- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

By The Associated Press (AP) - Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Nov. 7, 2015

Ketchikan Daily News: Calming effect

Developing a plan and beginning to implement it has a calming effect, and Gov. Bill Walker has achieved that with Alaska’s liquefied natural gas project and likely soon with the budget - if the most recent special legislative session is an indicator, and it is.

There is much about Alaska’s finances to perpetuate unease. The state is in a financial crisis, with a growing $3 billion budget deficit and a severe decline in production of its highest source of revenue: oil.

Unease - at least in part - had lawmakers complaining before the start of the session about the lack of bills provided for their prior review by Gov. Walker.

Despite the complaints, Walker, who clearly had multiple conversations underway with oil-related entities, confidently stated: “I am optimistic that once we actually sit down … it will be a productive process.”

It was. The tone and attitudes changed from one week to the next, and legislators, once they listened to what the administration presented, overwhelmingly supported the Walker administration.

In the meantime, Walker, who had proposed a gas reserves tax for oil companies, received assurances from the companies that they would make the natural gas available for the project. Following that assurance, Walker pulled the tax proposal from the special session agenda.

Next, the governor presented to the Legislature a plan to take TransCanada out of the natural gas project, arguing Alaska would gain more control over the project and likely be able to attain financing at friendlier rates.

The Senate endorsed Walker’s plan to authorize $157 million by a vote of 16-3, followed by a 39-0 House vote. TransCanada would receive $68 million for its most recent effort. The balance would be spent by Alaska to move the project forward.

Alaskans depend on legislators, who are paid representation, to listen to proposals such as the one with TransCanada and vote. Unlike past votes regarding Alaska’s natural resources that passionately divided and dismayed, the lawmakers almost unanimously endorsed Walker’s plan.

With the Legislature and Walker solidly behind the decision, it tells Alaskans that while there’s a long way to go to the production point, this currently is the best calculated approach toward eventual success.

That Standards & Poor’s patted Gov. Walker on the back for proposed changes to the Alaska Permanent Fund in an effort to resolve the state’s budget deficit situation only adds to the calming effect Alaskans have most recently experienced and appreciate in government leadership. It still remains to be seen whether the proposal will win with legislators and other Alaskans, but it’s one plan to be considered.

And a plan is the beginning to a solution.

Walker signed the TransCanada buyout bill immediately following the close of the special session. He is expected to complete the buyout by Dec. 1. Dec. 4 is the date Walker and the oil companies with natural gas are expected to approve their own work plan and budget for the upcoming year.

Alaska has begun to execute a natural gas project plan that is: a) solidly supported, b) considered the best way to provide energy to Alaskans and Outside, and c) increase state revenue. The plan is a precursor to success.


Nov. 8, 2015

Juneau Empire: Empire Editorial: Feed the eagles, not the rabbits

They may be cute and fuzzy, but they’re not to be taken lightly. We are referring to potentially hundreds of feral rabbits that have infiltrated parts of the Mendenhall Valley.

These rabbits need to be taken seriously. Their population boom began about three years ago, experts believe, and today we think they should be treated like any other invasive species in our midst - with little sympathy.

If that sounds harsh, let us explain. There are many good reasons not to feed them, provide them with refuge or turn them in to our local shelter, Gastineau Humane Society. But we’re not advocating for inaction, either. If nothing’s done, they’ll create a problem that is both expensive and potentially dangerous.

We wholeheartedly advocate for these little beasts to be humanely trapped in live traps, and then donated to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, where they will be euthanized and donated to raptor rehabilitation centers, like the Juneau Raptor Center, to help sustain recovering birds of prey.

As we mentioned before, experts don’t know how bad the infestation is - they’re not exactly sure how many rabbits they’re dealing with. That’s understandable - the animals are sneaky, fast and officials have only recently begun to tackle this problem.

But they do know this: rabbits reproduce like, well, rabbits. Gestation for a litter is roughly 31 days. And, a doe (female) can become pregnant again just days after giving birth. Yes. Days.

While many would assume these little critters wouldn’t be able to live in our unpredictable, and often harsh, environment, it seems they have proved us wrong. Perhaps it is the rabbits’ proximity to a population center that has contributed to their growth in numbers. Perhaps it is due to the fact some residents are feeding and providing shelter for these animals. It’s hard to be sure.

However, we talked to Gastineau Humane Society. From January to June of this year, the nonprofit has cared for and spayed or neutered 22 rabbits. That is a sharp increase from years past. In that short time period, those rabbits cost the shelter more than $16,000.

That figure is significantly more per animal than what they spend on cats and dogs. Based on our rough calculation, the cost to care for these rabbits runs about $700 per animal. For dogs and cats it’s significantly lower, and hovers around a couple hundred dollars per animal.

So what drives up the cost of these rabbits? Well, they are extremely fragile when it comes to procedures, and hence they are more expensive to fix. Furthermore, they have a longer average stay at the shelter - from two months to a year. In contrast, dogs and cats often stay at the shelter for far less time, depending on age and breed.

These rabbits are already a huge burden on GHS. Juneau’s rabbit problem only stands to damage the services the shelter strives to provide. As a nonprofit, the shelter operates with a finite pot of money - one that we’d rather be seen spent on finding pets forever homes, not addressing an invasive species issue.

So what should be done? First, the City and Borough of Juneau should adopt an ordinance that allows animal control officers to capture these vermin. Second, any captured rabbits - whether by residents or animal control - should be donated to ADFG so they can, in turn, feed injured or sick raptors in the care of local nonprofits. Third - and perhaps the absolute most important step - stop feeding these rabbits, stop providing them with asylum from the elements and natural predators and do not move them. Let us say it again: Do not move them to another location.

If nothing is done, if no changes to animal control policies are made, disease could be introduced to our wild hare populations, sickness could befall our pets and those illnesses could, in turn, be passed on to humans. Rabbits are notorious for spreading disease.

If you’re going to do anything, trap them in live traps (ADFG and GHS have loaner traps available) and take them to Fish and Game.

In the end, feed the eagles and not the rabbits.


Nov. 6, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Sturgeon case vital for Alaska’s sovereignty

The case of John Sturgeon versus the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior is strikingly important with regard to the sovereignty of the state of Alaska.

The lawsuit brought by Mr. Sturgeon, an Anchorage resident, in September 2011 is a fairly straightforward one and at 21 pages can be considered brief. It is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lawsuit’s central contention is this: Mr. Sturgeon and his many supporters argue that the National Park Service does not have the authority to enforce its regulations on state waterways that pass through lands under control of the federal agency.

The point of debate is a phrase in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, approved by Congress in 1980. Section 103, subsection (c) of the act reads as follows:

“Only those lands within the boundaries of any conservation system unit which are public lands (as such term is defined in this Act) shall be deemed to be included as a portion of such unit. No lands which, before, on, or after the date of enactment of this Act, are conveyed to the State, to any Native Corporation, or to any private party shall be subject to the regulations applicable solely to public lands within such units.”

Mr. Sturgeon, in his lawsuit, alleges the National Park Service abided by that language for 15 years, limiting its authority on state lands - the term includes the submerged land of the waterways -within federal conservation units. But it was in July 1996, the lawsuit says, Park Service leaders chose to extend their authority to encompass navigable waters within conservation unit boundaries “without regard to whether these navigable waters were owned by the state of Alaska.”

In doing so, the Park Service decision suddenly made numerous regulations applicable in Alaska. One of those regulations prohibits the use of hovercraft on public lands within boundaries of Park Service conservation units.

Mr. Sturgeon at the time owned a hovercraft and had since 1990 regularly used it to access moose hunting grounds within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve and upriver of the preserve, traveling on the Yukon and Nation rivers.

The genesis of his lawsuit came in September 2007, when on a moose hunting trip, Mr. Sturgeon needed to bring his hovercraft to a gravel bar to repair a steering cable. Three armed Park Service law enforcement employees approached him, according to the lawsuit, and told him it was illegal to operate a hovercraft within the Yukon-Charley’s boundaries.

“When plaintiff advised the NPS employees that the hovercraft was being operated on a state-owned navigable river and thus the NPS water regulations did not apply, the NPS employees advised plaintiff that he was incorrect,” the lawsuit reads.

Following that 2007 incident, Mr. Sturgeon met with Park Service personnel and, because of the Park Service personnel warnings, did not hunt in the area from 2008 to 2010.

He sued in 2011, and Alaskans should be glad that he did.

A federal judge in Anchorage ruled against him, though, as did the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In both instances, the language in Section 103 of ANILCA may have fallen subject to a version of understanding not in line with the intent of Congress.

The state of Alaska submitted a brief in support of Mr. Sturgeon’s view during his appeal to the full 9th Circuit Court. In it, the state argues a ruling against Mr. Sturgeon “upsets ANILCA’s delicate balance between state and federal authority, but it also could be interpreted to impair the ability of Alaska Native corporations to utilize their vast inholdings to secure their economic and cultural well-being as Congress intended.”

Further, the state’s filing details the intent of Congress, noting a Senate report accompanying the final version of ANILCA “plainly explains Congress’ intent to prohibit the Park Service from regulating non-federal land as if it were part of a national park and to not allow the Park Service to decide which of its regulations would apply where.”

The position of Mr. Sturgeon, the state and others appears strong.

Now the matter will be for the Supreme Court to decide. The outcome of the appeal will, regardless of which way the decision comes down, have a direct affect on Alaskans traveling on state waterways that transit units of the National Park System.

Alaskans must hope the justices read the language as Congress intended. If not, the Last Frontier, with its promise of freedom and expanse, will lose a little more of itself to the multitudinous pages of a rulebook.

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