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Northwest Digest

Posted: Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Flights resume after volcano ash threat

ANCHORAGE - Dozens of flights canceled by ash from erupting Augustine Volcano returned to the skies on Tuesday as the island volcano continued ejecting a plume of steam and light ash.

"We have not made any cancellations tonight, but we continue to monitor the situation and may need to make additional flight changes as conditions change," said Amanda Tobin, spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines.

Alaska Airlines had grounded 36 flights to and from Anchorage on Monday and Era Aviation had canceled five flights to Kodiak Island, about 80 miles south of the volcano. The airlines said the cancelations were a precaution against ash, which can damage jet engines.

Officials said the threat to public health is low because the concentrations of ash are minimal near ground level.

Ash was likely dusting the ground at Cape Douglas, a virtually uninhabited area about 30 miles south of the volcano, the National Weather Service said Tuesday. It canceled ash advisories for the Susitna Valley, north of the volcano, and the western Kenai Peninsula several dozen miles to the east.

Augustine is an uninhabited volcanic island 180 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Game board OKs sale of bear hides

ANCHORAGE - Alaska bear hides will be legal to sell in some cases for the first time in the state's history.

The state Board of Game made the change Monday after a judge said the state needs to do a better job of showing how it has tried alternative measures to aerial wolf control.

The decision allows the sale of brown bear hides only if they're harvested from a 2,700-square-mile section of northeastern Alaska. Black bear hides also can be sold if they are harvested from the five areas where predator control is allowed.

"It's a big change," said Matt Robus, director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation. "It's assumed this will provide some motivation for people to go out and take more bears."

The decision comes shortly after a state Superior Court judge invalidated the wolf hunting program. The Board of Game reinstated the program last week by tweaking its rules at an emergency meeting.

Game Board chairman Mike Fleagle said the panel has loosened restrictions on bear hunting in the predator control areas, such as lengthening the season and removing a $25 fee for residents. The question of whether the decision will apply to nonresidents was not addressed, said Bruce Bartley, a spokesman with the Department of Fish and Game.

Enough moose predators, however, have not been killed in some areas, according to some board members.

Washington gov. signs gay civil rights bill

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a gay civil rights bill into law Tuesday, though the law may be held in limbo if opponents are successful in forcing a public vote this fall.

Nearly 200 people gave Gregoire, and bill sponsor Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a standing ovation, as Murray waved the pen that signed the measure that adds "sexual orientation" to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit.

"It's a joyful, emotional moment," said Murray, one of four openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature. "It's a moment to celebrate after a very long struggle."

Signing of the bill, passed by the Legislature on Friday, makes Washington the 17th state passing such laws covering gays and lesbians, and the seventh to protect transgender people.

The law will take effect in June, 90 days after the end of the Legislature's session, but if initiative promoter Tim Eyman is able to get enough signatures by the June 7 deadline for a referendum, the law will be frozen until a November vote.

Weather may be causing birds' death

NEAH BAY, Wash. - The mass starvation deaths of murres on Tatoosh Island off the Olympic Peninsula may be due in part to unusual weather patterns along the West Coast, scientists say.

Last year didn't have the winds and currents necessary to maintain the network of marine food crucial to the seabirds' diet. Breeding failures during the summer were preceded by tens of thousands of birds washing up dead on beaches in Washington, Oregon and California.

In Washington, the state's largest colony of glaucous-winged gulls suffered when the normal fledge count plummeted from 8,000 chicks to 88 last year.

The breeding failure isn't expected to harm the birds' overall population, but it has raised questions.

"The whole process broke down," said University of Washington researcher Julia Parrish, who witnessed bird deaths repeatedly last summer while observing 6,000 nesting murres on the island about a half mile off Cape Flattery at the tip of the peninsula. "We don't know what happened."

Researchers met over the issue earlier this month in Seattle, but were unable to trace the source of the strange weather, except to consider global warming's effects in the past year.

Washington bestiality legislation gets hearing

OLYMPIA, Wash. - People who have sex with animals should face a felony conviction for animal cruelty, says a Republican senator pushing for a ban on bestiality.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, is sponsoring the bill, which was prompted by a widely publicized Washington state case in which a man died of injuries suffered while having sex with a horse. The measure was aired Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Washington is one of 14 states where bestiality is not explicitly prohibited, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.



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