State Briefs

Posted: Monday, June 23, 2003

Several McGrath bears return home

FAIRBANKS - Several bears moved as part of a predator control experiment near McGrath a little over a month ago have returned home, and at least four are within sniffing distance, a state biologist said.

"They're making their way back," said biologist Mark Keech with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks.

The state spent $60,000 to capture and relocate 90 bears from a 520-square mile area surrounding McGrath during a three-week period in May in an attempt to increase the survival of newborn moose calves.

Studies have shown that bears kill more newborn moose calves than wolves.

Biologists have been monitoring the movements of 23 bears that biologists fitted with radio collars and four of those bears have returned to the area from which they were moved.

Two more were within 15 miles of home, or as Keech put it, "within a day's walk if they want."

Given the fact that there were another 67 bears without collars, chances are good that some of those bears have also returned, Keech said.

The bears were dropped off at remote airstrips in the Interior between 160 and 215 miles from where they were captured. Three of the four bears that returned were deposited at different airstrips, proving what biologists suspected all along - the bears would try to make their way back home.

Exploration gold drilling to begin on Ester Dome

FAIRBANKS - Fairbanks Gold Mining plans to begin exploration drilling this week on its Ryan Lode property on Ester Dome in a project that could result in 68 shallow holes.

The exploration at the site this year is expected to last up to three months. The project was approved earlier this month by the Department of Natural Resources.

Ted Wilton, the company's chief geologist, said Fairbanks Gold Mining is still in the exploration phase, and it's unlikely the company will make a decision whether to mine Ryan Lode this year.

Fairbanks Gold Mining is a subsidiary of Toronto-based Kinross Gold Corp. and owns and operates the Fort Knox Mine about 25 miles north of Fairbanks.

Near the pit is the company's mill, which processes the Fort Knox ore and ore trucked from the company's True North Mine about 12 miles away. If Ryan Lode is mined, the ore likely would have to be trucked at least partly on public roads from near Ester to the Fort Knox mill.

High gold prices have increased many mining companies' interest in exploration. Still, it's only a first step in a long process that often does not lead to mining, said Bob Loeffler, director of DNR's Division of Mining, Land and Water.

Troopers crack down on illicit drugs and alcohol

ANCHORAGE - Alaska State Troopers have launched a campaign to crack down on illicit drug and alcohol distributors in rural Alaska.

The effort, which includes offering hundreds of dollars in cash rewards for tips, should put dealers and smugglers on notice that the state is targeting rural areas, said Col. Julia Grimes, the troopers' new boss.

Troopers have had a recent string of cases, starting June 6 when troopers and Nome police seized $1,750 believed to be drug money from a freight package sent from Gambell to Nome via a local air carrier, said troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson. No arrests have been made but the investigation is continuing.

Three more cases occurred June 12. In the first, troopers in Nome intercepted a package addressed to a Nome resident that contained 80 grams of marijuana, Wilkinson said. The seized drug had a street value of approximately $6,400, he said.

In the second incident, a Nome trooper and the regional public safety officer from Unalakleet flew to Stebbins, a Norton Sound community of about 586 people, and seized a package addressed to a local resident that contained 265 half-gram baggies of marijuana.

The street value of the drug was estimated to be $10,600, Wilkinson said. Charges are pending in both cases, he said.

In the third case, troopers in Nome arrested Franklin Kaningok, Jr., 37 of Gambell and Nome, on the charge of felony importation of alcohol. Troopers say Kaningok tried to fly to Gambell with 19 750-milliliter bottles of vodka and one 200-milliliter bottle of whiskey.

Delta Junction fire burns past Sand Creek

ANCHORAGE - A fire near Delta Junction burned south Saturday past Sand Creek and toward cabins on the lower Goodpaster River.

Firefighters hoped to stop the fire at the creek but were unsuccessful because of warm, dry weather. Six crews have been assigned to the lightning-caused fire, which began June 14 about 25 miles northeast of Delta Junction.

By Sunday, it had burned approximately 30,000 acres, spreading toward cabins on the South Fort and Central Creek. Low levels on the Goodpaster River were hampering efforts to move firefighters and equipment.

On Friday, firefighters helped area cabin owners protect their properties, setting up sprinkler systems, clearing brush and preparing for a possible burnout.

About 150 miles northwest, a fire that crossed the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the Dalton Highway grew substantially on Saturday. The blaze, called the Erickson Creek fire, grew 9,700 acres to reach 13,700 acres, fire officials said.

Hiker killed in fall on East Twin Peak

ANCHORAGE - A hiker was killed in a fall on East Twin Peak.

Rescuers found the body of Tracy Shelden, 33, of Wasilla late Friday night. Shelden was hiking with his 11-year-old son and some others when he struck out alone to scout a route through a tough area. The group was hiking a traverse from the Eklutna Power House to Eklutna Lake, via Twin Peaks.

Mike Majors, one of the hikers, said Saturday that the trek was expected to take 20 hours. As they ascended the north face of East Twin Peak on Friday evening, the weather soured and fog moved in.

Majors said when Shelden didn't return, he went looking for him but got trapped in a chute. Alaska State Troopers and the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group were called in and Majors was rescued from the chute.

Shelden's body was found below a 300-foot cliff. The spot is nearly the same where a Michigan hiker was killed in July 1998.



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