National news briefs

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 24 2010 10:54 p.m. MST

Feds set 'critical habitat' for bears

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is setting aside 187,000 square miles in Alaska as a "critical habitat" for polar bears, an action that could add restrictions to future offshore drilling for oil and gas.

The total, which includes large areas of sea ice off the Alaska coast, is about 13,000 square miles, or 8.3 million acres, less than in a preliminary plan released last year.

Tom Strickland, Interior assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, said the designation would help polar bears stave off extinction, recognizing that the greatest threat is the melting of Arctic sea ice caused by climate change.

"This critical habitat designation enables us to work with federal partners to ensure their actions within its boundaries do not harm polar bear populations," Strickland said. "We will continue to work toward comprehensive strategies for the long-term survival of this iconic species."

Colorado professor loses appeal for job

DENVER (AP) — A former University of Colorado professor who compared some Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi has lost an appeal challenging his firing.

The Colorado Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower court ruling rejecting Churchill's claim that the firing was politically motivated. A three-judge panel agreed that the university is entitled to "quasi-judicial immunity."

Churchill wrote an essay after the 2001 terrorist attacks calling the World Trade Center victims "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi leader who orchestrated the Holocaust.

Charges dropped in Florida cat killings

MIAMI (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped animal cruelty charges against a South Florida teenager accused of killing more than a dozen cats after the defense proved that a large animal likely killed some of them.

Forensic veterinarians had concluded that 19 of the 33 cats found were killed by humans.

But defense attorneys for Tyler Weinman brought in an expert who showed that puncture marks on eight of the preserved cats were consistent with large animal bites. The veterinarians who made the original report acknowledged that the defense expert was correct.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office says it dropped the charges against 19-year-old Weinman on Wednesday.

Weinman was arrested in June 2009, following a two-month string of cat deaths in Miami-Dade.

Fire crew truck, car crash north of L.A.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Four inmate firefighters remained hospitalized in critical condition Wednesday after a head-on crash north of Los Angeles that killed a colleague and an elderly driver.

The four were among a dozen firefighters hurt Tuesday when a Subaru Forester sport utility vehicle veered into oncoming traffic on Highway 138 south of Gorman and hit a truck carrying members of the fire crew, authorities said.

Seven other inmates and a Los Angeles County firefighter who is the crew's foreman were treated at hospitals and released, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Matt Levesque said.

The crash killed inmate firefighter Fernando Sanchez, 25, who was ejected from the back of the truck, authorities said.

The Subaru's driver was identified as Milton Edward Bacon, 83, of Gardnerville, Nev. Bacon was a longtime rancher and former member of the National Automobile Museum Board of Trustees in Reno, Nev., the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation.

Ex-Oregon Senator Hatfield hospitalized

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A longtime top aide to former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon says the 88-year-old has been hospitalized for observation at a National Institutes of Health hospital unit named for him in Bethesda, Md.

Gerry Frank told The Oregonian on Wednesday that Hatfield has been at the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center for several weeks.

Frank declined to provide any details.

The Republican Hatfield retired from the Senate in 1997.

Demo McNerney retains House seat

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney has been re-elected to a third term in a Northern California congressional district, fending off a challenge from Republican David Harmer.

McNerney held a lead of nearly 2,500 votes on Wednesday with less than 1,900 ballots left to be counted.

His re-election means no California congressional seat changed party hands, even as Republicans took back the U.S. House of Representatives with a national GOP landslide on Nov. 2.

Harmer sent a message to supporters Wednesday saying that it appeared unlikely he would overcome the deficit. But he didn't concede.

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