Northwest Digest

Posted: Friday, April 20, 2007

UAF students reach out to Virginia Tech

FAIRBANKS - Students and staff at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are adding their voices and prayers to the nation's collective expression of grief over the shootings Monday at Virginia Tech.

A large sheet of paper - about 6 or 7 feet long - is available in the Wood Center for people to write their thoughts and messages concerning the shootings. The banner will be sent to the school in Blacksburg, Va., next week to express the university's sympathy for the Virginia Tech students affected by the tragedy, which left 33 people dead, including the gunman.

"We did something similar after (Hurricane) Katrina," said Carrie McGee, a fiscal officer at the Wood Center and one of the organizers of the banner project. "It just seemed like an easy thing so that people could express themselves."

The Wood Center was alive with activity during lunchtime Wednesday. A number of people took a moment to read the comments written on the banner. A few of them added their own.

"My deepest sympathy for all those who lost friends and family," read one comment, signed "Nathan A." "I encourage you to stay strong as this difficult time passes."

"All our hopes and prayers are with you. God bless," said another, signed "Steve."

The banner, which was first put out in the Wood Center's main lobby on Tuesday, was already filled with several dozen comments Wednesday, some long, some short. Several comments quoted Bible passages. A few writers called for stricter gun laws in this country, while others demanded better access to guns for law-abiding citizens.

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Debbie Toopetlook, the director of rural student services at UAF, said she felt compelled to leave a comment on the banner because of the grief she felt for the people in Virginia.

"I think for them to know they have support nationwide, it might help comfort them," she said after leaving her message on the banner. "I don't know what sort of help it's going to give, but it might give them comfort."

She kept her message simple.

"I just said, 'You are in our thoughts,"' she said.

Nicole Swensgard, a 27-year-old wildlife biology major, said she left a comment so that those grieving in Virginia would know they aren't grieving alone.

"I think it will show them that even folks all the way in Alaska are aware and sorrowing for their losses," she said.

Bacterial meningitis kills Kodiak woman

KODIAK - A Kodiak woman died from a case of streptococcal bacterial meningitis, health officials said Thursday.

Because of confidentiality laws, officials at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center wouldn't release any information about the case.

However, they said there were no other known cases reported in Kodiak other than the woman who died Wednesday.

Dr. Beth Funk, a staff physician with the state Department of Epidemiology in Anchorage, said by telephone during a news conference Thursday coordinated at the hospital that this type of infection is not generally passed from one person to another.

Meningitis is caused by a bacteria known as pneumococcus that can also cause pneumonia and other common ailments such as sinus and middle ear infections, Funk said.

The bacteria is carried in the throat, and is common enough that most people do not get sick from it.

Serious cases occur when the bacteria spreads to the blood stream or brain, causing swelling and inflammation.

High fever, headache and stiff neck are common symptoms, but Funk warned that such cases are rare.

Statewide, there are about 134 cases of streptococcus pneumococcal in 2006, resulting in 11 deaths, Funk said.

Fisherman shoots a protected sea lion

PORTLAND, Ore. - The competition between protected sea lions gobbling Columbia River salmon and impatient humans with empty fishing lines has led to vigilante action.

A fisherman shot a sea lion that stole a salmon off the line of a fellow angler Wednesday at a popular fishing spot near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.

The sea lion was hit twice but was reported alive in the river Wednesday night.

Fishermen have complained that the sea lions eat too many salmon at Bonneville Dam, about 50 miles upriver from the confluence at Portland, as well as elsewhere on the two rivers.

Brian Gorman of National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle says reports of sea lion shootings have increased in the past two years. But it's rare for authorities to identify a fisherman taking aim at a sea lion.

Three states have asked federal permission to kill the more troublesome of the sea lions, a process expected to take more than a year.

Fishermen are impatient.

"People are frustrated," said Brian Tarabochia, a fourth-generation fisherman from Astoria. "They're witnessing fish being eaten by the sea lions, when it's a direct impact to their lives."

Still, he said he does not condone illegal shootings. "It's not a good time for a vigilante to be out there," he said.

He said, though, that estimates of the spring salmon run eaten at the dam do not take into account many more devoured in the lower river.

"I don't think every sea lion needs to be killed," he said. "But if they took out the right ones, it would take care of a lot of the issue."

California sea lions are protected under the 1972 Marine Mammals Protection Act. Shooting one can bring stiff fines and jail time.

"We take things like this pretty seriously," Gorman told The Associated Press.

Oregon State Police say a fisherman reportedly hooked a salmon, but a sea lion took it off his line. A 60-year-old Rainier resident fishing nearby shot the sea lion twice with a .22-caliber rifle, state police said.

The shooting will likely be treated as a civil violation, for which offenders are not arrested, Gorman said.

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