2019 September Membership Meeting

Please join us on Tuesday, September 17, 2019, 5-6pm, for the Friends membership meeting. 

In person: Anchorage (Loussac Library Anchorage, Moose Room).

Guest Speaker Presentation: Nicole Whittington-Evans, Defenders’ Alaska Program Director


Defenders’ Alaska Program Director, Nicole Whittington-Evans, started out her environmental career studying and working on wildlife issues.  During the 1990’s, she received an MS in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, where she focused on Alaska’s predator control efforts, served for a time as the Executive Director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, and was elected or invited to participate in a number of wildlife stakeholder groups, including an appointment to Alaska’s Board of Game by Governor Tony Knowles in 1997.  For the past twenty-one years she worked on public lands and wilderness issues at The Wilderness Society and served as the Alaska Director for the organization from 2009 to 2018. She also served for three years starting in 2007 on the board of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges as the Outreach Coordinator.  Throughout her environmental career she has blended science and policy to advance the strongest protections possible for wildlife and public lands conservation.  Nicole’s interest in environmental work began when she was an Instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School, and she has traveled throughout much of Alaska’s backcountry by foot, ski, raft and kayak.  As a mountaineer she was part of two successful summit teams on Denali (20,320’), including participating in the first all-women’s traverse of the mountain in 1988, and on Argentina’s Aconcagua (23,000’).  She lives with her husband and two daughters in the foothills of the Chugach Mountains, where she continues to recreate and enjoy wildlife with her family in Alaska’s unmatched wild country.
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Togiak Refuge 5k Salmon Color Run

Togiak National Wildlife Refuge partnered with the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation in the Annual 5K Salmon Color Run held this year on Saturday, July 27th in Dillingham, Alaska.  There were 203 registrants for the free event which featured free t-shirts emblazoned on the back with the meaning of each color – one for each featured health and wellness topic.  For example, green is for smoking cessation. 

Walkers and runners were able to view informational signs along the route with health facts that incorporated Refuge and outdoor themes.  For example, in the red section for substance abuse avoidance, there was a sign showing hikers on Togiak Refuge and the message is “Get a Natural High – Visit a National Wildlife Refuge!”





At the end of each section, walkers and runners were doused with colored corn starch powder that showed up well on the predominantly white t-shirts.  After completing the course, participants were treated to free fruit provided by the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, along with plenty of fresh water to drink.


Togiak Refuge Artist-in-Residence Penny Creasy provided an art activity for young people before the run officially began at 1:00 pm.  Penny donated one of her prints of a sleepy bear (she completed the original in pastel) and the drawing for the print was won by a young Haven Mae Chapman.
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2019 Dragonfly Day

The 9th annual Dragonfly Day was a huge success. The all-outdoor event was held on a warm and sunny day and welcomed 481 attendees to Tanana Lakes Recreation Area. Attendees were able to meet co-author of Dragonflies of Alaska, John Hudson. John led nature walks and shared tips on how to catch dragonflies using an aerial net. Some of the common species caught included the Boreal Whiteface, Lake Darner, and Alaska’s state insect, the Four-spotted Skimmer.

After catching and identifying dragonflies, participants had an array of activities and games to choose from including Dragonfly Twister, dragonfly q-tip art, face painting, or taking a photo with Puddles the Blue Goose at the photo booth.

The Fairbanks Market Grocery and Deli donated an array of fruits and vegetables for youth to make their own dragonfly-inspired snack! Friends Joseph Morris and Moira O’Malley were on site answering questions regarding Friends memberships and projects. Joseph and Moira also sold Dragonflies of Alaska field guides. All proceeds from the sale of the field guide was donated to the Friends group from John Hudson.


Blue Flame food truck was on site with food for purchase. This event was made possible by the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Fairbanks North Star Parks and Recreation, National Park Service, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Fairbanks Co-op Market Grocery and Deli. Hope to see you at Dragonfly Day 2020!
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Bird Banding in an Alaskan Heat Wave

By Vera Stein

It’s 85 degrees in Bethel, Alaska, and we’re sitting in the back of a hot van in June, banding tree swallows, getting pooped on by the birds, and getting bitten by mosquitoes. Thinking I would escape the sweltering Florida summer, I instead arrived in the middle of an Alaskan heat wave.  Banding these beautiful, iridescent, freestyle-flying birds was a dream come true for this former Alaskan.  I had the time of my life, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Traveling long distances, aerial insectivores (which includes tree swallows) have seen significant population declines.  They are being monitored statewide and nationwide to determine if climate impacts, habitat loss, pollutants or pesticide usage has changed hatch timing, or insect abundance, which is the tree swallows’ main source of food.  The Bethel project is the westernmost range of the tree swallow study in North America.

The birds migrate north in the summer, and have a short window of time to mate and hatch their chicks.  The bird banding takes place during the mating season in June, and both the adults and chicks are banded. 

In the initial stages, the adult birds are banded.  This is done fairly quickly to ensure the adults return to feeding their young as soon as possible.  Each bird is banded.  The beak length, wingspan, weight and sex determination (male or female) is done within the span of a few minutes. Over the coming days as the chicks reach maturity, we start banding the chicks.  At times the broods are large, sometimes up to 5 or 6 chicks.  At the end of the two-week period, nearly all the birds in the 40 or so boxes had been banded.  Information will be analyzed and sent to the Alaska Songbird Institute and its network of cooperators.

It is always exciting to capture a bird that has previously been banded.  We came across several banded birds this year, and they were really happy occasions for us.

Citizen Science – The Education Component of the Tree Swallow Project

In order to encourage residents of Bethel, particularly youth, to get involved and learn more about their natural environment, USFWS partnered with the 4H Club to assemble the bird boxes that were distributed throughout town.  Residents throughout town agreed to put boxes near their homes, where they could enjoy watching the swallows’ activities right in their own backyards.  Children in particular were enthralled with the birds, and enjoyed watching us band them. The Boys and Girls club joined us one afternoon while we were banding the chicks, and the kids were fascinated. It was fun to have them around, and see and feel their enthusiasm.  An important element of the project, their involvement helps generate interest in nature for the next generation. 

Salmon Fishing on the Kuskokwim

One Saturday afternoon there was a fish opener on the Kuskokwim River, and it felt like the entire city of Bethel was out on a boat that day! The parking lot for the fishing boats was jam-packed with trailers and trucks.  We were out on the water in mid-afternoon, and it was a productive and fun few hours.  A net was put up, and we waited for a signal. The water started to bob around a couple of the buoys. In all, four Chinook (Kings), and a couple of Sockeye (Red) salmon were caught. A good day’s catch !! And a lot of fun.

The year before, I had the opportunity to visit a few Native fish camps along the river, and talk to Bethel residents about catching, cutting up salmon, and smoking the fish in the traditional way.  We also discussed the shorter amount of time that residents were allowed to get on the water to fish, and the types of fish that were being rationed.  What an incredible lifestyle. Family time out on the water, and delicious fresh fish cooking on the camp stoves. It was heartening to see salmon drying in the yards of the fish camps, with the knowledge that there would be fish to eat throughout the winter.

We were invited to have fresh salmon stew at one family’s camp, which was an honor, and truly memorable.  Not to mention that the stew, cooked up with onions and vegetables, was delicious.

Museum and Gallery

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a small museum attached to the offices, and it is packed with wonderful information about fish migrations throughout the state, as well as specimens of various wildlife that inhabit the area.  It’s well worth a visit. 

Things I Enjoyed Doing Around Town

Many boardwalks meander throughout Bethel, and being on foot is a great way to see the town.  There are lots of beautiful lakes and sloughs, all across town. Walking along the Kuskokwim River was very meditative.

There is a new, state-of-the-art swimming pool and sports complex, and it’s a fun way to spend an evening (or two).  This particular Floridian wasn’t used to cold pool water any more, but the hot shower afterwards more than made up for it.

Bethel is not known for its Four-Star dining experiences, but regardless, there are lots of restaurants to choose from. (In an ironic twist, one cannot find fresh fish on the menu).

The Bethel Farmers Market, an organic farm, is open Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Their homegrown strawberries, sweet and delicious, are to-die-for.  Their potatoes are incredible- sweet, hearty, and firm.  Their lettuces are wonderful too.

I was told by a coworker to go to the hospital for lunch.  While initially a bit skeptical, I went anyway one afternoon and had a delicious caribou stew.   

Saturday mornings, there is a birdwatching tour, leaving from the Fish and Wildlife Service office. On visits to the sloughs, we caught glimpses of a few songbirds and waterfowl.

QUYANA (Thanks)

Many thanks to Jason Sodergren and Betty Siegel of the Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges, and Patrick Snow from the Yukon Kuskowkwim National Wildlife Refuge in Bethel.  I hope our studies will be part of a larger body of research to help better understand the decline of bird populations and other species worldwide.

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2019 August Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update


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.

Izembek NWR

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.

Arctic NWR

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.

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Izembek Lawsuit Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 7, 2019

Contact:
David C. Raskin, Ph.D., president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, davidc.raskin@me.com, (425)-209-9009
Fran Mauer, Alaska chapter representative, Wilderness Watch, fmauer@mosquitonet.com, 907-455-6829
Tim Woody, communications manager, The Wilderness Society, tim_woody@tws.org, (907) 223-2443
Randi Spivak, public lands director, Center for Biological Diversity rspivak@biologicaldiversity.org, (310) 779-4894
Dawnell Smith, communications director, Trustees for Alaska, dsmith@trustees.org, (907) 433-2013

Lawsuit challenges Trump administration’s new land swap deal to bulldoze a road in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today by challenging a land swap deal between the Interior Department and King Cove Corporation aimed at putting a road through the heart of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Izembek is one of America’s most ecologically significant refuges with wetlands that support wildlife of all kinds and millions of migrating birds, fish, and caribou.

The court threw out a previous land swap in March 2019 after successful litigation by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the same groups. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt responded by executing a new deal on July 12 without public knowledge or input. Unlike the previous deal, the new one does not limit use of the road to health, safety, and non-commercial purposes. It is otherwise similar to the previous agreement rejected by the court.

“The Department of Interior has attempted an end run around the recent federal court decision that halted its plans to desecrate the Izembek Refuge Wilderness and its wildlife,” said David C. Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. “This new backroom deal adds to a long series of actions by Interior to give away public lands to serve special interests at the expense of the American people. We are disappointed by this continuation of the illegal and unethical efforts of the current administration to circumvent decades of legislation and regulations enacted to protect public lands and natural areas from destructive developments and preserve them for the benefit of all Americans. We will use every means at our disposal to continue the fight to save the Izembek Refuge.”

Today’s lawsuit, filed by Trustees for Alaska in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, claims that Interior cannot use the land exchange provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to gut a national wildlife refuge and circumvent public process, environmental review, and congressional approval. It further claims that the latest land swap deal violates the National Environmental Policy Act and fails to provide adequate justification for the agency’s reversal of its 2013 decision to reject a land exchange.

“This deal violates the same laws as the first one and we’re prepared to continue the legal fight to protect this irreplaceable wilderness,” said Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska. “This is another Trump administration public land giveaway that breaks multiple laws and dishonors the public processes that go into protecting the health of the lands, waters and wildlife of the National Refuge and Wilderness System.”

Congress passed ANILCA to preserve natural landscapes, wildlife, unaltered habitat, and designated wilderness areas. With a land swap, Interior would give an ecologically irreplaceable corridor of land between lagoons—a vital area of the isthmus forming the heart of the Izembek Refuge—to King Cove Corporation for a road.

“Spending millions to build a road through federal wilderness would be a bad deal for taxpayers and a bad deal for the environment,” said Kristen Miller, conservation director at Alaska Wilderness League. “Yet the Bernhardt Interior Department continues to try and sidestep bedrock environmental laws like the Wilderness Act and the federal court system to satisfy political desires and commercial interests. The previous administration looked long and hard at the road proposal and rejected it for sound reasons, and the District Court and the Ninth Circuit agreed. This new plan, and really the entire process, reeks of self-serving backroom dealing and public lands theft at its most egregious.”

Alli Harvey, the Alaska campaign representative from the Sierra club, said, “The Trump administration’s plan to trade away wilderness in Izembek to be industrialized has been repeatedly studied and consistently rejected for good reason. Now, despite confirmation from the District Court that it’s illegal, Secretary Bernhardt is shamelessly trying to work behind closed doors to push the same deal forward again. We will continue to fight back against this costly and irresponsible deal.”

Trustees also notified Secretary Bernhardt today about its clients’ intent to sue for Endangered Species Act violations related to the land swap.

“Bernhardt’s shady backroom deal is just as illegal as the land swap a judge already rejected,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Izembek is a vital wildlife refuge that feeds millions of birds from three continents. You can’t swap land here for anywhere else because there’s nothing else like it. We’ll keep fighting to ensure Izembek remains protected.”

Fran Mauer, representative of the Alaska chapter of Wilderness Watch, said, “The Trump administration is once again trading away public lands for a road through the Izembek Refuge Wilderness that would not only destroy the ecological integrity of Izembek, but would also establish a ruinous precedent for the entire National Wilderness Preservation System. This must not stand!”

Sarah Greenberger, vice president of conservation policy at the Audubon Society, said, “Common ground exists between critical wildlife protections for some of the world’s largest flocks of migrating birds and community needs of rural Alaskans. But it doesn’t require the sacrifice of an internationally important wetland refuge with tremendous costs to American taxpayers.”

David Krause, assistant state director for The Wilderness Society, said, “The Trump administration is up to its usual shady shenanigans to give away America’s public lands within a federally protected wilderness area. Like the previous backroom deal that was struck down by a federal court less than five months ago, we will fight this every step of the way.”

Parties to the lawsuit include Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Watch.