Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2005

'May Day' trees make invasive species list

ANCHORAGE - A popular ornamental tree is pushing out native species around Anchorage, according to botanists and forest ecologists.

The European bird cherry, also called the "May Day tree," has been a popular landscaping option. It grows fast and blooms in spring with fragrant white flowers. Its berries feed birds, and long, dark winters don't faze it.

The tree, however, has been invading greenbelts and parks. In some spots along Chester Creek greenbelt, the forest floor is carpeted by May Day seedlings instead of birch, willow, spruce, alder or cottonwood, said Michael Shephard, a forest health ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

"If anything's going to be in the canopy (in the future), it has to start out as a seedling," he said. "So for a woody species, a tree or shrub, this one seems for Anchorage to be the most invasive plant that we have right now."

Trial starts for man accused of killing cop

KENAI - After more than four days of jury selection, a trial got under way in Kenai Superior Court of a man accused of killing Kenai Police Officer John Watson on Christmas night two years ago.

Kenai District Attorney June Stein and Anchorage defense attorney John Murtagh made opening statements Monday, and the state began calling witnesses to testify in the trial of David Forster.

Forster, 35, a Kenai fishing guide, is accused of fatally shooting Watson on Christmas 2003. He is charged with first-degree murder and assault.

Stein said in her opening statement that Watson had been ordered to locate a vehicle belonging to Forster. After initially failing to pull over at Watson's signal, Forster pulled into the driveway of his home in Kenai. He said he was going to let his two dogs out of the vehicle, Stein said.

Watson told him not to let them out, but Forster released them anyway and they headed straight for Watson, Stein said.

She said Watson then drew his weapon and Forster took off his jacket, ready for a fight, at which point Watson radioed for backup.

Watson tried to handcuff Forster and get him down on his knees, but Forster resisted and instead got Watson on his knees.

Troopers believe that Forster struggled with Watson and managed to get hold of his .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun.

"David Forster shoots him first in the back," Stein said. "As Officer Watson is falling forward on his knees, David Forster shoots him in the back of the head ... the killing shot," she said.

Wildfire season gets off to early start

KENAI - Sunny days and warm temperatures are causing an early start of the wildfire season on the Kenai Peninsula, a state Division of Forestry official said.

"We had problem fires in April and that's kind of unheard of, so we're, of course, watching the weather forecast and being prepared as needed," said Division of Forestry Regional Fire Management Officer John See.

Though snowfall was close to average this year, the quick snowmelt compounded the likelihood of forest fires. The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center reports 112 fires statewide have burned 8,212 acres already this year.

Ninety-nine percent of forest fires are accidental and ignite along highways where humans are most active, said Doug Newbould, a Kenai National Wildlife Refuge fire management officer.

Newbould said it is important to educate people about fire safety.

"There's a difference between fires accidentally started by people and fires started by lighting, naturally," he said.

Barrow man drowns in a city lagoon

BARROW - The body of a Barrow man has been recovered from a city lagoon.

North Slope Borough Police say Alfred Brower, 18, apparently drove his snowmobile onto the upper lagoon off the city's Dam Road, broke through thin ice and drowned.

Brower was last seen early Saturday morning. He had given a friend a ride home on his snowmobile and dropped him off at 2:20 a.m.

When he did not return home Sunday, family members called police.

A search was launched by police, Barrow Volunteer Search and Rescue, North Slope Borough Search and Rescue and volunteers. Searchers spotted the body Monday afternoon in the lagoon.

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