Alaska News Nightly: May 1, 2012

Individual news stories are posted under APRN News. You can subscribe to APRN’s news feeds via email, podcast and RSS.

Download Audio

Fish & Game Holding Off On Kenai Peninsula Wolf Kill Plan

The Associated Press

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it will hold off for a least a year on killing wolves on the Kenai Peninsula.  The wolf kill plan was expected to help more moose survive.

Division of Wildlife Conservation acting director Doug Vincent-Lang says the department supports intensive management on the peninsula but wants to establish a sound scientific foundation for any action taken.

He says the department this year will study the best way to increase moose numbers.

The Alaska Board of Game in January voted to extend predator control to two game units on the peninsula south of Anchorage.

The board in recent years has taken an aggressive approach to killing wolves, black bears and grizzly bears to boost moose and caribou numbers through liberal predator hunting and trapping seasons.

Study Reveals Polar Bears’ Long Distance Swims

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

A new study shows polar bears are swimming long distances as the Arctic Ocean sea ice retreats. The United States Geological Survey documents polar bears swimming for days with little or no rest on ice floes. But the study doesn’t look at what cost these endurance swims have on the population as a whole.

Polar bears are good swimmers. They have large forelimbs that help them move through the water. But USGS researcher Anthony Pagano says it’s been impressive to document just how good they are at swimming. He used GPS data from collared polar bears to study 50 long distance swims between 2004 and 2009. The bears swam a long, long way.

“Pagano: The mean was about 95 mile long swims that these bears were taking. Annie: The mean was how long? Pagano: 95 miles. Annie: Wow, that’s incredible. Pagano: yeah. yeah.”

Pagano documented one female bear in 2008 that swam 420 miles over ten days.  In that case, the swim came at a big cost.

“She had a yearling cub with her at the time the collar was deployed. And she actually started swimming a couple weeks after that and went for this long swim and then she followed the pack ice back down, over the course of the fall and she was recaptured that October and she was missing that yearling cub and she had lost I believe it was about 20 percent of her body weight,” Pagano said.

In all, 10 adult females in the study had cubs when their collars were deployed. When they were recaptured later, six still had their cubs. Pagano says researchers can’t say if it was the long swims that caused the moms and cubs to separate. And he says overall, the study couldn’t quantify how taxing the swims were for the bears.

“Their movement rates were a lot higher than they were on the sea ice, presumably because they’re not able to rest or hunt when they’re swimming. They appear to be moving continuously in the water. So presumably that might be affecting their body condition, they’re expending higher amounts of energy. But whether that’s affecting survival, we don’t know at this point,” Pogano said.

The polar bears took their long swims between July and October, when the sea ice is at its minimum. The bears can’t survive without the sea ice – they need it to hunt seals, their main food source. Biologists are trying to understand how sea ice loss is affecting the bears. And Pagano says the swimming study offers some insight into how polar bears are coping with their changing environment.

“Generally it shows that bears have an ability to move among this deteriorating sea ice habitat which historically wasn’t melting out quite as far and wasn’t in as extensive retreat as is occurring nowadays,” he said.

Pagano was speaking from Barrow, where he is finishing up the spring field season. He says they have captured about 80 bears so far this year and they appear to be in good condition. In the last few weeks of the study, the researchers are darting the bears to take small biopsy samples without having to capture them. He says the relatively new technique is less invasive and could make it easier to determine survival rates and population estimates.

Report Shows Growing Arctic Militarization

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Tuesday, a think tank issued a wake-up call about growing militarization of the Arctic. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions released a report on the security implications of an Arctic Ocean with less sea ice. The report documents a dramatic increase in policy actions by Arctic nations, many of them military.

Parnell Chooses Hughes To Fill Gatto’s Seat

The Associated Press

Shelley Hughes has been appointed to serve out the term of the late Representative Carl Gatto.

Governor Sean Parnell made the announcement Tuesday in Palmer.

Hughes campaigned for Gatto in past elections, and is the only one of the three nominated for the post who has filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, signaling her intent to run for Gatto’s seat.

District 13 Republicans had sent Parnell three names as potential appointees.  The others are David Eastman and Marvin Yoder.

House Republicans must still ratify Parnell’s choice.

After Harvest, Sitka Tribe Renews Herring Concerns

Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka

This year’s lower-than-expected herring harvest has renewed calls from the Sitka Tribe of Alaska to change the fishery.

The Tribe has long expressed worries about the amount of fish taken by the commercial fleet in the lucrative Sitka fishery. This year, fishermen caught only about half of what they were allowed. The Tribe sees it as validation of a long-held concern. But a state biologist says although this year definitely requires some study, the model used to manage the fishery is still good.

Aircraft Support Aplenty For Alaska Wildfire Crews

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

The start of wildfire season has mangers assessing resources to battle blazes across the west this summer. There’s serious concern about air tanker support in the Lower 48, but the aircraft shortage is not an issue in Alaska.

Smooth Sailing Ahead For Captain Of The Tusty

Jennifer Canfield, KMXT – Kodiak

For the last 15 years Robert Crowley has been a kind of year-round Santa Claus to the Southcentral and Western Alaska ports that have relied on him as captain of the ferry Tustumena. After 36 years with the Alaska Marine Highway System, Crowley is retiring.

Homer Couple Rescues Florida Couple On Hawaiian Volcano

Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

When a Florida couple found themselves in a desperate situation after a bicycle ride up a Hawaiian volcano turned bad in a hurry – the last thing they probably expected was to be rescued by a couple from Homer, Alaska. But, that’s exactly what happened.