By: David Raskin, Friends President
In spite of the Covid-19 epidemic and shutdowns, the Trump administration continues to push forward with expanded oil and gas development, and the State of Alaska and their allies continue their efforts to promote the Izembek Road, increase hunting of bears and other predators, and build the highly destructive, proposed Ambler road.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
We have no specific update on when the Secretary of Interior will issue the Record of Decision (ROD). However, a recent development in the Arctic Refuge involves the Kaktovik school that burned down in February. The Arctic Refuge issued a temporary permit that allowed modules for temporary classrooms to be transported across the ice through the Arctic Refuge to Kaktovik. The success of that emergency effort has prompted Kaktovik to consider applying for a multi-year permit that could lead to oil and gas development on the Coastal Plain. We will monitor the situation and take any needed action to prevent this from happening.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published proposed regulations in the Federal Register to improve hunting and fishing opportunities across the National Wildlife Refuge System. Included in this broader package is a proposal that would prohibit the use of domestic sheep, goats, and camelids (i.e., llamas and alpacas) on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge lands due to concerns about disease transmission to Dall Sheep and other wildlife. This management action was identified in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Revised Comprehensive Conservation Plan, which was finalized in 2015 after an extensive public process in which Friends participated. Please click here to review the proposed regulation and submit comments by June 8, 2020.
Our conservation and Native Alaskan partners continue their highly successful outreach events throughout the country, and there have been many more great pieces in various media. The ARDC 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 continue to produce impressive results. Also, the crash of oil prices has led Morgan Stanley and other financial institutions, including Wells Fargo, to raise questions about financial support of the sale of BP’s Alaska assets to Hilcorp. This could have major impacts on oil and gas development in Alaska. 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
The State of Alaska and King Cove, defendants in our federal lawsuit to stop the land transfer and road, requested the Court to hold oral arguments on our motion to void the land transfer. However, the Court promptly denied their request and stated that the documents already submitted provide a sufficient basis for a decision by the Court. It seems that the Court may be preparing to issue a decision, and we look to another ruling in our favor. 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 still have not been released, but we continue to expect them soon. Meanwhile the continuing intervention in the litigation by Friends and our conservation partners supports the effort to protect brown bears and reasonable hunting restrictions promulgated for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness in Alaska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) promulgated these regulations, which have been challenged by the State of Alaska, the Safari Club International, and a coalition called the Alaska Professional Hunters Association. At issue is a set of regulations finalized by the FWS in May 2016 that codified several long-standing, common-sense management decisions, collectively known as the Kenai Rule. The State and the Safari Club challenged the following three parts of the Kenai Rule:
- To continue the longstanding prohibition on hunting brown bears over bait in the Refuge,
- To emphasize wildlife viewing and environmental education in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (WRA) within the Refuge, including restrictions on some hunting and trapping on two percent of the Refuge, and
- To extend the FWS’s typical safety buffer regarding the use of firearms in high-use areas to protect public safety in the Kenai River and Russian River corridors.
Trustees for Alaska, on behalf of the conservation organizations, recently filed a cross-motion with a supporting memorandum in support of the FWS rule and a memorandum in opposition to the State and Safari Club brief. The State and Safari Club reply is due mid-April, DOJ’s reply in mid-May, and our reply on May 18. In the meantime, Trustees was scheduled to get the Plaintiffs’ brief challenging the Park Service regulation on April 6. DOJ’s cross-motion is due June 15, ours is due June 22.
Bureau of Land Management officials maintained their support for the most direct proposed road route to Alaska Interior mining prospects in their final environmental review of the plan published March 27, the same day leaders of the state-owned development bank allotted $35 million for future work on the project amid sharp public criticism. The 211-mile industrial road concept preferred by BLM Alaska officials to reach the Ambler mining district was proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in early 2017 when they submitted federal permit applications for the project. This road could have major impacts on nearby wildlife refuges, national parks, and other valuable environmental habitats and wildlife.