Northwest Digest

Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New health center to open in Fort Yukon

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FORT YUKON - A new $8 million health center will soon be open in the Interior village of Fort Yukon, replacing two trailers that date back to the 1970s.

When it opens in November, the new 15,000-square foot Yukon Flats Health Center will serve more than 2,500 people who reside in the area.

"We've got tremendous health care needs out here," said Ben Stevens, executive director of the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments. "And now we have the right infrastructure here."

A dedication and open house on Saturday attracted several hundred people. They crammed into the small waiting area for the event where tribal leaders spoke and the Fort Yukon Dance Team performed several traditional songs.

Since 1992, the council has provided health care from the two Federal Aviation Administration trailers, which were intended as temporary structures.

Health officials said it is an ongoing battle to provide care for people in the Yukon Flats. There are no roads in or out of Fort Yukon. Inclement weather during the winter makes emergency transportation difficult, and recruiting people to work at the clinic is a struggle.

Several people described the new health center as "beautiful," despite the fact that none of the furnishings have arrived yet and a back room is still under construction.

"This is like the Taj Mahal for us," said Lona Ibanitoru, health director for the clinic.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who has a home in Fort Yukon, spoke at the dedication about the high quality of the care that will be available there.

"This is what the future of health care in Alaska is about," he said. "It's about bringing the best health care we can everywhere."

Similar facilities have been constructed in other rural villages in recent years. The Fort Yukon clinic is the largest to date because it will serve a relatively large population.

Analysts recommend ripping out dams

GRANTS PASS, Ore. - California Energy Commission analysts urged Oregon, California and Washington to deny any requests from PacifiCorp to increase electricity rates to help pay for upgrading Klamath dams.

A Monday letter signed by California Energy Commission executive director B.B. Blevins asks the public utility commissions in each of the three states to authorize cost recovery only for decommissioning the four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. Indian tribes, fishermen and conservation groups want the dams removed to open up spawning habitat for struggling salmon runs.

"The Energy Commission has a responsibility not only to provide reliable energy supplies, but to provide for the environment," said Chris Tooker, an energy policy analyst for the California Energy Commission. "It takes that balancing mandate seriously. The whole reason we are involved in the Klamath issue is to help educate the participants."

PacifiCorp is seeking a new license to operate the J.C. Boyle, Copco 1, Copco 2 and Iron Gate dams on the Klamath for the next 30 to 50 years. Though the dams only produce enough power for 70,000 households, PacifiCorp says it's power that does not emit greenhouse gases.

The utility has said it would be willing to spend $300 million on fish ladders and other improvements to meet a federal mandate to provide salmon a way to reach hundreds of miles of spawning habitat blocked for the past century. It has also said it would be willing to remove the dams if their rate payers don't have to pay for it.

Most comments against wolf plan

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Most of the 352 individual comments the Wyoming Game and Fish Department received on the state's plan for managing gray wolves oppose the proposal.

The public comment period on the wolf plan expired Oct. 10. The department received comments from people in 15 states and Canada.

The plan drew negative comments from both livestock producers and conservationists. Ranchers expressed fear the plan would subject their livestock to wolf predation, while environmentalists argued the plan would lead to too many wolves being killed.

The agency posted the comments on its Web site at

"We hope that by posting all of the individual comments on our Web site, people will have the opportunity to understand the tremendous variety of opinions that exist concerning wolf management in Wyoming," Game and Fish Director Terry Cleveland said in a statement.

Lawmakers ask park to cut snowmobiles

BILLINGS, Mont. - Eighty-six members of Congress are asking the National Park Service to phase out snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park. They contend the agency is ignoring the increased noise and air pollution that would result from a plan to allow up to 540 of the machines daily.

The congressional opposition, voiced in a letter sent Monday to Park Service Director Mary Bomar, comes as Yellowstone is set to finalize its snowmobiles rules in the next three weeks.

More than a decade in the making, the park's snowmobile policy has engendered a nationwide debate pitting public access advocates against conservationists who say Yellowstone should be closed to unguided motorized use during winter months.

The members of Congress - none of them from the Yellowstone area - told Bomar that snowmobiles should be replaced by a smaller number of guided snowcoaches. Those are essentially busses on skis.

Allowing snowmobiles, they wrote, would provide "inferior protection" of the park and show a "disregard" for the Park Service's conservation mission.

Hunter wants limits on camping extended

HELENA, Mont. - Nick Dole has set up a hunting camp in the same area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest every year since 1982 and stayed there for up to five weeks at a time, so it bothers him that the U.S. Forest Service stands to break his tradition by enforcing a 16-day limit on camping.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., also finds the decision disturbing and wants the regional head of the Forest Service to intervene.

"Our personal camp has been - what, a 20-some-year situation - and they want to change it," Dole said Monday from the camp he and friends use as a base for hunting deer and elk in the Little Belt Mountains east of Helena. The site is an undeveloped piece of ground with no toilet and not even a fire ring, but the road access is good.

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