Alaska News Nightly: March 9, 2012

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Game Board Approves Interior Bear Baiting Expansion

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The Board of Game has made changes to expand bear baiting in the interior.  Bear baiting programs have primarily focused on black bears, but Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms says the board approved proposals that would allow hunters to kill grizzly bears at bait stations in game management units 20C, southwest of Fairbanks and 21 D near Galena.  The action followed approval earlier in the week, of baiting of grizzlies in 2 game units near Tok. The board rejected a proposed predator control program for unit 20C in the interior, and 9B near Lake Clark in southwest Alaska. The board cited moose populations that are close to objectives and limited resources for additional intensive management programs.

Moving F-16s From Eielson Would Result In 600 Lost Jobs

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

More than 600 jobs would be lost at Eielson if the Air Force moves the base’s F-16 Fighter Squadron to Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in Anchorage.   An Air Force document released Tuesday identifies the job cuts that would effectively reduce Eielson’s current workforce 22 percent. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek at the Pentagon says the cuts would affect military and civilian jobs.

The Eielson numbers includes 7 military and 41 civilian jobs on base that were eliminated previous to the announcement of the proposed F-16 move. Stefanek says the Eielson cuts are just a small portion of those proposed nationwide under a Department of Defense’s strategic guidance plan and the President’s proposed budget.

The Air force numbers released Tuesday anticipate a net increase of 125 positions at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.  A JBER press release says the number reflects the F-16 squadron coming to Anchorage, as well as personnel cuts, the loss of four C-130 aircraft, and the movement of the Air Force Band to other locations.

Eielson Job Elimination Not As Extreme As Originally Estimated

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The hundreds of positions the Air Force expects to be eliminated at Eielson is less than half the number previously estimated, and as KUAC’s Tim Ellis reports, it’s unclear how solid the estimate is.

Iliamna Volcano Alert Level Raised To Yellow

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Kenai

A recent spike in seismic activity at Iliamna Volcano led scientists from the Alaska Volcano Observatory to raise the volcano’s alert level to “yellow” Friday afternoon.

Chevak School Receives Suspicious Letter

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Another Alaska school has received a letter with a white substance.  FBI spokesman Eric Gonzales says the latest school to get one is in Chevak.

Earlier this week,   Juneau school district’s central offices were evacuated after a letter with white powder in it was received. And the K-12 school in Tanana was shut down after a similar letter was received there.  A hazardous materials team determined that there was no danger, and classes resumed Thursday in Tanana.

A suspicious envelope was found in the offices of Chugach School District in Anchorage on Tuesday. Another envelope containing white stuff was received in Thorne Bay. Gonzales says the investigation is ongoing and schools in other parts of the country are also receiving similar letters.

The state department of education has warned school administrations to be suspicious of letters with a Texas postmark.

Zirkle First Musher To Reach Galena

Tim Bodony, APRN Contributor

Aliy Zirkle is the first Iditarod musher to pull into Galena, arriving shortly before 4 this afternoon.

She is followed by Mitch and Dallas Seavey, who are running around 8 miles apart between the Ruby and Galena checkpoints.

Mushers near the front have been making longer runs with shorter rest, which some of them did not expect to do already in the race.

But the musher with a plan to avoid checkpoints caused the biggest stir at Ruby on Friday.

Police Remain Hopeful Koenig Still Alive

Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage Police Department Officials say they are following up on new leads in the case of missing barista Samantha Koenig. Marlene Lammers is a Public Information Officer with the department. She says the new leads have given police hope that they may find Koenig alive.

“We’re not going to go into details of the case right now. That would basically reveal information that we would have. And we’re not ready to comment on the leads and whatnot that we have. Basically right now, our main concern is continuing to search for her in the hopes of finding her alive.”

The 18-year-old disappeared from the Anchorage coffee stand where she worked more than a month ago. Security video shows her being led away from the stand by an armed man. The reward for information leading to her safe return has grown to $70,000.

Supreme Court To Consider Constitutionality Of The Affordable Care Act

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Later this month, the Supreme Court will consider whether the Affordable Care Act- the President’s new health care law- is constitutional. Alaska has joined with 25 other states to argue that it is not.  Attorney’s with the Department of Law want to stop what they think is too much federal government intrusion.

It’s called the broccoli argument. And it’s a simple way for the states suing the federal government to explain one of their main problems with the health care law. They disagree with the part of the law that requires taxpayers to buy health insurance or pay a penalty- the individual mandate. They say if the government is forcing you to buy health insurance today, they could be forcing you to by broccoli tomorrow. And that violates the commerce clause.

“The analogy is apt to explain the breadth of the argument.”

Stacie Kraly is Chief Assistant Attorney General with the state. Participation in the lawsuit means that she and other attorney’s with the Department of Law have been reviewing and commenting on the briefs the states have filed with the Supreme Court. The states are being represented by Paul Clement, a former Bush administration solicitor general. Besides arguing against the individual mandate, they’re also making a case against the Medicaid expansion. That part of the law makes more adults eligible for Medicaid beginning in 2014. Kraly says states will effectively be forced to participate in the program.

“If we opt not to participate in the expansion, we would lose all of our Medicaid funding, not just the expansion part of it so it’s kind of an all or nothing proposition under the Affordable Care Act and the state believes that that is coercive in nature.”

State Senator Hollis French, a Democrat from Anchorage doesn’t want to comment on the Medicaid expansion. But he doesn’t buy the broccoli argument against the individual mandate. Instead, he prefers a different analogy.

“It’s very, very similar to the mechanism that millions of Americans are familiar with and that’s the requirement that you have insurance when you drive a car. It’s not that radical.”

French doesn’t understand why the state is spending money on the lawsuit when plenty of other states are already suing.

“But really to me the big disappointment is the failure of the administration to put out some reasonable alternative that gets the job done. That is if you don’t like the approach taken by the Affordable Care Act, what approach do you like that covers the 115,000 Alaskans who do not have health insurance coverage, the way the governor enjoys and other people who work in the legislature enjoy.”

But Senator French and Assistant Attorney General Kraly do agree on one thing: they think it’s a fascinating case. Kraly says the sheer size of the Affordable Care Act ensures that:

“The breadth and the expanse of it creates legal issues that have never been raised before. You know the scope of the commerce clause, taking it to this degree taking it this degree has never been attempted before, so it’s a novel legal argument in that context so there are just interesting legal arguments.”

Kraly declined to speculate on how the court will rule. And French wouldn’t either:

“Oh that’s a bad idea. You know it’s an interesting court and an interesting question, but I’ll stay off of the guessing.”

The Supreme Court will begin hearing the case on March 26. The arguments could take two or three days. The court is expected to rule sometime in June.

This story is part of a reporting partnership that includes APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

AK: Wildlife

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Despite all the snow piled up around the state, spring is just around the corner.  To prove it, Shaguyik and Taqouka, two Kodiak grizzly cubs, crept out of their log dens at Portage’s Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center this week to enjoy some welcome sunshine.  The two little bears, both orphans, have been on view at the Center, as have many other rescued animals,  much to the delight of area schoolchildren.

It’s clear for once in Portage.  Fluffy bits of cloud barely touch the mountains around the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, although the wind is biting.  But kids from Anchorage’s Polaris Elementary don’t mind much.  They are here to see the animals.  Kindergartener Teagun says she’s sad the eagle fell down. She’s referring to Adonis, a rescued bald eagle who was found shot.  Adonis lost one wing and lives out his life in the Center’s outdoor bird enclosure.  You can hear him calling to

an unfettered juvenile bald eagle gliding by.  The elk resting in their pasture below barely look up, while Wood Bison in an adjoining enclosure continue munching hay. But the bear cubs are the star attractions on this day. Animal care intern Erin Leighton introduces them:

“Taquoka is the dark male  and Shaguyik is the blonde female inside the little cabin.  They are two years old.”

Leighton says the two will be sent to a bear park in Sweden in June. Shaguyik shyly follows Taquoka out of the cabin, and the two fuzzy wuzzy cubs chew on spruce branches and roll in the snow. They don’t look threatening at all, but Leighton says they will grow to be around a thousand pounds each.  “So they are the largest subspecies of brown bear in the world.”

She says it is not surprising that they are up on a sunny day. In their semi – hibernating state, the bears must be careful about what they eat.

“This time of year, if we give them anything, it has to be pure protein, it’s got to be straight meat, red meat or maybe a little bit of fruit, because their bodies can’t digest a whole lot of food, so it’s got to be pure protein if we give them a snack. “

The bear cubs, like many of the animals at the Center, are orphans or were injured and sent there to recover

“Shaguyik was found just wandering around when she should have been hibernating, and Taquoka, his mother was killed wandering into a village.”

Some of the Center’s foundlings – like Snickers the porcupine – are star performers.  Snickers routinely travels in a dog kennel to school gyms full of fourth graders, like he did a week or so ago.

Center Intern Jonathan Spear, who hosts the traveling exhibits, is an old hand at showing Snickers at Anchorage schools.   He answers kids questions, which range from ‘are his quills poison?’ to ‘is he [Snickers] on medication?’   Afterwards, children make PlayDoh porcupines, using spaghetti for quills.

Sometimes the schools come to him.  On this brilliant but chilly and breezy day in Portage,  Polaris elementary school teacher Mike McGhee has brought his kindergarten and first grade classes to a big outdoor show and tell.

“We’ve been studying Alaska animals in our classes this winter and we thought we’d come down and see some animals up close.  The guide did a great job telling us about some animal facts we weren’t aware of.  The highlights were the moose and watching the lynx jump up and down and watching the eagle eat in the snow.”

The lynx is one of three kittens found abandoned by their mother after a wildfire.

“And, of course, the bear cubs’, McGhee continues. “We saw them come out of their den and they were only about four feet away from us.”

McGhee’s students have brought their lunches and wolfed them down, no pun intended, after their tour.   But feeding the animals is a full time job.  Center staff use a fork lift to carry bales of hay to the Wood Bison.  Intern Jonathan Spear  says others are hand fed.

“The bison and the elk and the moose, our maintenance guys dump in hay or grain.  Erin and I are responsible for feeding the smaller animals, The coyote we through some moose or chicken  meat over the fence when he comes out.  We do it away from the bears so they don’t come and scare him away from his food.   We feed fish, hooligan or salmon to our bald eagle.”

Spear says the largest animals, the elk and caribou, are owned outright by the Center, and through an agreement with the state Department of Fish and Game, many of the rehabilitated injured animals are released back into the wild.

300 Villages: Koyuk

Now its time for our weekly trip around the state. This week, in honor of the Iditarod, we’re heading to the Norton Sound community of Koyuk. The village is eagerly anticipating the mushers’ arrival. That was Darin Douglas, mayor of Koyuk.