Northwest Digest

Posted: Monday, March 15, 2004

State seeks to join Tustumena fray

KENAI - Attorney General Gregg Renkes has filed a motion before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals seeking to be a defendant in a lawsuit over salmon stocking in Lake Tustumena.

The lawsuit was filed by the Wilderness Society against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a 30-year-old stocking program run by the state.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in December the stocking program is a "commercial enterprise" banned under the Wilderness Act because it affects the Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishery.

Tustumena Lake is a designated wilderness area in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

"This decision is important to Alaska because it takes away our ability to enhance fisheries in National Refuge Wilderness areas and in Alaska we have more than 98 percent of the nation's designated National Wildlife refuge Wilderness areas," Renkes said.

State officials have warned that about 6 million fry destined for Tustumena Lake may have to be destroyed if the project is stopped.

Wolf control program tallies 114 wolves

FAIRBANKS - Aerial wolf control programs this winter have killed up to 114 wolves and attracted more than 50,000 protest messages from the Lower 48, state officials said.

So far, aerial hunters have killed 103 wolves in the Nelchina Basin near Glennallen in an area known as Game Management Unit 13. Hunters have killed 11 wolves near McGrath in Game Management Unit 19D East.

The state hopes to remove 140 wolves from the Nelchina Basin and 40 from the McGrath area in order to stop a decline in the moose populations of both areas.

Friends of Animals, a Connecticut-based animal rights group, has vowed a boycott of Alaska for this coming summer. But Murkowski administration officials said only 14,376 letters and postcards from protesters and 36,739 e-mails have been received. That is far fewer than the 200,000 received in response to the last wolf control plan 12 years ago, a Murkowski spokesman said.

Big Mountain backs off random drug tests

WHITEFISH, Mont. - A northwest Montana ski resort has dropped plans for random drug testing after employee opposition and a look at the policies of other ski areas.

Instead, Big Mountain resort will test workers only in the case of on-the-job accidents or if employees show signs of drug use, officials said. Managers and supervisors will take two days of training later this month in how to spot such indications.

Employees will be asked to sign off on the new rules by April 22.

Executives at the resort, one of the largest employers in the Flathead Valley, announced to middle management in January that random testing was being considered for seasonal and year-round workers. The resort said the testing was aimed at the ski industry's young and highly mobile work force.

Under the plan, names would have been submitted to a drug testing company. Managers estimated about 225 Big Mountain employees would have been tested over a year.

Yellowstone ecosystem could fill within 25 years

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Grizzly bears could reach "full occupancy" in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem within 25 years if the animals' population growth continues at recent rates, biologists say.

Managers now estimate between 500 and 600 grizzlies live in the ecosystem, which covers parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. The animals are moving south from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and could be much closer to human communities by 2029, said Joel Berger, senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Grizzlies were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. Steps were taken to protect the animals, including moving livestock away from grizzly habitat and keeping garbage and other sources of human food away from the bears. Since then, they have seen a significant population increase, said Chuck Schwartz, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.

"Distribution of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem increased 11 percent between the 1970s and 1980s, and 34 percent between the '80s and '90s," Schwartz said.

Groups push statewide ban on public smoking

SEATTLE - Two groups, one led by the chairman of the Pierce County health board and the other by the entertainment industry, are campaigning to place their own versions of a statewide smoking ban on November's ballot.

The Entertainment Industry Coalition's initiative, filed with the secretary of state late Friday, would ban smoking in public spaces open to minors, such as family restaurants, but not in bars or non-tribal casinos.

Breathe Easy Washington, led by Kevin Phelps, chairman of the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health, plans to counter on Monday by filing an initiative that would ban smoking in all public, indoor spaces, including bars, restaurants and non-tribal casinos.

The ban proposed by Breathe Easy would mirror one approved in early January by Pierce County, the only county in the state with such a law.



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