By David Raskin, Friends Board President
The battles continue to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments and limit the impact of the expected predator control regulations for the Kenai Refuge and proposed changes to same-day airborne hunting of wolves and wolverines on all refuge lands.
The Department of Justice dismissed its appeal of the decision by the Anchorage Federal District Court that granted the motion for summary judgment in our lawsuit that challenged the legality of the land exchange and road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. A week later, the DOI announced a new land exchange agreement that was also secretly crafted in Washington without any participation or notice to the USFWS and the public. The new agreement includes Secretary Bernhardt’s desperate attempt to explain their decision process in an effort to overcome the prior court ruling. Based on the numerous, serious inadequacies of the new agreement, on August 7, 2019 Trustees for Alaska filed suit in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with the same eight conservation partners. This suit includes the numerous legal claims against the agreement, and we are confident that we will again prevail. Trustees also submitted to DOI “Notice of Violation of the Endangered Species Act Section 7 for Failing to Consult Regarding the Izembek Land Exchange” and intent to sue the DOI on behalf of the same plaintiffs.
There is little news as DOI continues to press forward with plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. Lease sales are planned this year. The BLM Final EIS is still expected to be released in August, with a decision soon after the close of the 30-day comment period. Since the DEIS was so hastily done and grossly inadequate, without a new DEIS process it is likely that a Final EIS will be insufficient to withstand legal challenges.
We have no news concerning the proposed seismic exploration that is expected to begin next season and extend over two years. It requires a plan that would satisfy Incidental Take Regulations (ITR) regarding denning polar bears and marine mammals. The recently-proposed low-altitude aerial survey appears to have been abandoned. Both companies that were mentioned have stated that they have no plans to conduct aerial surveys of the Coastal Plain. This means that prior to the planned lease sale, there may be no new information about the amount of oil under the area. This is another indication of industry’s waning interest in drilling the Arctic Refuge. The conservation community is closely monitoring these developments and will take whatever actions are necessary to prevent the undesirable impacts of seismic exploration and oil leases.
Trustees also filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, TWS, Defenders, and AWL challenging BLM, FWS, and DOI’s failure to comply with FOIA and produce documents in response to nine requests concerning the Arctic Refuge.
Other encouraging news is that the Royal Bank of Scotland announced that they will not provide financial backing for Arctic energy development, joining the National Australia Bank and Barclays PLC that have also declined to support Arctic drilling.
The Restore Protections Bill (HR 1146) that would remove the tax bill provision that authorized the sale of leases in the Coastal Plain was introduced by Representative Jared Huffman and a record 182 cosponsors. It was reported out of committee, and a full House vote is expected in September. Although it likely will pass the House, the Senate is unlikely to pass it.
Predator Control and Hunting Regulations
The proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations still have not been released, but are expected very soon. The most serious threat to wildlife is the expected regulation that will allow hunting of brown bears over bait. At a minimum, we will urge the Kenai Refuge to develop a permit process to limit the areas of the Refuge and the number of bears to be taken consistent with mandated management practices and potential threats to the brown bear population.
Friends signed onto comments being prepared by Trustees concerning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2019–2020 Station-Specific Hunting and Sport Fishing Regulations, Proposed Rule (Regulation Identifier Number 1018-BD79). This rule was drafted by the DOI in Washington and would adopt regulations proposed by the State of Alaska. This could result in many violations of USFWS policies and regulations that prohibit the taking of wildlife on the same day that hunters fly in. The current regulations are designed to prevent illegal and unethical use of aircraft that could decimate wildlife populations.
The conservation community is closely monitoring these developments and is prepared to provide the responses necessary to protect the integrity and biological diversity of the Kenai Refuge wildlife and prevent same-day aerial hunting of wolves and wolverines on all national refuge lands in Alaska.