By: David Raskin, Friends Board President
The calm before the storm! The Arctic Refuge drilling proposal continues front and center on the national stage, and the administration’s numerous assaults on the environment continue to be bogged down under the pressures of time, resources, and inadequate scientific studies. However, we expect major events in the very near future.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
There are rumors 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 expected sometime in March. 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 farther into the Spring at the earliest.
There is no word about plans for seismic exploration. which likely cannot occur before the 2020-21 winter, if at all. However, SAExploration has been sold to a Norwegian company. The implication of this transfer for exploration in the Coastal Plain is unclear.
Our conservation and Native Alaskan partners continue to hold more 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 impressive results. Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, and the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign continue to spearhead this increasingly successful campaign. Major investment managers and banks are joining the ranks of those warning against investing in oil and gas projects, with special attention to the Arctic. We continue to make progress in the decades-long battle to save and preserve the Arctic Refuge and its subsistence and cultural values!
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There was no significant development in the suit filed on August 7, 2019 in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with eight conservation partners. The Court approved the unopposed intervention of the State of Alaska. We have not received a ruling from the Court, and we will provide updates as this lawsuit works its way through the legal process.
Kenai Predator Control and Hunting Regulations
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 not only 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, but we expect additional draconian measures to be included in the final version. It appears that there will be a 60-day comment period, but no public hearings. All of our conservation partners are closely monitoring this process and are preparing to take whatever action is necessary to stop this assault on Kenai Refuge wildlife.
We are not aware of any significant development on the proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road even though it is on an “unprecedented, extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official.