Northwest Digest

Posted: Friday, August 26, 2005

Late blight takes toll on potato crop

WASILLA - Potato farmers in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are trying to contain a growing outbreak of blight, first detected two weeks ago.

The disease now is found in the fields of five of the Valley's seven commercial potato growers from Sutton to Palmer, said state Division of Agriculture Director Larry DeVilbiss. Fields at the Point MacKenzie prison farm, which supplies spuds to several state prisons, also are affected, he said.

The disease poses no threat to human health but can be devastating to potato crops, wiping out entire fields in days and rotting stored tubers. While common in the Lower 48, late blight is rare in Alaska. It has only been detected three times in Mat-Su - in 1995, 1998 and this year, said Bill Campbell, a state potato disease control specialist.

This year's outbreak appears to be the worst in terms of the number of plants affected.

"At this point, it seems to have gone further," he said.

So far, Campbell has found no sign of the disease outside the Mat-Su.

Late blight is caused by a fungus that thrives in cool, wet weather and is spread by wind and water. It infects the plant and then produces spores, which can spread to other plants and to the potatoes themselves.

From 1845 to 1851, the blight devastated potato crops in Ireland. More than a million people died of starvation and a million and a half left the country, some coming to America.

Northwest mechanics picket in Anchorage

ANCHORAGE - Striking Northwest Airlines aircraft mechanics picketed the cargo and passenger areas of Ted Stevens International Airport on Wednesday.

The union employees have been on strike since Saturday morning. Northwest said 46 of its 584 Alaska employees are with the striking union.

Members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association said they offered to take a 16 percent pay cut and other benefit cuts. AMFA represents mechanics, cleaners and custodians.

Northwest seeks to lay off about 2,000 workers, almost halving a work force that is already half the size it was in 2001. The cuts would be concentrated among cleaners and custodians. Northwest has said other airlines use contractors to do that work for less.

The mechanics averaged about $70,000 a year in pay, and cleaners and custodians made around $40,000. The company wants to cut their wages by about 25 percent.

Feds plan hearings on whale hunt

SEATTLE - The federal government will hold three hearings in October to gather public comment and suggestions on a proposal by the Makah Indian tribe to resume hunting gray whales in waters off their reservation at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula.

The meetings are part of a review required under federal environmental law that will eventually lead to publication of an environmental impact statement on the hunting by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

These steps were prompted by the tribe's February request for a waiver of whaling restrictions imposed by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court ruled last year that the tribe - although its 1855 treaty specifically allows continued whaling - must comply with that law and obtain a waiver from NMFS before it can proceed with a hunt.

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