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KNBA News - Gov. Walker wants alignment with oil, gas producers; Murre die-off continues

Governor sets deadline for alignment with oil and gas producers

By the Associated Press

Gov. Bill Walker says he wants the state and the North Slope's major producers to reach agreement on key contracts and issues related to a major gas project before the end of the current legislative session. If the parties don't reach alignment on those issues, he says, he'll have "no other choice" but to consider other options for commercializing Alaska's gas.

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Governor Bill Walker going after Medicaid waste, fraud

By the Associated Press

Gov. Bill Walker's administration is proposing a renewed focus on cracking down on waste and fraud in Alaska's Medicaid program. House Bill 190 would set up civil penalties for false claims and allow citizens who bring cases to the attorney general's attention to receive a portion of the proceeds from a settlement if a case is pursued.Murre die-off grows in size and area

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Murre seabird die-off continues

By Johanna Eurich, Freelance Journalist - Anchorage

The number of dead Common Murres showing up on Alaska's beaches keeps growing. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has now gathered more than the 22,000 collected when the Exxon Valdez went aground in Prince William Sound. Heather Renner with USFWS says it is already one of the largest die-offs in history and, unlike when the tanker went aground, no one has gone out to remote beaches to look for dead seabirds.

“Our number is changing every day as people call in more reports, " said Renner. "But certainly there was a lot of effort put into searching beaches then. Now people are just calling in and telling us about them. And we haven’t gotten a chance to look at much of the remote coastline.”

Renner told the Alaska Marine Science Symposium that dead Murres started showing up on beaches last summer but since those numbers were spread out over a large area they weren’t noticed until the thousands started showing up on beaches in January.

“It was ten times what it normally is but you still had to walk a long ways before you found a carcass,” said Renner. “Then suddenly since Christmas you can’t walk a beach without finding them everywhere. You see them along the Seward Highway here in Anchorage. They’re foraging in Cook Inlet which they never do. But there’s dead Murres on the ground everywhere, and it’s hard not to notice them.”

The reason for the dead birds is still a mystery but Renner says both the huge area that they are being found in and the fact that it began last summer and has continued over a long time indicates it might be the result of a change in the food web caused by the unusual blob of warm water which showed up in Alaska last winter and moved into shore this summer.

“I think it rules out short-term acute events like immediate poisoning events . I think it suggests something more related to the food web structure,” said Renner. “But there are a lot of hypotheses. That certainly these things all contribute to each other, so at a time when you have a big storm you have a large pulse of numbers because the birds are stressed and weakened already.”

Murres are found farther down the west coast, in areas where the water is much warmer  but scientists think it was the abrupt change in water temperatures and conditions that may have changed the food web making it impossible for the birds to survive.

Researchers have now examined more than a hundred of the birds but have seen no sign of toxins in their stomach contents, but then again, Renner said, the birds were so starved that there was hardly anything in their stomachs to analyze.

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