Alaska News Nightly: July 9, 2010

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Commercial Fishing on Yukon Opens
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
Commercial fishermen on the Yukon River are getting a chance to earn some money.  The Department of Fish and Game has been allowing some openings on the river in an effort to target summer chum.

But fisherman had to wait while the bulk of the run swam past their villages.

Chum Salmon Run Falling Short of Expectations
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
A major hatchery chum salmon run that provides early season opportunity for Southeast’s purse
seine fleet is falling short of expectations.

Returns of dog salmon to the Hidden Falls Hatchery on Baranof Island have been lower than the pre-season forecast. The total return to the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association’s hatchery was expected to be 1.6 million chums. NSRAA General Manager Steve Reifenstuhl says that, as of July 7, they’ve only accounted for 20 percent of the forecast, or 334,000 fish.

Reifenstuhl says he thinks the run has almost reached its peak already, and says it’s not good news for people hoping to catch a lot of Hidden Falls chums.

Interior Department Offering Space for Oil and Gas Leases
Associated Press
The Interior Department is offering 1.8 million acres for oil and gas leases in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve while promising to protect critical migratory bird and caribou habitat.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the department through the Bureau of Land Management will offer 190 tracts with bids to be opened Aug. 11 in Anchorage.

The petroleum reserve covers 23 million acres on Alaska’s North Slope.

The BLM withdrew for consideration lands in a buffer zone around Teshekpuk Lake because of its importance to migratory birds.

Eric Myers of Audubon Alaska says the agency took a reasonable approach with its measures to protect birds and calving caribou.

Engine Problems Fuel Lawsuit
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
State officials are trying mediation to settle an ongoing dispute over fast ferry engines.

The Department of Law filed a lawsuit in March over continuing problems with equipment powering the ferries Fairweather and Chenega. The suit named Derecktor, the east Coast shipyard that built the vessels, as well as the German company that made the engines.

The parties were already discussing solutions when the lawsuit was filed. Marine Highway General Manager John Falvey says talks are ongoing.

The Fairweather and Chenega are 235-foot aluminum-hulled catamarans. The Juneau-based Fairweather sails to Sitka, Petersburg, Haines and Skagway. The Cordova-based Chenega sails to Valdez and Whittier. Both carry up to 35 vehicles and 250 passengers.

Falvey says one solution would be to replace the engines. Only eight were made, four each for the two ferries. But he says another widely-used engine could probably substitute.

Landscape Architect Builds Window to Natural World
Lily Mihalik, KCAW – Sitka
Barth Hamberg’s trails are known for their scenic meanderings, natural contours and forward-thinking sustainability. The Forest Service landscape architect is known throughout Alaska, and he says his work represents a new way of thinking about trail building as a window into the natural world.

Professor Investigates Ket Language
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
A new book chronicles the language link between a remote village in northern Siberia and the Dene or Athabascan family of languages in North America. The Ket people, of the Yenisei River, have been studied by Professor Edward Vajda, a linguistics expert from Western Washington University. Vajda says there are about 30 languages in Siberia that are not related to Russian and Ket is one of them. He says it is radically different than any other language of north Asia.

Vayda says no one from North America had ever worked with the Ket language before. He says Ket is the only surviving language of the Yeniseian family. Other Native languages along the Yenisei River are extinct.

The story of language loss in remote Siberia is similar to Native language loss in North America. Under Stalin, the Soviet government forced nomadic reindeer herders and hunters into villages in the 1930s and 40s and then took their children away to boarding schools to learn Russian in the 50s and 60s. Vajda says today, of the 1,200 Ket people, fewer than 100 elders speak the language.

Keystone Center Hired by Pebble Partnership
Adam Kane, KDLG – Dillingham
The Colorado-based Keystone Center has been hired by the Pebble Partnership to bring stakeholders together to talk about the proposed Pebble Mine through a series of panel discussions beginning later this year.

The Keystone Center was contracted in 2008 by global mining giant Anglo American with the Pebble Limited Partnership to analyze Pebble’s environmental and socioeconomic baseline studies and share that information with the public.

The Keystone Center plans to hold the first of four panel discussions regarding the proposed Pebble Mine later this year in Anchorage. Todd Bryan is a Senior Executive at the Center. He says the first panel discussion in early December will focus on responsible large scale mining from a global perspective.

Sen. Murkowski Seeks Agreement on Sealaska Lands Legislation
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
Senator Lisa Murkowski says she wants to keep trying to reach agreement on the controversial Sealaska lands legislation. Murkowski visited Petersburg and several other southeast communities earlier this week.