drunken driver involved in a fatal collision is an exceptionally light sentence.

The 2010 Parks Highway crash may have led to Edna Hancock’s first DUI conviction, but her blood alcohol content was more than three times the legal limit. The seriousness of the case should have made her lack of prior convictions irrelevant.

You don’t end up with a 0.279 blood alcohol content by having one or two drinks. 

Judge Jane Kauvar suspended 320 days of Hancock’s one-year sentence, meaning Hancock has to serve only 45 days.

State prosecutors said they could not prove that Hancock caused the crash, so she was charged with DUI, not with manslaughter. Knowing nothing about this case except for what I’ve read in the paper, I can’t argue with that conclusion by the state.

A 28-year-old woman, who was a passenger in the other car, died in the wreck. 

Perhaps we need to adjust our thinking in Alaska about justice and what is fair in drunken driving cases.

When the sentence for a first-time offender with a high blood alcohol content and involvement in the death of another person is justified by being 15 times the minimum first-offender sentence, this tells me the key statistic is not 15, but 3. And three days is not enough. 

When a driver is more than three times over the legal limit, first offense or not, and when that driver is involved in a fatal accident, whether or not fault can be established, the minimum sentence should be counted in years, not days, because the level of blood alcohol is a measure of recklessness.

Dermot Cole can be reached at or