2019 December Advocacy Report

By: David Raskin, Friends Board President

The Arctic Refuge drilling proposal continues to be front and center on the national stage, and the administration’s numerous assaults on the environment seem to be bogging down under the pressures of time, resources, and inadequate scientific studies!


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

There is some news concerning DOI plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refu­ge. The Record of Decision (ROD) continues to be delayed for unannounced reasons and is now delayed until at least the end of the year. Since the lease sale had been planned for December 2019, the delay of the ROD and the necessary waiting periods after its release have pushed any possible lease sale into at least next February. The longer it takes to try to sell leases, the better.

There is no word about plans for seismic exploration, which likely cannot occur before the 2020-21 winter, if at all. However, the State of Alaska appears to be moving forward with seismic exploration on State lands immediately adjacent to the Arctic Refuge. Pam Miller sent the following useful information:

Public notice issued Dec 3 for public comment closing 4:30 pm, Jan 3, 2020 on the ADNR Geophysical Exploration Permit.  The proposed survey start date given as Jan 10, 2020. The survey outlined in the application’s map shows it immediately west of the Arctic Refuge (official FWS) border of Arctic Refuge and it is described as “entirely on State lands.”  This should be carefully checked against the legal descriptions for the survey. However, the application section G. lists the Canning and Staines Rivers as anadromous fish streams which may be crossed — yet the entirety of both these rivers are within the Arctic Refuge (FWS) boundaries. Clearly SAE 3-D seismic vehicles would be poised to quickly move into the Refuge if the IBLA ruled against the federal government in the pending border dispute. The permit application lists USFWS LOA for Polar Bear Incidental Take but it is not included here with the application, nor are other permits listed.

Our conservation and Native Alaskan partners continue to hold successful outreach events throughout the country, and there have been many great pieces in various media. The campaign’s meetings with executives of oil companies and financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts are producing results. At least three major financial institutions have indicated they will not finance oil development in the Arctic. They seem to recognize the risks posed by the challenges of development in the Arctic and the obvious prospects that there will be a number of lawsuits to stop the leasing program. We will win this latest in the decades-long battle to save and preserve the Arctic Refuge and its subsistence and cultural values!


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

There is no significant development in the August 7, 2019 suit filed in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with the previous eight conservation partners. We have not received any ruling from the Court, and we will provide updates as this lawsuit works its way through the legal process.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge-Regulation Changes

The proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations have not been released, but we continue to expect them soon. It is likely that the new regulations will allow hunting of brown bears over bait, as well as loosened restrictions on hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and 4-wheel drive access to frozen lakes. It appears that there will be a 30-day comment period, but no public hearings. Friends and other organizations are closely following these developments and will take action at the appropriate time.


Kanuti and Selawik National Wildlife Refuges-Ambler Road

The proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road would skirt the north end of the Kanuti Refuge and cross streams feeding the Selawik Refuge. The Ambler Road is on an “unprecedented extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official. Trustees for Alaska assembled detailed, comprehensive comments on the DEIS that were submitted on behalf of numerous organizations, including Friends. We await information of the comments that were submitted and the issuance of a Final EIS. As with the many hurried and poorly supported BLM assaults on public lands, this process seems to be slowing down.