- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

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Oct. 31, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Commissioner justified in defense of predator management

In an ongoing battle about game management in Alaska, Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten made the right move in standing by the state’s existing system of predator control. Although the philosophical argument about how best to manage game in the state likely will go on for decades and changes may well be made in that time, the case for major changes to state management is not compelling at this juncture.

Alaskans who are invested in game management are not all of similar mind on whether the state’s current intensive management plan is the best way to maintain wildlife stocks and preserve diversity. Many of those opposed to current management practices wrote as much in a letter seeking the end to some aspects of wolf control on state lands and the establishment of an independent council that would review the practices of intensive management and their efficacy.

Chief among the suggestions the letter made that Commissioner Cotten declined to implement was the establishment of a 5-mile zone around federal lands where game management rules are different. Given the differences in management schemes on federal and state lands, there have been management conflicts at the borders between units. But an expansion of federal management authority five miles from the existing border of federal lands would greatly curtail the state’s ability to manage game on its own lands. As Commissioner Cotten pointed out in his response earlier this month, federal lands already make up more than 60 percent of Alaska’s land area. Pushing out those federal borders 5 miles in all directions for the purposes of game management would be a massive cession of authority to federal practices.

And while the state should continue to look at its management practices and their effects to ensure Alaska is doing its job providing for healthy wildlife populations, the notion that a body reviewing intensive management shouldn’t contain state biologists is problematic. Scientists from the Department of Fish and Game are some of the best-informed authorities on Alaska game issues; to suggest they couldn’t take part in a reasoned discussion of game management practices is similar to suggesting that current teachers shouldn’t be allowed to take part in a review of Alaska’s education system.

Commissioner Cotten was also right to be doubtful of wolf sterilization and relocation as a compromise between current techniques and an end to intensive management. Utilized during Gov. Tony Knowles’ administration, the practice was expensive and accomplished the same ultimate end as shooting the wolves would have. Moving wolves or sterilizing them may soothe our conscience by avoiding the direct killing of an apex predator, but if the end result is the same, all we’ve done is spend more money to kill a wolf. We shouldn’t pretend we’re being kinder by adopting different methods.

Intensive management of predators to maintain stable game populations isn’t always pretty, but it has been effective and has provided for a sustainable harvest of the large game for which Alaska is known. Commissioner Cotten is justified in standing by it.

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Oct. 27, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Interior gas project goals worthwhile

It’s not an easy time for the Interior Energy Project, the state-backed community effort to secure a clean-burning, low-cost home heating solution to the greater Fairbanks and North Pole area. Upward creep in cost estimates from former liquefaction plant partner MWH Global caused a split and delay when it was determined the project could not achieve the price target of $15 per thousand cubic feet of gas, the energy equivalent of roughly $2 per gallon heating fuel. Now, as oil and gas prices continue to slump and local officials express concern that the project may once again be bogging down, it’s a tough picture for the project. But the goal of long-term, low-cost energy supply for the Interior is one that residents should continue to support.

When project partner MWH Global parted ways with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which oversees the state’s interest in the project, the culprit was escalating cost estimates for the North Slope liquefaction plant where gas was supposed to be processed and put into liquid form for truck transport down the Dalton and Elliott highways to Fairbanks. The price of the plant rose high enough that the project’s other components - transport, storage and local distribution - couldn’t be funded with available state money while keeping the overall cost to consumers at or below $15 per mcf, the rate at which state economists say local residents are likely to quickly convert from existing heating sources such as heating fuel or wood. After a refocusing to include Cook Inlet as a potential supply source, the state held a new bidding process that saw strong participation from the energy sector, eventually selecting Salix Inc.

But little progress has been relayed on negotiations with Salix for the liquefaction plant or on a source of gas supply for the project. The lack of public information has local leaders frustrated, coupled with the fact that the first phase of distribution piping for the project being completed last year and this year saw little further development. Although AIDEA and Alaska Energy Authority officials tried to explain the paucity of information at a recent borough briefing, there’s only so much community members and their elected representatives can take on faith.

That said, the community would be wrong to give up on the project, even though the gas it would bring if it met its price goal would currently be roughly on par with current heating fuel prices.

Only five years ago, heating fuel prices were double their current level, with some residents leaving the community or curtailing business plans because of the outrageous cost. The Interior still needs a long-term supply of clean, affordable energy, because it would be just as easy for prices to shoot back up to their former levels.

Giving up on the project because of negotiating difficulty and current low heating fuel prices would be an extremely short-sighted move, akin to not dealing with Alaska’s revenue issues if oil prices rebound. The structural issues that contribute to Alaska’s boom-and-bust cycle, on local and statewide scales, won’t be defeated until dependence on a commodity prone to massive price swings is reduced.

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