Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Officials confirm no sign of bird flu

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JUNEAU - There were no signs of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu from tests conducted in Alaska in 2006, state officials said Tuesday.

"Roughly 21,000 wild birds in Alaska were sampled for avian flu by federal and state agencies last year," Tom Rothe, waterfowl coordinator with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said in a prepared statement.

Scientists were concerned that the deadly strain would show up first in wild migratory birds in Alaska and then spread to the rest of North America.

Of the samples collected by the state game department, about 7 percent tested positive for some sort of low-pathogenic avian influenza.

"Waterfowl are known to naturally harbor various types of low-pathogenic avian influenza throughout the year," Rothe said.

Rothe cautioned that even though thousands of birds were tested, that's just a small sample of the wild birds that pass through Alaska.

"While we're reassured from our targeted sampling efforts, we can't say with 100 percent certainty that we're clean," he said.

He expects Fish and Game to sample more birds this year, "but the extent of our work will depend on a lot of factors, including global trends in H5N1."

Search under way for missing plane

ANCHORAGE - A search and rescue operation was launched Tuesday after a pilot of a small plane reported he was going down in Cook Inlet.

The Cessna 207 plane, with one person on board, was believed to have crashed in the upper Cook Inlet, said Petty Officer Sara Francis, with the Coast Guard in Anchorage.

The single-engine plane had left Kenai when the pilot issued the distress call, she said.

The destination of the cargo plane was not immediately known, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer.

"Shortly after reporting engine problems, they lost contact with him," Francis said.

Several agencies were responding, including Alaska State Troopers, the Coast Guard, the Alaska Air National Guard and emergency responders from Nikiski.

A private helicopter also was on its way to the crash site, as well as the Seabulk Nevada, a bulk carrier, Francis said.

The Coast Guard also issued an urgent broadcast alerting other vessels in the area to keep a lookout for the plane.

"They are aware of it and they are going to keep an eye out for us," Francis said.

The Alaska State Troopers received the report of the plane going down in the inlet at 10:38 a.m. A mayday signal was received and all contact with the plane was lost at that time, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

Pesticide bill doesn't qualify for '08 ballot

JUNEAU - A proposed ballot measure that would protect school children from pesticide exposure has failed to gather enough signatures to be placed on the 2008 primary election ballot.

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell announced Monday that the initiative fell 6,853 signatures short of the required number of qualified voters. Sponsors needed at least 31,450 signatures, or 7 percent of voters in the last statewide election, to qualify.

Sponsor Pam Miller with Alaska Community Action on Toxics said the group may ask the Division of Elections for a recount. She said the petition gatherers believed they had thousands more signatures than required.

Miller said if the measure does not qualify for the ballot, sponsors will ask state lawmakers to consider passing similar legislation this year.

The initiative would require school districts use pesticides only as a last resort and then use only the smallest amount of the least toxic pesticide for the job. The measure also includes requirements on storage, record keeping and notification of when herbicides and insecticides would be used.

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