Northwest Digest

Posted: Friday, March 23, 2007

Lost dog home after 11 days on cold trail

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ANCHORAGE - After 11 days lost along the Iditarod Trail, sled dog Aafes came home to meet her badly frostbitten but thankful master.

"It's been Christmas for me," said hobbling musher G.B. Jones, who quit the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race about two weeks ago to organize a search for his missing 4-year-old Alaska husky.

After more than a week without any sign of the dog, many wrote her off as dead, figuring she'd become a meal for a local wolf pack.

Jones, though, never gave up hope.

"I really believed she'd be found," he said.

Pilots Manny Wrase and Alan Winkleman were about to abandon the search in the Alaska Range on Monday and leave the Rohn cabin empty when fate intervened.

Their plane wouldn't start in the cold. They had to warm the engine. While they stayed to do that, Aafes walked out from the spruce trees into a short, rough open patch of rutted snow that serves as an airstrip outside the remote Iditarod checkpoint.

"She still had her blue neoprene jacket on and her purple harness," Jones said.

Amazingly, she didn't appear to be much the worse for her misadventure.

"She's a little bit thin, but nothing to worry about," the musher said. "She has a couple small dings on the pads of her feet, probably from running on ice. Otherwise, she's in great shape. She's been eating a lot."

Jones still isn't sure how Aafes got separated from the team, but he thinks it probably happened on the South Fork Kuskokwim River in the Alaska Range.

Grizzlies to be delisted in, near Yellowstone

HELENA, Mont. - Grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park no longer need Endangered Species Act protection, the federal government said Thursday.

The Yellowstone area of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho had an estimated 136 to 312 grizzlies when the species was listed as threatened in 1975, but has more than 500 of the bears today, the government said.

"The grizzly is a large predator that requires a great deal of space, and conserving such animals is a challenge in today's world," Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said in a statement announcing the decision. "I believe all Americans should be proud that, as a nation, we had the will and the ability to protect and restore this symbol of the wild."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to issue a final rule on March 29 to delist the bears and the rule will take effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, officials said. The Interior Department announced in 2005 that it intended to delist grizzly bears around Yellowstone.

Stripping the bears of protection could eventually clear the way for limited hunting of the animals. A measure that would allow such hunting has passed the Montana Senate.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has also recommended delisting gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, but a disagreement with Wyoming's proposed management plan has stalled the process. The service has said it will decide whether to delist the bald eagle by this summer.

California coast regulators sue Navy

LOS ANGELES - The California Coastal Commission sued the Navy on Thursday over its decision to proceed with offshore sonar training exercises without precautions that the state regulators contend are necessary to protect whales and other marine life.

The lawsuit by the powerful agency is the first state action against the Navy over the issue of sonar training, which has been linked to the stranding deaths of whales and dolphins worldwide.

The commission earlier this year allowed the Navy to conduct the military exercises over a two-year period only if it took safeguards to protect marine mammals and sea turtles.

The Navy, in turn, sent a letter to the commission, saying it couldn't agree with the restrictions and will go ahead with the maritime exercises, according to the lawsuit.

The use of sonar has been linked to harmful effects on whales and other marine mammals worldwide. A congressional report last year found the Navy's sonar exercises have been blamed on at least six cases of mass death and stranding among whales in the past decade.

The Navy periodically conducts sonar drills along the East Coast, the Gulf Coast, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest to practice hunting submarines in nearshore waters.

"Whales and other marine species should not have to die for practice. said attorney Joel Reynolds, director of the marine mammals program at NRDC."

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