Alaska News Nightly: May 13, 2011

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One Dead, Three Injured in Accident on Denali
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks & Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
One climber is dead and three others injured in an accident in a wind storm near the 20,000 foot summit of Denali.  The climbers were part of team that suffered a fall high on the mountain early Thursday.  The group’s guide and one client suffered frostbite, but made it to a camp at 17,000 feet.  National Park Service spokeswoman Maureen McLaughlin says 70 mile an hour winds kept rangers from launching a helicopter mission to rescue the other two until 5 p.m. Thursday.  McLaughlin says a climber who suffered a broken leg was picked up near the mountain’s 19,500 foot level.

McLaughlin says the man suffered severe frostbite and hypothermia as well as the broken leg. She says the helicopter returned to get the other climber, who was found unresponsive near the 18,000 foot level of Denali.

McLaughlin says the cause of death is unknown, but the climber did not appear to have suffered any trauma.  She says the mountaineers spent 24 hours exposed to high winds and temperatures that dipped to -30 degrees. The names of the climbers are being withheld until their families are notified.

APRN has confirmation from Mountian Trip Guides’ co-owner Todd  Rutledge that the guide involved in the Denali accident is Dave Staeheli, an experienced climbing guide since 1979.  Mountain Trip is based in Ophir, Colorado.

Rutledge, is on his way to Alaska at this hour.

The death was the first on Denali this season. Another climber died in an ice fall on the nearby Ruth Glacier late last month.

Evacuees Return to Crooked Creek
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
Evacuees returned to flood damaged Crooked Creek Friday after spending days at the nearby Donlin Creek Gold Mine site. Although they’re back in the village, they can’t go back to their homes because the dangers of flood waters are still present.

Bethel City Council Protests Brown Jug Liquor License
Shane Iverson, KYUK – Bethel
The biggest alcohol chain in the state is proposing to sell directly to customers in Bethel. It’s the first move by an outside business to try and set-up shop in the Western Alaska city since residents voted to revoke its alcohol restrictions. But the Bethel City Council is trying to stop the plan.

House Poised to Vote on Capital Budget
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The House is poised to vote on its $3.1 billion capital budget this evening, and the Senate is waiting for it.   If the Senate accepts the $300 million in expenses the House Finance Committee approved this afternoon,   the special legislative session will have reached a point where adjournment could occur later tonight or tomorrow.  If issues remain unresolved, the bill will go to a conference committee for discussion.

Senate Passes Bill Extending Coastal Zone Management Program
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The Senate Friday passed and sent to the House its version of a bill extending – and making changes to – the state’s Coastal Management Program that helps coordinate state, federal and local requirements for development projects.

The bill on the floor had been changed from what the House sent to the Senate to reflect negotiations between coastal communities and the Parnell administration.

One of the major changes to the House bill would take away the governor’s right to remove – at will – members from the Coastal Policy Board.   They could only be removed for cause.  Golovin Democrat Donny Olson said it gives more power to local residents.

By a 17 to 20 vote, the House refused to accept the Senate version. The Senate refused to receded from its version and the bill has been assigned to a conference committee that is scheduled to meet tomorrow morning. A decision there will have to be reached quickly as it will be up against legislators’ desire to adjourn the special session.

The governor has said he will not support the Senate version of the bill.

Viability of Electronic Observers Being Evaluated
Robert Woolsey, KCAW – Sitka
A fisheries trade association is spearheading research to determine if it’s practical to monitor bycatch electronically on some longliners, rather than using human observers. The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association has been awarded $220,000 from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation to study whether cameras can do the job when new rules go into effect requiring observers on all groundfish vessels over 40 feet long. This is on top of research ALFA is involved in to find ways to keep sperm whales away from longline gear.

Herring Fishery Picks Up in Togiak
Mike Mason, KDLG – Dillingham
The Togiak sac-roe herring fishery has been open since Sunday but it wasn’t until just Thursday that fishermen began harvesting large amounts of herring.

Native Groups Suing Over Polar Bear Habitat Designation
Associated Press
Several Alaska Native groups are suing the federal government over the designation of habitat for threatened polar bears.

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, the North Slope Borough,  and others filed the lawsuit  Friday against the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The plaintiffs say the designation “will not address the primary threat to polar bears, the loss of sea ice due to climate change.”

The federal government has designated more 187,000 square miles as polar bear habitat.

Scientists, Coast Guard Searching for Entangled Whale
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
Federal scientists and the Coast Guard are looking for a whale entangled in fishing gear near Juneau.

The humpback was first seen outside Auke Bay on Wednesday by a Gastineau Guiding tour operator. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists spotted it later that day near the southeast tip of Shelter Island while conducting a herring survey.

The whale did not appear to be in distress, says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Spokeswoman Julie Speegle.

Begich to View Post-Mortem bin Laden Photos
Associated Press
An aide to Senator Mark Begich says he will view post-mortem photographs of Osama bin Laden taken after the al-Qaida leader was killed May 2 by a Navy SEAL team in Pakistan.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Begich is among members of Congress with access to the images.

The Obama administration has declined to publicly release the photos, saying the images could incite violence or be used as a propaganda tool.

Begich spokeswoman Julie Hasquet says Begich does not doubt the terrorist leader is dead but feels it’s his duty to view the photos as an Armed Services committee member.

Murkowski Encouraged by Outcome of Nuuk Conference
Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage
Yesterday’s Arctic Council meeting in Greenland was a historic one, not only because it signed off on its first binding agreement in 17 years, but also because it was the first time that a Secretary of State and a member of Congress – Senator Lisa Murkowski – attended the meeting.

Murkowski saw this as an encouraging sign of the U.S.’s role in the Arctic.

Murkowski says that while it’s difficult to convince others in Congress that America is indeed an Arctic nation, the U.S. must shoulder the responsibilities that come with it. But with the geography and climate of the Arctic changing so quickly, the process of educating others about these issues will become easier.

The agreement that the council signed is an international arrangement, lying out Search and Rescue regions and in the Arctic.

Alaska Native Leaders Advocate for Indigenous Legal Empowerment
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Alaska Native leaders gathered in Washington this week to advocate for the legal empowerment of the world’s indigenous peoples.  The summit took place in the seat of Washington DC power:  the chambers of the Senate Appropriations Committee.