April Advocacy Report: Friends collaborates to make an impacr.

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Arctic  Refuge
The federal lawsuit continues by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and the State that challenged the moratorium on oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain. Friends had intervened along with many conservation organizations and Tribal governments on behalf of the Biden administration. AIDEA and the State filed their reply brief, and AIDEA requested oral argument, which the court will likely schedule now that their reply brief has been submitted. We await the announcement for the second lease sale required by the legislation.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) filed the Federal Register notice regarding the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the December 2021 SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way (ROW) across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The draft EA is scheduled for September 2023 followed by a public comment period.  The permit will require compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act regarding potential impacts on polar bears. We expect this to move to a full Environmental Impact Statement process that may result in a requirement for an incidental take permit, which could become a major problem for the ROW application.   It should be noted that the request for a winter right-of-way across the refuge may have implications for Alaska National Interests Conservation Act (ANILCA) and the Izembek road controversy. 

A draft report on the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas, is still under review. Under the solicitor’s opinion in the previous administration, the refuge is open to motorized vehicles, but there has been little activity to date. 

Izembek Refuge

On March 14, 2023, Secretary of the Interior Haaland withdrew the illegal Trump administration land exchange that authorized a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Wilderness. This paused the legal proceedings, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the Court to moot the case, which would end the lawsuit and nullify the land exchange. However, we expect that King Cove will oppose DOJ and ask the court to continue the case while King Cove works to get Secretary Haaland to propose another illegal land exchange. We are concerned that she will either do that or work with Senator Murkowski on legislation to do a land exchange by a similar process that former Secretary of the Interior Jewell denied. Meanwhile, Secretary Haaland has instructed the FWS to prepare a supplemental EIS to correct deficiencies in the Trump land exchange process, which is expected to begin within a month.

The Izembek coalition is working at all levels of the administration to convince Secretary Haaland to consider alternatives to a road, such as an all-weather ferry between King Cove and Cold Bay that would serve the entire region. Toward that goal, key members of the coalition had a productive meeting with Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau and other key Department of the Interior officials on April 8. A non-road alternative would put an end to the threats to Izembek Refuge, ANILCA, and up to 150 million acres of federal conservation lands currently protected by ANILCA.

Kenai Refuge 
No new threats to the Kenai Refuge!

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
We have heard nothing further on the results of Hilcorp’s shallow exploration on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge.  There is great concern that this may lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact the world-class wildlife and fisheries and subsistence resources in the refuge.