Alaska News Nightly: November 4, 2010

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Murkowski Digging in for Fight to Keep Seat
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
Senator Lisa Murkowski is positioning for a fight to keep her lead in this year’s Senate race.  The incumbent credits rural Alaska with putting her ballot return count ahead of opponent Joe Miller, but admits there is a long way to go before she can claim victory.

Miller Upset With Decision to Move Up Ballot Count
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Joe Miller is upset with the Division of Elections’ decision to move up the ballot-count of the U.S. Senate race by eight days to Nov. 10.   Officials have to hand-examine every write-in ballot to see if voters actually did write in “Lisa Murkowski” for the seat.  At this point the write-in is leading the race by 13,500 votes, with more than 98 percent of precincts counted.

McAdams Proud of Campaign
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
Scott McAdams will take a week off before returning to Sitka and continuing work as director of community schools for the Sitka School District. Sitka’s former mayor and the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate says he’s proud of his campaign, despite a third-place finish in the polls.

Kodiak Senator Forms Bipartisan Coalition
Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak
Kodiak Senator Gary Stevens has once again formed a bipartisan coalition to run the Alaska Senate. Like the last two years it includes all 10 Senate Democrats and six of the 10 Senate Republicans. What is different this year is who makes up the leadership. Last year the majority leader was Democrat Johnny Ellis, but he has been moved to Rules Chair, while Republican Kevin Meyer was made Majority Leader.

Stevens said appointing a Republican to the number two position was not a requirement for his fellow Republicans to help form the coalition, and that it wasn’t a deal-breaker for the Democrats. He said it appears to him that all 16 members are satisfied with the leadership’s make-up.

On election night, newly-elected Senator Catherine Giessel, a Republican from Anchorage who replaced the retired Con Bunde, said she wanted a pure Republican Majority in the Senate, and wound up not joining the two-party coalition.

The Senate leadership has Stevens as president, Meyer as majority leader, Ellis as rules chair, Lyman Hoffman, a Democrat from Bethel and Bert Stedman, a Republican from Sitka as co-chairs of the Finance committee.

The legislative session kicks off on Jan. 18.

Black Bear Bag Limits Under Consideration in Ketchikan
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
The state board of game will take up Southeast hunting and trapping management issues during a five-day meeting in Ketchikan starting Friday.

Of the 48 proposals the board is slated to consider, a handful seek to limit bear hunting in popular tourist locations in and around Ketchikan.

One such proposal would close the Margaret creek drainage area to bear hunting. The area, located within Traitors cove is a popular bear viewing destination for tourists.

A similar proposal submitted by the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary seeks to close the Eagle creek/Whitman lake hatchery area to bear hunting.

As it stands now, resident hunters may harvest two black bears and non-residents one black bear during the bear hunting season.

The Ketchikan fish and game advisory committee has voted in opposition of the proposed hunting restrictions in the bear viewing areas.

Fish and Game is floating its own proposal that would change the black bear hunting seasons and bag limits within Southeast.

The department is recommending reducing the resident black bear bag limit from two to one in Units 1, 2, 3 and 5.

Fish and Game is recommending the changes due to concerns about black bear populations, saying the present harvest may not be sustainable in some areas of southeast.

The board will take up other issues. A complete packet of all of the hunting and trapping proposals are available on the state fish and game website.

Recent Accident Follows Familiar Pattern
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
A recent four-vehicle accident in Anchorage involving a drunk driver with multiple DUIs received considerable media attention.  But as KSKA’s Len Anderson reports, while the driver’s history might be extreme, it fits an all too familiar pattern.

Contaminated Soil, Debris May Be Removed From Former Military Site Next Year
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
A contractor for the U.S. Air Force could be removing contaminated soil and debris from a former military communications site in Duncan Canal near Petersburg next summer or fall.

The site was a manned communications station, part of a Cold War-era early warning system called White Alice used to relay radio communications from Clear Air Force base in Alaska to Colorado Springs 50 years ago. It’s on Kupreanof Island, eight miles west of Petersburg.

The Air Force already removed over 100 dumped fuel barrels from that area in 2000, but other fuel drums, demolished buildings, trash and chemical contaminants remain. A contractor working for the Air Force has documented PCBs, fuel, chemicals and heavy metals in the soil and groundwater of that area. The Air Force is proposing a cleanup plan for six different sites in that area, and the effort is estimated to cost more than $7 million.

The Air Force is taking public comment on the cleanup plan until Nov. 26.  Officials plan to make a decision on the work this winter and the cleanup could happen next summer or fall.

Southeast Fishermen Should See Rise in Pink Salmon Harvest
Joe Viechnicki, KFSK – Petersburg
State Fish and Game officials say Southeast fishermen should see a much bigger harvest of pink salmon next summer.  Andy Piston, Fish and Game’s Southeast region pink and chum salmon project leader says the department is forecasting a harvest of 55 million pinks in 2011.

Fish and Game uses two factors to produce its forecast: the trends of prior year’s harvest, as well as trawl surveys of juvenile salmon conducted in Chatham and Icy Straits by NOAA fisheries Auke Bay lab.   Piston says the forecast was bumped up this year because of the juvenile salmon data.

It’s the fifth year Fish and Game has used the NOAA fisheries salmon fry information to adjust its forecasts. Piston says the trawl surveys help detect early survival rates, when salmon mortality is highest. Fish and Game has also gone back and applied trawl data from prior years to its old forecasts and Piston says the NOAA fisheries survey helps push the state pink salmon forecast in the right direction.

Pink salmon are caught primarily by the region’s purse seine fleet.

Arctic Flyover Assisting Researchers
Jacob Resneck, KMXT – Kodiak
Every two weeks between March and November, a Coast Guard C-130 flies over the Arctic Ocean. Known as the Arctic Domain Awareness, the mission assists researchers as well as asserts U.S. sovereignty over a slice of water that’s becoming more strategically important as the ice recedes. KMXT’s Jacob Resneck went on one of the flights in October and has the story.

Interior Department Expected to Explain Why Polar Bear Listed as ‘Threatened’
Associated Press
A federal court judge has given the Interior Department a Dec. 23 deadline to explain why polar bears were listed in 2008 as “threatened” instead of the more-protective “endangered.”

The written order issued Thursday by Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., follows an October hearing.

Sullivan writes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erroneously concludes that a species must be in imminent danger of extinction to be declared endangered.

Sullivan says that runs counter to the plain meaning of the Endangered Species Act.