AD Main Menu

AK Beat: Worried about grizzly population, feds stop hunt in Kenai refuge

Alaska Dispatch News
mackenzieandjohn / cc via flickr

Feds to halt grizzly hunt in Kenai refuge: Worried that a liberalized state season for grizzly bear hunting on the Kenai Peninsula is threatening the bear population there, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will close brown bear hunting on the Kenai National Wildilfe Refuge effective Monday. The agency said in a Friday press release that the ban on the "hunting of brown bears on the refuge is being implemented as a resource-protection measure and to ensure consistency with refuge purposes. The service believes that documented levels of human-caused mortality of brown bears in 2014, combined with those of recent years, are causing the Kenai brown bear population to decline." Hunters killed about 70 bears on the Kenai last year. Another 51 were killed in a spring hunt this year, and several more have died in the defense-of-life-and-property shootings over the course of the summer. State and federal wildlife managers have been at odds over management of the Kenai bears, which are thought to number about 700. Citing public safety and predation concerns, the state has pushed for lowering the size of the population. Federal officials have opposed that idea, noting their responsibility to preserve wildlife on millions of acres of Kenai land they manage. The state was aiming for a kill of another 70 grizzlies this year. The fall season is to open Monday. The closure of refuge lands will significantly reduce the area in which people can hunt.

Labor Day weekend expected to be chilly: The National Weather Service says near-freezing temperatures could be on the way for Southcentral Alaska. And although it may be coming a few weeks earlier than normal, colder nighttime temperatures are not unexpected this time of year, according to NWS Meteorologist Chris Burling. Burling said that as skies clear over the Labor Day Weekend, much of Southcentral Alaska could see overnight temperatures dipping down to the mid- to low 30s. "We could see a light frost, but snow is not expected," Burling said. But winter is on its way. Snow has already been reported in the Brooks Range, north of Fairbanks, and along the 135-mile Denali Highway that connects the Parks and Richardson highways.

Mat-Su port draws LNG interest: An energy company focused on processing liquefied natural gas is looking to develop more than $600 million in LNG infrastructure at Port MacKenzie, Mat-Su Borough officials announced this week. WesPac Midstream LLC is owned by two investment firms: Highstar Capital and Oaktree Capital, an $86 billion investment firm with experience in energy development, company officials told the Mat-Su Assembly during a brief presentation Tuesday evening. Senior Vice President Brad Barnds said the company plans to build an LNG facility, an 11 megawatt power plant, and gas pipelines as well as acquire Cook Inlet gas reserves. Barnds predicted 330 jobs created in the first phase of development. He said the next 60 to 90 days would give the company sufficient information to make a proposal to state officials and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. Borough Manager John Moosey called the possibility of an LNG project at the port exciting but “really introductory” and said any agreement for use of the port would have to go to the Assembly for approval. 

Canadian victims of North Slope crash likely to make full recovery: The three New Brunswick residents injured when a small plane crashed in Atigun Pass are expected to make a complete recovery, reports the CBC. The three Canadians and a Fairbanks pilot were on a flightseeing trip from Fairbanks to Bettles, Deadhorse, Barter Island and back when the plane crashed in the Brooks Range pass near the trans-Alaska pipeline’s Pump Station 4 on the Bettles to Deadhorse leg of the trip. The CBC reported that 66-year-old Darrel Spencer, a Fredericton financial advisor, was recovering from surgery at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, while two of his sisters-in-law -- 65-year-old Marcene Nason and 57-year-old Daphne McCann -- were recuperating in Vancouver. The pilot, 57-year-old Forest Kirst, remained in critical condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center, the CBC reported.

Maine's mushing reporter: When Julia Bayly of Fort Kent, Maine, isn't working as a reporter for the Bangor Daily News, she's out caring for the 10 sled dogs she owns in Northern Maine. Bayly was featured on NPR's "Alter Egos" series where they look at the hobbies of everyday Americans. Bayly admitted dog mushing isn't as glamorous as some would believe ("I've never seen anybody shovel poop in a movie, no," she told host Steve Inskeep) but that it gives her a sense of purpose and strength, even when she's at her lowest. You can hear the whole interview here.

The remarkable longevity of bowheads: Bowhead whales, a staple food source for many Arctic communities, turn out to be among the most long-lived of mammal species. One study found that one in 20 individuals is more than 100 years old and researcher found one that was likely born before Herman Melville penned his epic “Moby Dick” in 1851 and another that might’ve been alive as early as the presidency of John Adams, reports OZY. Attention to the whales’ longevity got a boost from North Slope Borough wildlife biologist Craig George, who in the 1990s, while participating in an International Whaling Commission study, noticed stone harpoon points in some whales caught in the annual Inupiaq hunt. George, who knew such points became obsolete around 1860, had a hard time believing his findings, but sent tissue samples to a researcher who confirmed the whales’ great age. Now bowheads are part of a study that seeks to understand the genetics behind longevity in the whales and other mammals.

Murkowski differs from party majority more than most senators: Voting against party lines has become increasingly uncommon in an increasingly divided Washington, but two senators stand out for doing just that, reports the New York Times. One of those two is Alaska’s senior U.S. Senator, Lisa Murkowski. Moreover, Murkowski’s votes have steadily diverged from Republican majority during her career; in the 2003-2004 Congress she voted with the Republican majority about 94 percent of the time, a number that has dropped to 60 percent a decade later. (The other senator, Maine’s Susan Collins, also a Republican, has gradually diverged too, but at a somewhat slower rate.) As the Times points out, votes on nominations considerably affect these numbers, though they still represent a substantial departure from party discipline -- and an attendant risk: “When you think of how easily conservative senators have been challenged by the Tea Party, they’re both really out on a limb here,” Jeffrey Segal, a Stony Brook University political science professor, told the Times. Then again, a National Journal article on the two from this spring noted that Murkowski had survived such a challenge, from Joe Miller, in 2010, mounting a successful write-in campaign after losing the Republican nomination to him, an event the Journal took as evidence she would be beholden to GOP powerbrokers in the future.