Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, March 23, 2006

Gov. hires new head of communications

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JUNEAU - Former Alaska Department of Administration spokesman Joe Holbert is now working as in the governor's office as communications director.

McHugh Pierre previously held that position. Pierre will stay on with a new job title is to be determined, said Becky Hultberg, the governor's spokeswoman.

Holbert, who has a background in print and broadcast journalism, will be responsible for nonmedia communication duties at his new job. The addition of Holbert to Gov. Frank Murkowski's staff makes a total of six communication employees. Three others serve in an audio-video lab that also produces works for various departments, Holbert said.

The Department of Administration has not hired a replacement for Holbert.

Fetus bill held over in committee

JUNEAU - A bill that allows murder and assault charges to be brought against someone who kills or injures a fetus was held over in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

The measure, relating to offenses against "unborn children," is sponsored by Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River.

Dyson told the committee that 28 states as well as the federal government have enacted laws protecting the unborn. Dyson said his bill was inspired by the case of Lacie Peterson - whose husband was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife in California.

The proposed law would allow prosecutors to bring double murder charges in such a case.

Although the bill excludes abortion from the list of offenses, Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said the language could be used some day as a vehicle to challenge Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States.

Gara said abortion should be a separate debate.

Women's shelter funding put back

JUNEAU - The House Finance Committee on Wednesday put $350,000 back into a spending bill for a Kotzebue sexual assault and domestic violence shelter.

The money, if approved by the Legislature, will go to reimburse the Maniilaq Association, which runs the crisis center. The Northwest Alaska tribal organization continued to pay for the center's operations last year after a new federal law stripped it of its funding, said Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue.

Forestry officials approve timber sale

ANCHORAGE - State forestry officials on Wednesday reiterated their approval of a 1,300-acre timber sale near a popular fishing stream in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, after considering a number of requests to halt the sale.

State forest officials reviewed comments from opponents of the sale of pockets of land in Petersville near Kroto Creek before giving the go-ahead for the state's largest timber offering in the Mat-Su Borough in nearly two decades.

Opponents range from area residents to tourists to environmental groups. Many have said logging could open up the area to four wheelers that could damage salmon and trout streams. Some also questioned whether logging would harm local tourism businesses such as sled- dog tours and flightseeing operations.

Officials said they tweaked a few areas of the sale plan to answer concerns, including shrinking the size of the sale by 300 acres from the original 1,600-acre proposal. They also are requiring construction of ditches and berms intended to block four-wheelers from logged areas, and are limiting large transport trucks from running on weekends and during school bus runs. Trees will be felled only during two to three months in the winter to avoid disrupting tourist traffic.

Fort Richardson to close wildlife museum

ANCHORAGE - After 50 years, the Fort Richardson Army Post is closing its wildlife museum because it needs the space for offices.

The Fort Richardson Wildlife Museum holds one of the largest collections of mounted animals in the state. It has 294 animal displays, historic artifacts and Native art pieces that need new homes, including mounts of bears, moose and sheep.

"Sadly, it's the space the museum occupies that's needed," said Mary Murray, administrative assistant for Fort Richardson Morale, Welfare and Recreation Directorate. "We've had roughly 2,000 new personnel move onto Fort Richardson in the last few months, and the number is only increasing. Office space is at a premium; new construction just can't keep pace with the influx of new troops."

The museum was started in the late 1950s when three noncommissioned officers put together an exhibit using their own mounts in a building now occupied by the military police, according to Will King with the Armed Services YWCA. Soon private citizens and other soldiers added to it. By 1964, it was moved to its current site.

Letters have been sent out to display owners, notifying them of the April 30 deadline to collect their exhibits. A number of the animals may remain in the public realm. Murray said a list has been compiled of local establishments that have expressed interest in accepting items for public viewing.

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