Alaska News Nightly: October 8, 2010

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More Belugas Counted This Year, But Numbers May Be Misleading
Ben Stanton, KDLL – Kenai
New numbers out from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show more Cook Inlet Beluga Whale were counted this year compared with 2009. But as KDLL’s Ben Stanton reports, that number does not tell the whole story.

State’s Game Board Discusses Nelchina Caribou Hunt
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
On Friday, the state’s game board sat down for a special meeting in Anchorage to deal with the contentious issue of the future of the Nelchina caribou hunt in Game Management Unit 13.

Candidates, Rural Leaders Converge on Bethel
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
It was political hoopla in Bethel this weekend when politicians flew in for the premier political event in the YK Delta. The Association of Village Council Presidents hosted their 46th annual convention. The event brings together delegates from 56 tribes throughout the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, making it the ideal location for candidates to get some face time with rural leaders. From member station KYUK in Bethel, Shane Iverson reports on how the three way race for Senate is shaping up in the YK Delta.

Petersburg Establishments Must Go Smoke-Free
Matt Lichtenstein, KFSK – Petersburg
Petersburg’s bars, restaurants, clubs, workplaces and public spaces will all have to be smoke-free in less than a month.

Matt Lichtenstein has a follow-up to the vote.

Wildfire, Reindeer Top Arctic Research Commission’s Agenda
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
The U.S. Arctic Research Commission is wrapping up three days of meetings at the University of Alaska Fairbanks today. The Commission sets goals for allocation of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funding. Acting commission chair UAF Professor Buck Sharpton is one of three Alaskans on the seven-member panel, with the other four from Oregon, Virginia, Massachusetts and New York.

UAF-based scientists are presenting their work to the Arctic Research Commission. Associate Professor of Arctic Biology Syndonia Bret-Harte spoke on projects going on at the university’s Toolik Station on the North Slope, including the landscape’s response to an unprecedented wildfire in 2007. The Anatuvuk River Fire, the largest tundra blaze ever recorded on the North Slope burned 400 square miles in the summer and fall of 2007. Bret-Harte says the burn area has greened up, but some of the plants coming back are different.

Bret-Harte says the charred tundra also became more subject to permafrost thawing.

Climate warming is blamed for an increase in the occurrence of lightning that’s making North Slope tundra more vulnerable to wildfire.

Another presenter at Thursday’s Arctic Research Commission meeting, UAF Reindeer Program Manager Greg Finstad talked about efforts to revive Alaska’s reindeer ranching business as a means to improving the economy and life in rural Alaska. Finsatd says reindeer meat is prized for its health qualities and taste, giving the industry great potential.

Alaska’s commercial reindeer herds used to number 600,000 animals in the 1920s and 30s, but today herders graze about 15,000 to 20,000 reindeer across ranges in northwest Alaska. Federal legislation passed in 1937 limits reindeer herding to Alaska Natives. Finstad says the UAF program is trying to help villagers grow the industry.

Scholars Give Perspective About Constitutionality of Some Government Programs
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
Tea party members and candidates the groups support, question if certain federal government programs are constitutionally sound. Whether or not social security, unemployment, Medicare and education should be under the purview of the federal system makes for a lively debate. To get some perspective, we’ve turned to two legal scholars.

State Study of ‘Yukon River Corridor’ Investigated
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will be holding public hearings to see how residents of Western Alaska feel about the prospect of a road from the interior to Western Alaska. Meadow Bailey is a spokeswoman with DOT, she says the state study has a preferred alternative for what’s called the Yukon River corridor.

Bailey says the estimated cost to build a transportation corridor would cost between $2.3 and $2.7 billion. The hearings will be held on Monday morning in White Mountain and Monday afternoon in Koyuk. On Tuesday meetings are scheduled for Elim and Shaktoolik and on Wednesday in Unalakleet and Nome. Bailey says next week’s meeting schedule is the first round and will take comments and also gather more information.

Bailey says it’s not certain the road will be built at all, she says in researching the concept, DOT workers found documentation going back nearly 100 years, but she says the idea is to see if it’s desired and makes economic sense. The prospect of road access could mean increased economic opportunities.