Alaska News Nightly: August 2, 2010

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Internal Report About Alyeska Pipeline Company Concerns Leaked
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
An internal report commissioned by Alyeska Pipeline Company officials has been leaked to the online news organization Truthout. The report was prompted by an email to BP’s ombudsman. BP is majority owner of the Trans Alaska pipeline. The report detailed multiple concerns ranging from the tyrannical nature of retiring CEO Kevin Hostler to maintenance neglect and mismanagement. The author of the email is reportedly a senior official with Alyeska but remained anonymous, using afraidaleak as an online name. The report was written by two attorneys with the international law firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius. Jason Leopold is deputy editor at Truthout who reported on the document’s findings.

Cargo Plane Crashes Near Denali National Park
Dan Bross and Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
Three people are presumed dead in yesterday’s plane crash in Denali National Park. The National Transportation Safety Board reports two pilots and a passenger are known to have been on board the Fairchild C-123 cargo plane which went down in the park entrance area in good weather.  NTSB investigator Clint Johnson says several people saw the mid-afternoon crash.

Johnson says the twin-engine Fairchild registered to Delta Junction-based All West Freight was loaded with construction equipment and headed from Palmer to Unalakleet, when it went down.  The vintage plane impacted the south slope of Mount Healy, within a mile of Denali National Park headquarters, about 200 yards north of the park road, but Park Service spokeswoman Kris Fister says no one on the ground was hurt in the crash.

Fister says accounts and photos from numerous people who saw the plane go down do not point to anything that explains the accident.  The crash started a wildfire that was contained at about an acre. The park road remains open, but two area trails were closed temporarily. A National Transportation Safety Board official has arrived on scene. All West is owned by Bill Michel, who has operated the cargo business from his own airfield south of Delta since 2003.

Nine Alaska Businesses Join 100 Largest Private Employers in State
Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
Nine Alaska businesses joined the list of the state’s 100 biggest private-sector employers in 2009, and the newcomers include a gold-mining operation in the Interior.

National Marine Fisheries Service Releases Draft of Opinion of Steller Sea Lion Population
Alexandra Gutierrez, KUCB – Unalaska
After many delays – and with much anticipation from the fishing industry – the National Marine Fisheries Service just released its draft biological opinion on Alaska’s Steller Sea Lion population. The draft clocks in at over 800 pages of text, charts and graphs, and it examines the effect of commercial fishing on this protected species. It also makes some recommendations that could limit fishing in a portion of the Aleutians.

The western stock of sea lions was listed as endangered in 1990, and every year NOAA scientists do surveys of the marine mammals to figure out how many are surviving and how many are breeding. And through most of the Aleutians, the numbers have stabilized. Except for out at the

western tip. There, the adult population has declined almost by half in the past decade. It’s this region that NMFS wants to target.

NMFS says that while the population is influenced by a number of factors, commercial fishing does have an impact on Steller Sea Lions and it negatively affects their habitat. John Warrenchuk is a scientist with the non-profit conservation group Oceana. He agrees with NMFS’s assessment that competition for food is a serious problem for the sea lions.

And so NMFS is recommending placing some restrictions on fisheries in the Western Aleutians. The draft calls for the closure the Atka Mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries out near Attu, where the Steller Sea Lion population is most vulnerable. There would also be some limits on the ground fish fishery near the Andreanof Islands, but there restrictions wouldn’t be as extreme.

Dave Benton, head of the Marine Conservation Alliance, a fishery management organization, says that he’s not sure these closures would necessarily be warranted.

He also says he’s worried that NMFS is moving too quickly with the proposal.

Meanwhile, Warrenchuk has his own reservations about the direction of the plan – but for different reasons.

NMFS will be accepting public comment on the draft plan until August 27. The final draft of the biological opinion on Steller Sea Lions is scheduled to be released in January.

State Establishes Southeast State Forest
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
The state of Alaska has established a Southeast State Forest, setting aside just over 25,000 acres of state lands for timber harvests. The parcels are spread over a wide area, but most are located on Prince of Wales Island.

Forest Service Using “Roadmap” to Help Adapt to Climate Change
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
The US Forest Service is bracing for the mounting affects of climate change, and Alaska is at the forefront of its efforts to adapt.  The agency came out with a “national roadmap for responding to climate change” last month, complete with a five-year plan to make forests more resilient.

Beth Pendleton, the regional forester for Alaska based in Juneau, says while some forests are already taking stock of changes, the Roadmap gets everyone on the same page.

Pendleton says employees at Alaska’s two national forests – the Tongass and the Chugach – have already been documenting the effects climate change.  She says the first step is assessing what changes are taking place – and what the long-term impacts will be.  Then they’ll have to prioritize how they should respond to the change that’s occurring.  The Forest Service’s climate change advisor in Washington, Dr. David Cleaves, says Alaska faces particular problems:

Cleaves says changes in the types of trees means changes to the forest as a whole.

Cleaves says the “roadmap” includes a score-card rating system all forest managers will use to see how they’re doing.  It looks at how employees are being trained and educated about climate change, and what kind of outreach they’re doing.

Chugach National Forest spokeswoman Sarah Boario in Anchorage says they’re already focused on trying to work with scientists and others to figure out how to cope.

Both the Tongass and Chugach forests are trying to ‘green’ their operations to be less wasteful of water and other resources at facilities – even if it only makes a small dent in overall US consumption and pollution.

Egyptologist Visits Sika
Shady Grove Oliver, KCAW – Sitka
A world-famous archeologist and Egyptologist was in Sitka this weekend for the seventh annual Paths Across the Pacific conference.  KCAW’s Shady Grove Oliver spoke with Dr. Donald Ryan about his life and work.