Alaska News Nightly: May 31, 2010

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Wildfires Continue to Rage in Interior
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Wildfires continue to rage in the interior due to hot dry weather, lightning and erratic winds. Over 80 active fires are charring thousands of acres a day, and spreading smoke across the region.

Crews Battling Fire Near Eklutna Lake
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
A fire near Eklutna Lake in Southcentral Alaska was burning on only about 30 acres until yesterday when Fire information officer Pete Buist says the blaze gave firefighters some trouble, making a significant run to the Northwest– exhibiting fire activity seldom seen in Southcentral. The fire is estimated at about 300 acres currently. Buist says about 70 firefighters will fight the blaze.

Candidates Square Off at Kodiak’s Fisheries Debate
Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak
Six candidates for governor faced off in a debate Friday night in Kodiak, which was intended to be fisheries-only, but occasionally strayed into oil and gas issues. The fisheries debate is a 20-year tradition in Alaska’s largest fishing port.

Veterans Celebrating New Healthcare Facility Near Anchorage
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Alaska Veterans are celebrating the opening of the new VA Healthcare system facility on the outskirts of Anchorage. The clinic started seeing patients on May 10th. At 184,000 square feet, the complex houses medical, dental, mental health, physical therapy and a wide range of services to help veterans get enrolled for health care benefits and disability. Marcia Hoffman Devoe, spokeswoman for the Alaska VA, says when veterans check in for appointments they are directed to one of four waiting areas that serves all physical and mental health appointments.

New Statue Honors Alaska Territorial Guard
The Associated Press
Members of the Alaska Native Veterans Association have unveiled a statue honoring the Alaska Territorial Guard. Association members presented the bronze statue Saturday at the Veterans Memorial in Fairbanks. The largely Native militia served during World War II, assigned to guard Alaska from the Japanese.

Canadian Climbers Killed in Denali Avalanche
The Associated Press
Two climbers from Canada have died in an avalanche in Denali National Park and Preserve. Park officials say 39-year-old Canadian Andrew Herzenberg and 42-year-old Israeli Avner Magen were descending a steep gully of Ruth Gorge on Saturday when they were swept up by the avalanche. Both men were residents of Toronto, Ontario.

Officials say other climbers witnessed the avalanche and skied closer to the site. In the debris, the climbers saw what appeared to be two people and gear and called rangers with a satellite phone. The bodies of the two men were recovered Sunday morning.

AK Senators Say Federal Permits Should Not be Required for Subsistence Bird Hunters
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska’s Senators say rural Alaskans hunting birds for subsistence should not have to get a federal permit. U.S. Fish and Wildlife is requiring the “duck stamps” for hunting or gathering birds’ eggs. The $15- permits are used throughout the country, but Alaskan subsistence hunters have long gotten an exemption. That is now ending. Fish and Wildlife is starting enforcement and ticketing this spring. Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have introduced legislation in Washington to counter that – it would remove the requirement for Alaska’s subsistence users. Senator Murkowski says the duck stamps are not traditional practice for Alaska’s hunters. Earlier this month Senator Begich wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking him to review the duck stamp requirement. The Senators’ bill now goes to the Environment Committee in the Senate.

State Suing Over Predator Control on Unimak Island
The Associated Press
The state of Alaska is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over predator control on Unimak Island. The state filed suit on Friday seeking a court order to allow it to go ahead with plans to kill seven wolfs in the federal refuge. Seven is the minimum number state biologists say will need to be eliminated to maintain the Unimak Island caribou herd at depleted levels.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game goes ahead with its plan to conduct aerial predator control inside the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, it will consider those state employees trespassers and file complaints with the U.S. Attorney.

Haines Author Touring with New Book of Essays
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Five years ago, Haines author Heather Lende was supposed to be on tour promoting her first book. Instead, she was recovering from a horrific bike accident that crushed her pelvis. The local grocery store manager didn’t see her at an intersection and ran her over with his truck. Now, she is fully recovered and beginning a tour for her newest collection of essays, “Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs.”