Northwest Digest

Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Fish and Game will not remove the wolf

Juneau - Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials say they will not remove or kill the wolf that apparently killed a dog last Wednesday near Mendenhall Lake, despite some requests for its death.

"We have received mail from people who think the wolf should be removed and people who think the wolf should stay," said Neil Barten, a biologist of the Division of Wildlife Conservation. "People feel strongly both ways."

A man reported to Fish and Game that a black wolf that has frequented the Mendenhall Lake for the past two years killed his miniature beagle last Wednesday afternoon near Dredge Lakes Trail.

Barten said Fish and Game will not remove the wolf at this point because managers don't know what actually happened between the wolf and the dog.

"There is a big difference between a dog chasing a wolf into the bush and a wolf aggressively approaching a dog under the control of the owner," Barten said. "People should just keep their dogs on leash."

Since Thursday, Barten and other Fish and Game staff members have tried to shoot the wolf with a rubber bullet to discourage him from approaching people. Barten tried to shoot the wolf with a bean bag last year. Although he missed the target, the wolf stayed away from people and dogs for several months.

"I think the sound scared him," Barten said. "The real problem with the wolf is that it has become too friendly. We are training him to be afraid of people."

Agrium seeks gas proposals for plant

KENAI - Agrium USA is offering to pay a higher price for natural gas to continue operating its Nikiski fertilizer plant at half capacity.

Request for proposals submitted last week to seven gas producers offered to pay $3 per thousand cubic feet of gas - higher than their previous target prices, said Richard Downey, director of investor relations for Agrium. The company had averaged less than $2 per thousand cubic feet for its gas at the North Kenai plant.

The deadline for responses from the gas producers is April 15.

The fertilizer plant is slated to close Oct. 31 because it is not able to secure enough natural gas to continue operations. Gas is a key ingredient in the production of ammonia.

Since announcing the plant's closure last year, Agrium said it has made efforts to secure more gas to continue operations.

In 2003, Agrium submitted requests for proposals to gas producers and lease holders to secure additional gas, said Agrium spokeswoman Lisa Parker. She would not say how much the company offered to pay for gas.

Downey said $3 is an acceptable price.

"We would like to continue operating that facility," he said. "Our preference is to keep it open long term."

Governor inks criminal sentencing rules bill

JUNEAU - Gov. Frank Murkowski on Tuesday signed into law an overhaul of the state's criminal sentencing rules that puts Alaska in line with a U.S. Supreme Court decision made last year.

The new law creates sentencing ranges instead of fixed-year prison terms for felonies.

The sponsors of the bill say the change, which takes effect immediately, gives judges broader discretion and the ability to consider all the circumstances in a case before handing down a sentence.

Change was needed after the Supreme Court decided in Blakely v. Washington that judges alone can't sentence criminals to prison terms above what is in the state's code. Juries have to rule on whether aggravating factors call for an increased sentence, the court ruled.

The state of Washington has a presumptive sentencing system like Alaska. Several other states also were left scrambling after the decision last June.

"The Blakely decision really threw the sentencing structure of Alaska into turmoil," said Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole, one of the bill's sponsors.

Washington lawmakers are considering a bill that would require a jury to decide on an exceptional sentence.

In Alaska, instead of handing that power to juries, the Legislature created a range above and below the fixed-year terms from which judges can choose. Several states already use ranges, and adopting them is in keeping with the spirit of the Supreme Court decision, said Susan Parkes, deputy attorney general in charge the state Department of Law's criminal division.

Panel predicts Fraser fishery to close in '08

OTTAWA - One of the Canada's richest fisheries, the Fraser River sockeye salmon run, will likely be shut down for the 2008 season due to a sharp decline in spawning stocks that may be related to climate change, a report by a Canadian government committee has concluded.

In a unanimous report released Tuesday, the Commons fisheries committee suggested that rising water temperatures are an important factor in "a major ecological disaster."

It also blamed overfishing for the low spawning numbers last summer, and suggested the federal Fisheries Department must increase enforcement and research efforts.

The committee said 1.6 million fish, one-third of the total run, vanished in 2004.

"These tragically low numbers mean that there will probably not be enough sockeye salmon to support commercial, recreation or aboriginal fishing on the Fraser in 2008," the committee said.

It estimated losses in the commercial fishery alone at $64.4 million in 2008.

Based on the four-year life cycle of the sockeye, the committee said, "the forecast for 2012 and 2016 is bleak."

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