September 2011: from Ketchikan to Barrow

Study Sheds Light on Black Bears

A new study that found that black bears, the most common bears in North America, have killed only 63 people in the United States and Canada over the last 109 years, also revealed a surprising fact: contrary to popular belief, the black bears most likely to kill are not mothers protecting cubs. Eighty-eight percent of attacks involved a bear on the prowl, likely hunting for food, and 92 percent of the bears involved were male, the New York Times reported.


Most deaths occurred in Canada (44) and Alaska, with 5 attacks, was the U.S. state with the most attacks. Most attacks killed one person, but in three cases two or three people were killed by the same bear within several hours. And once, in Saskatchewan, a bear that killed one person tried to kill another several days later, the New York Times reported.

While there are about 15 times as many black bears as brown bears, browns kill about twice as many people, and about half of brown bear attacks involve mothers protecting cubs.

Dr. Stephen Herrero, the bear biologist who authored the study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, told the New York Times the results suggest that people should behave differently around different bears: with a mother defending cubs, back away calmly and give it some space, but with a predatory bear, stand your ground, stomp and throw rocks at it to convince it you’re not easy prey.


Casualties High in Denali

This was a deadly year on and around America’s highest mountain. Seven people died in the popular national park in May, including a guide, the first mountain guide to die there since 1998.

The first fatality was a Texas man who died after successfully climbing the 10,300-foot Moose’s Tooth, near Denali. He was camped with other climbers near the base of the Tooth when their camp was buried by falling ice, the Alaska Dispatch reported.

A Swiss man perished after his guided rope team took a fall near 20,000 feet, and an Italian man died after slipping at 18,200-foot Denali Pass. A Canadian and a Japanese man were killed by an avalanche near the base of Mount Frances, and 34-year-old Suzanne Allen, a Seattle-based guide was killed, along with a climber from China, in a separate fall.

Eleven people perished in 1992, the worst year in McKinley climbing history. Two years later, Denali National Park and Preserve began requiring climbers to register months in advance of climbing and amped up both educational efforts and rescue operations, the Dispatch reported.


Tree Repells Bugs

A chemical found in trees along Alaska’s Prince William Sound and Southeast coastlines could be a source for a nice-smelling, nontoxic and very effective mosquito repellent, according to scientists working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nootkatone, also found in grapefruit, is plentiful in Alaska yellow cedar —or Nootka cypress—trees, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The chemical can repel mosquitoes and also kill populations of disease-spreading mosquitoes, ticks and other insects. Nootkatone is an approved food additive, officially classed as “generally considered safe” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and is found in the soft drink Squirt, the Daily News reported. Nootkatone is expensive to produce but can be extracted from forest industry scraps. A 2009 study in Japan indicated the chemical also might be effective in preventing obesity.


Rescued Musk Oxen Thriving

Two newborn musk oxen were rescued days apart on the North Slope after they became separated from their herd about 70 miles south of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, The Associated Press reported.

One calf was rescued by trans-Alaska oil pipeline workers, and the other by a state biologist conducting research on musk oxen populations. The first calf was found May 12 by the biologist, who tried to lead it to its herd a mile away. They were unable to catch up to the herd and, because the state had approved a request from the University of Alaska Fairbanks for musk oxen to increase its research herd, officials decided to fly the increasingly weak calf to Fairbanks, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, pipeline workers found another calf between two pipeline pump stations. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game did not initially authorize the workers to rescue the calf because there was nowhere for it to live once rescued. But two days later, ADF&G granted permission and the calf was shipped to Fairbanks.

Both calves were frail when they were rescued but rebounded at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Large Animal Research Center. The calf rescued by workers of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. was transferred to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, and the other calf will remain with the UAF center herd, the AP said.


Extra Fish Help Feed Hungry Americans

A program that coordinates the donation to foodbanks of commercial bycatch—fish accidentally caught when fishing for another species—was recently expanded.

Since 1994, boats targeting pollock in the Bering Sea have been allowed to retain and donate unwanted species to national food banks, Capital City Weekly reported. More than 2 million pounds of fish has been donated to Sea Share, the seafood arm of the Feeding America food bank, through the program. The fish are headed and gutted, frozen or canned, and shipped from Alaska seafood processing plants to 220 distribution locations nationwide. Now, bycatch from commercial vessels in the Gulf of Alaska is being donated to food banks as well.

Canned fish is a high-quality, shelf-stable protein that is especially useful after natural disasters, when there is little or no refrigeration available Capital City Weekly reported. The donation program also introduces Alaska seafood to consumers who might never have access or exposure to the product.


Taser Hunting Banned

Worried about people using Tasers to subdue animals so they can shoot them more easily or be photographed with them, the Alaska Board of Game has passed a statewide rule prohibiting the use of stun guns for “catch and release hunting.”

Wildlife and law enforcement officials are authorized to use stun guns on wildlife to protect the animals or humans, but must complete a training course and hold a permit for the use, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

About 25 state wildlife biologists have been trained in the use of stun guns on wildlife, and the weapons have been successfully used to encourage bears and moose to leave populated areas on the Kenai Peninsula. Alaskans can use stun guns on moose or bear if they are being attacked.

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Fliers Hone Skills On Training Runways

The early Alaska bush pilots often flew by the seat of their pants, learning and honing the skills needed to handle short takeoffs and landings on village airstrips as they worked. But today, pilots have a safer alternative.

The Federal Aviation Administration and several Alaska aviation organizations teamed up recently to paint practice landing areas on an approach to a bigger gravel runway at the Fairbanks International Airport and the Palmer Municipal Airport. They are the first practice runways in the state, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The practice strips are 25 feet wide and 600 feet long and simulate conditions that bush pilots regularly confront. The strips are painted in two rows of white, two-feet-by-four-feet rectangles located every 25 feet. Pilots can examine the runway after a landing to see if they touched the painted sections and can use that to judge how well they landed in the restricted space. A skilled small-plane pilot can land on airstrips that are 400 feet or less, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The FAA will gather feedback from pilots who use the runways this summer to improve the practice airstrips.

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