Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:
June 17, 2016
Ketchikan Daily News: Positive changes
Ketchikan in recent years has seen remarkable changes in the percentages of dogs and cats that are being adopted rather than euthanized — and in the declining numbers of unwanted or impounded animals entering local shelters.
From 2009 to 2015, the total number of animals entering the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Animal Protection Department shelter system declined from 778 in 2009 to 473 this past year.
Meanwhile, the percentage of animals adopted through Animal Protection increased from 17 percent (131 animals) in 2009 to 45 percent (215 animals) in 2015. The percentages for euthanization dropped from 63 percent (493 animals) in 2009 to 14 percent (67 animals) in 2015.
Those trends reflect positive changes at Animal Protection — in addition to substantial effort by the Ketchikan Humane Society, BARK Alaska Rescue and Southeast Alaska Organization for Animals. The Borough Animal Protection Citizen Advisory Committee continues to be active
We — and the community at large — can appreciate the work of all involved.
The number of unwanted animals is diminishing through local spay and neuter efforts. Policy revisions at Animal Protection have reduced the number of euthanizations there. All of the organizations named above are dedicated to finding good homes for the adoptable animals in their care.
It's good to see local government, local groups and local citizens working together and independently to address the issues involved in Ketchikan's dog and cat populations. Progress is being made.
June 16, 2016
Peninsula Clarion: Keep smoking rate headed in the right direction
Some good news this week from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services: smoking rates across the state have declined over the past two decades by about 2.1 percent.
Even better news is the drop in smoking rates among teens — down to 11 percent of high school students in 2013, compared to 37 percent in 1996.
The message to take from the numbers is that the message on the health risks related to smoking is getting across. Fewer young people are starting to smoke, and two-thirds of Alaskans who do smoke are trying to quit — no easy feat.
According to the Health and Social Services numbers, there still are significant disparities in smoking rates among certain demographics, most notable Alaska Natives and lower-income Alaskans, something the department plans to target. And while there has been a decrease in tobacco use among young adults, there has been an uptick in the use of e-cigarettes.
For those interested in quitting, there are resources available. A good place to start is the Peninsula Smokefree Partnership, located at 35911 Kenai Spur Highway No. 9 in Soldotna in the Alaska Maxi Storage Mall, which offers free tobacco quit kits. The Tobacco Quitline, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, provides free tobacco cessation support for all those the age of 18 seeking help to quit.
Looking to the future, we hope to see the message about the risks of smoking continue to be shared — and that resources to help smokers quit continue to be available. We want to see the numbers continue to decline, but it takes dedicated staff at health agencies and organizations which rely on government funding to operate. With budgets tight, those organizations will have to prioritize programs, but now is not the time to quit helping people quit.
June 17, 2016
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Unmanned police aircraft should be used judiciously
Among the symbols of advancing technology, heightened focus on security and fears of eroding privacy rights, it's hard to find a more prominent icon than the drone. Civilian models are technically referred to as unmanned aerial systems, both to be more specific about the aircraft's uses and in an attempt to create some distance between the image of drones as semi-autonomous agents of government power and surveillance. It was close to inevitable that the issue of drone use by law enforcement would arrive in Fairbanks, as it has in many other U.S. communities. Now that it has, it's important that strong policies be adopted to balance the police adding a powerful tool to their capabilities for law enforcement with the concerns of the public that such a tool could easily be misused in a way that hurts public liberties and damages the reputation of the police.
The UAS capacity the Fairbanks Police Department is contemplating, asking for $7,000 for UAS equipment as part of a $32,000 federal grant request. That sum fits with a system that would consist of one or two higher-end consumer quadcopter models or their equivalent. It wouldn't mean replacement of officers on the street with unmanned aircraft, nor would it allow for widespread surveillance. But for those concerned about the creep of devices that can chip away at residents' privacy, the fact that the police drone's use would be limited isn't likely reassuring.
Those concerns are valid. Technology has had great value in helping keep law enforcement officers out of harm's way — bomb-disposal robots come to mind — but in some circumstances, there have absolutely been cases when officers overstepped the proper use of their equipment, as in the use of military-surplus equipment to respond to protesters in isolated cases in the Lower 48. Even consumer UAS systems have substantial capacity for surveillance, and citizens are right to pay attention and demand accountability when such tools are used by any arm of the government.
At the Fairbanks City Council meeting this month at which the UAS request was discussed, Chief Randall Aragon said that use of the system would be restricted to cases where its benefits to officers and the public is clear, and that each use would likely require his personal approval. That would be wise, and the department and city should be transparent about the circumstances that would allow use of the system.
While it might be helpful to survey the scene of a car accident with a UAS, for instance, to keep officers out of a busy roadway, it wouldn't be appropriate to use the capabilities of the system to perform surveillance as an end-run around a search warrant.
Used responsibly, unmanned aerial systems can be a powerful tool for law enforcement without unduly impinging on citizens' rights. But the city should draft policies that ensure that balance is maintained, and residents should speak out so that their concerns are incorporated into the plan.