Alaska News Nightly: March 10, 2008

Environmental groups sue the federal government to protect polar bears while the State plans a new aerial wolf kill program. Meanwhile, the governor and legislators work to defuse a possible battle over capital spending and the Iditarod enters its last phases on Norton Sound, east of Nome. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Fish & Wildlife Service sued over polar bear protection status
Joel Southern, APRN – Washington, DC
Three environmental groups concerned that climate change is harming polar bears went back to federal court today to prod the Interior Department into deciding whether the bears should be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Back in early January the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace filed a notice of intent to sue because the Fish and Wildlife Service missed a deadline for making a decision. Now the mandatory 60-day waiting period has expired and the groups have taken the next step in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Alaska’s National Guard reorganizing to meet the needs of communities and soldiers
Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau
The Alaska Army National Guard is transforming. The infantry unit is changing to become more relevant to today’s military as well as to the state of Alaska. At the same time the Guard is going through a regional realignment. About 2,000 citizen soldiers will now be the 297th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade of military police, civil engineers and medics, with headquarters in Juneau, Bethel, and Nome, and a reconnaissance-surveillance battalion in Southcentral Alaska.

New rules for northern Bering Sea proposed to protect fish habitat
Charles Homans, KIAL – Unalaska
A proposal issued Friday by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) would keep more than 100,000 square miles of the northern Bering Sea off-limits to bottom-trawling. The new rule, which is now out for public comment, had been sought by conservation groups in recent years, and it tacitly acknowledges the ways in which climate change may alter the Bering Sea fishing industry.

Governor meets with legislature over capital projects disagreements
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
House Speaker John Harris is working directly with the governor and with Senate leaders to resolve a dispute over some $50 million in capital projects the governor vetoed last year. Money for the projects reappeared in the Supplemental Budget that passed the Senate last week. Supporters of the works say they meet the governor’s standards for capital expenses and that the communities need them all. Governor Palin met this afternoon for more than an hour in the Speaker’s office with Harris and other House leaders. She said those projects should be looked at with a comprehensive view of overall spending that will appear with the complete capital projects budget that will emerge later in the session. She said the supplemental budget process has traditionally been reserved for expenses that weren’t foreseen last year.

Unalakleet hosts Iditarod rush hour
Ellen Lockyer, APRN – Unalakleet
The Iditarod trail sled dog race is entering the final push as Lance Mackey checked into Koyuk at 1:19 p.m. this afternoon and Jeff King chased right in behind him 8 minutes later. Checked out of Shaktoolik and heading toward Koyuk now are Ken Anderson, Martin Buser, Ramey Smyth and Hans Gatt. Checked into Shaktoolik are Paul Gebhardt, Mitch Seavey, Kjetil Backen and Rick Swenson. The Iditarod’s Unalakleet checkpoint saw heavy traffic this morning, as the second tier of mushers pulled in off the trail for a few hours rest. There’s plenty of action and a few surprises for race watchers that ought to keep this year’s race just that — a race — all the way to the finish.

Families that mush together, stay together
Libby Casey, KUAC – Unalakleet
Mushing the Iditarod is usually a solo journey between the team of musher and dogs. But some racers have family members out on the trail. KUAC’s Libby Casey has more about the unique relationships in this year’s race.

Iditarod sled dog killed in snowmachine collision
Libby Casey, KUAC – Unalakleet
A dog in the team of Minnesotan Jen Freking was killed Sunday night by a snowmachine. Freking was on the trail between Galena and Nulato, near Koyukuk. Iditarod officials say her dog Lorne was killed and another was hurt when they were hit around 10:00 p.m. last night. They said Freking is devastated, but has decided to continue on the trail. This is the second dog death in this year’s Iditarod.

Game Board updates aerial wolf kill to protect Alaska peninsula caribou
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The State Board of Game has adopted a new predator control program. Department of Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms in Fairbanks says the aerial wolf kill is aimed at saving a dwindling southern Alaska Peninsula caribou herd.

Petersburg celebrates 10 years of movies, powered by students
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
Petersburg’s student-run movie theater celebrated its 10th anniversary recently. The Northern Nights Theater got its start with a $35,000 state grant in 1997 — and has employed more than 100 local high school students over the past decade. It has been the town’s only place to watch recent releases on the big screen, and has survived thanks to many hours of student and adult volunteer time.