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Two Weeks with Polar Bears!

By: Jeff Walters, Fairbanks

I have lived in Alaska since 1982 and had never seen a wild polar bear until this year. Thanks to Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges, I not only assisted with education and outreach e
fforts in 2019—but I also saw many wild polar bears!


In the last decade, the number of people visiting the village of Kaktovik (on the Arctic Ocean coast) to view polar bears has increased dramatically. This is due, in part, to the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. It is also due to the increasing number of polar bears in the Kaktovik area, especially during August, September, and October when they are drawn to barrier islands and beaches in search of food. Kaktovik (population less than 300) is surrounded by the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which creates unique challenges and opportunities for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Alaska Native residents to manage increased tourism in this area. Visitors—up to 35 a day—travel here, usually in small tour groups that stay from 7 hours to 3+ days.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has one employee, Refuge Ranger Will Wiese, based in Kaktovik. He is assisted in his education and outreach efforts by one or two people who present information to visitors, answer questions, observe visitation, and estimate daily tourism numbers (among other tasks). These assistants are often members of the Student Conservation Association. Occasionally others are needed too—and this is why I was invited to travel to Kaktovik.

I was in Kaktovik August 23-September 5 and had an AMAZING experience!



Here are some highlights:

  • I saw my first polar within an hour of arrival.

  • I saw as many as 20+ polar bears in one day.

  • I interacted with visitors from all over the world, from Italy, Israel, and Brazil to Atlanta, Tucson, and Kotzebue.

  • I was in Kaktovik when villagers harvested two of the three bowhead whales they are allocated each year. I observed the excitement and great cultural significance these harvests bring to the community.

  • As an active birder, I was excited to see Snow Buntings and Greater White-fronted Geese throughout the village, Common and Red-throated and Yellow-billed Loons in the lagoon, Sanderlings on the beach, hundreds of Snow Geese preparing to migrate, and lots more!


    And here are a few things I learned:
    Although some subpopulations of polar bears appear to be holding their own, the Southern

    Beaufort subpopulation (found in this area) is declining.

  • Polar bears are coming ashore on the North Slope earlier, and in greater numbers, in recent

    summers.

  • Late summer is a “lean” time of year for polar bears, and they are drawn to this area in search

    of food.

  • Arctic Ocean sea ice was at its second-lowest extent in summer 2019; in August/September

    sea ice was 300+ miles offshore. So polar bears that come ashore are stranded until shore

    ice returns in late fall.

  • Kaktovik residents and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service continue the challenging “dance” of

    allowing tourists in guided boats on the waters (which are managed by the Fish & Wildlife

    Service) while providing respect for—and input from—local residents.

  • The people of Kaktovik were unfailingly kind to me as I walked around the village with my

    binoculars and bear spray looking for birds.

  • Will is really good with boats and he really knows his bears and birds!

This was an AMAZING experience. And I learned early on that my travel expenses were paid by Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges! Thank you, Friends, for making opportunities like this possible and for supporting—in many ways—our state’s National Wildlife Refuges!

 

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Chasing Eiders: My Summers in the High Arctic

Please join us on Tuesday, October 15, 2019, 5-6pm (AKDT), for our Friends October membership meeting with featured guest speaker, Elyssa Watford.

 

Want to hear an eider’s heartbeat?  Be taken along through ice and fog to the off-shore world of the barrier islands of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?  Wonder what it would be like to live and work in a remote field camp on the edge of the Beaufort Sea?  Then join us, the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, to hear Elyssa Watford share stories and stunning photos and videos of her three years of eider research on the barrier islands.  Elyssa, a PhD candidate at UAF, has been working with Common Eiders, North America’s largest duck, for three years.  The focus of her work has been the potential impacts of climate change on these special birds and their habitats.  Come learn about these birds and this important work and find out about volunteering and advocacy opportunities.

Elyssa will be at the Fairbanks meeting; our other gatherings will join via Zoom Meetings. 

  • Fairbanks: Noel Wein Library, 1215 Cowles, reception at 4:30; meet at 5
  • Anchorage: Fish & Wildlife Service Regional Office, 1011 E. Tudor, gathering and snacks at 4:30, meet at 5 p.m.
  • Homer: Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Highway, meet at 5
  • Soldotna: Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Ski Hill Road, meet at 5

    If you can’t make it in person, join us by phone or by computer:

  • By phone:
    Dial-in number: 720-707-2699
    Meeting ID: 619 207 040
    (Press ‘#’ if you are asked for a participant ID)

  • By computer:
    Join Zoom Meeting
    https://zoom.us/j/619207040
    (We are only using audio in this meeting; please join this meeting without video.)

If you are joining us by phone or computer, please download Elyssa’s presentation and follow along:
Download Presentation (PowerPoint .pptx)

Agenda:

Introductions and Discussion (5 minutes)
  • Introductions: Where do you live?
  • New People: Why did you join the call today?
  • Reminder to please mute yourselves when you aren’t talking
Board Activities/Decisions
  • Refuge Projects and Reports 
Committee Reports (2-5 minutes each): Volunteer Report – (Betty) Membership/Outreach Events: Upcoming events (Tara) Advocacy Updates (David, Dave)

Speaker/Presentation (30-40 minutes) –
Elyssa Watford
Topic: Chasing Eiders 

Next Meeting: Tuesday, January 21, 5-6pm Guest Speaker TBA
Six meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October

 

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Advocacy Report October 2019

Advocacy Update by David Raskin, Friends Board President


As battles continue to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments; the Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey, the proposed Donlin mine on the Upper Kuskokwim River, and the proposed Ambler road have been added to the list of threats to our Alaska refuges.

Izembek NWR

There are no significant developments 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. The King Cove Corporation plans to intervene on behalf of the defendants. However, the Aleutians East Borough, City of King Cove, and the City of Cold Bay likely will not intervene. The plaintiffs see little to be gained by opposing the interventions. 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. We will provide updates as these work their way through the legal process.

Arctic NWR

There is important news concerning DOI plans to sell leases this year for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The BLM Final EIS was released in September, with a Record of Decision (ROD) expected soon after the close of the 30-day comment period on October 22. A lease sale is planned for December 2019. Since the FEIS was so hastily done and grossly inadequate, without a new EIS process it is likely that the Final EIS will not withstand the many legal challenges that will be raised. Numerous conservation groups, Alaska Native Tribes, states, and legal organizations are carefully analyzing the FEIS and the forthcoming ROD. There is little doubt that there will be a number of lawsuits to stop the leasing program.

Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

The release of the proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations is expected very soon. The most serious threat to wildlife is the likely regulation to allow hunting of brown bears over bait, as well as loosened restrictions on hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and 4-whell drive access to frozen lakes. It seems that the DOI is will modify the existing regulations to agree with all of the demands by the State of Alaska. Although the USFWS requested a delay to study the major impacts on these areas and the problems of access posed by damaged trees caused by the extensive Swan Lake fire, the DOI refused to delay the process. It appears that there will be a 30-day comment period, but no public hearings. Friends and other organizations will be closely following these developments and will take action at the appropriate time.

Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey

Hilcorp began a seismic survey of its offshore lease site in lower Cook Inlet to search for untapped oil and gas deposits near Anchor Point and Homer. Such seismic blasting can reach 250 decibels and be heard for very long distances. This large number of high intensity blasts would cover 370 square miles, much of it within waters of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. There are potential impacts on fisheries, marine mammals, including the endangered beluga whales, and other marine life, but the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released an environmental assessment that concluded there would be no significant impact of the seismic activities. Allowing no opportunity for public input, the Bureau claimed the seismic survey would have negligible effects on marine life and birds.  NOAA also announced provisions that allow Hilcorp’s proposed oil and gas activities in Cook Inlet by claiming to minimize harm to marine mammals over the next five years. However, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against the administration to stop Hilcorp’s plans that will disrupt the feeding and mating activities of endangered beluga whales and could drive them closer to extinction, in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.

Ambler Road

The proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road is on an “unprecedented, extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official. This road could have major impacts on national wildlife refuges and parks in northern Alaska.). The draft EIS was limited to 150 pages that lack details and fail to address anything outside of the road construction, e.g., impacts to the Dalton Highway or any mining actions. Numerous organizations are working on responses to the DEIS.



Donlin Min
e

The proposed Donlin Mine lies in the headwaters of the Kuskokwim River, with potentially devastating impacts on the Yukon Delta NWR. According to Alaska Public Media “Many villages in the region are conflicted over the mine. The old mine near the village of Red Devil was built 100 years ago, and now carries a toxic legacy of mine pollution (for a three part series on the proposed mine,” see “The proposed mine requires a lot of infrastructure: a port, an airstrip, a power plant, a proposed 315-mile pipeline to bring gas for the power plant from Cook Inlet, a road and fiber optic cable. . . The Donlin Mine could be one of the biggest gold mines in the world. And the project is well on its way. Last year, it secured two vital federal permits and a handful of state permits. This year, it expects to receive several more. It’s also completing its safety certification for the seven dams it plans to build. That can take up to two years. It’s unclear when they will actually start mining.” However, the Association of Alaska Village Council Presidents, which represents 56 federally recognized tribes of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, has formally opposed the Donlin development. Conservation organizations are closely monitoring this proposed project and its potential impacts on the Kuskokwim watershed and the wildlife and habitat of the Yukon Delta Refuge, one of the largest and most important migratory bird areas on the planet.

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Camp Goonzhii Volunteer Report

By Lynn Fuller, September 3-7, 2019

I had the wonderful opportunity to be part of Camp Goonzhii earlier this fall. The annual Science and Culture camp was held at the school in Arctic Village in early September. For three days, the students and teachers at the school, the camp instructors, and members of the community shared activities and stories about the environment, traditional culture and the refuge. 


The six instructors took turns filling in all the blocks in the school schedule, alternately doing activities with the different age groups. I led the session on Aquatic Macroinvertebrates, starting with a field trip to the stream by the school to see what we could get into our bug nets.


After our collected samples settled overnight, we observed and sorted what we found and talked about what the aquatic organisms needed to live, and what needed them, and their role in the river environment overall. The fast moving scuds and erratic water boatmen were by far the favorites!

Related activities included traditional fishing and how to build a fish trap and an art project where the students did invertebrate art based on what we saw in the stream. There were also class activities and games such as learning about lynx, soundscapes and plastic pollution.

A big thank you to Allyssa Morris and Katherine Monroe at USFWS for all the organizing, to the school for hosting us, and to Friends of AK Wildlife Refuges for sending folks out on these volunteer opportunities. The Friends group also supported a community dinner at the school.

There were a number of hugs from small people when school ended on Friday!

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Call for Artists: 5th Annual Art in the Arctic Show

  Call for Applications:

The 5th Annual Art in the Arctic Art Show

February 27, 2020

Fairbanks, Alaska

Application Deadline: Nov. 15, 2019

Notification Date:  No later than Dec. 6, 2019

THE SHOW: The Art in the Arctic Art Show is held each year in Fairbanks, Alaska. This Art Show celebrates three northern refuges based in Fairbanks, Alaska: Arctic, Kanuti, and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges. The scale, expanse, and wildness of Alaska’s Refuges distinguish them from most other Refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. These refuges protect habitats for wildlife, fish, and birds.

This year’s show celebrates the marvels of migratory birds. Over 200 bird species have been documented in these northern refuges. Birds migrate from all corners of the Earth to spend the summer and breed where long days produce an abundance of insects and plants, which serve as primary food sources. Birds breeding in these Refuges have ranges that reach all 50 states and 5 other continents. At the end of summer, breeding pairs and their young migrate along all four North American flyways to their wintering habitat. For both experienced and novice bird watchers, national wildlife refuges across the country are wonderful places to observe birds in their natural habitat. Through art, we will highlight the plethora of bird species that utilize Alaska’s northern National Wildlife Refuges.

This event is co-hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. 

THE DETAILS:

Date: February 27, 2020 – 5-8 pm

Location: VENUE, 514 2nd Ave, Fairbanks, AK 99701

Exhibition: Artwork will remain on exhibit at VENUE until March 27, 2020.

Selected artists will attend the February 27 event to share the inspiration behind their artwork. They will also be expected to draft a short narrative (2-4 sentences) to associate their art with the theme of the show. Narratives will remain on display with the art for the duration of the month-long exhibition at VENUE. Artwork will be available for sale to the public. Proceeds of sales will be split with VENUE (60% to artist, 40% to VENUE).

SPACE: Each artist may provide up to 5 pieces of art to be exhibited at VENUE. Original art will be prioritized in the selection process (prints accepted as space allows). Art that does not reflect the theme will not be exhibited.

ELIGIBILITY: The Art in the Arctic Art Show is committed to showcasing artwork that exemplifies the marvels of migratory birds that inhabit National Wildlife Refuges in northern Alaska. All work exhibited at the show must feature compositions or objects that have a nexus to 1) migratory birds documented on Alaska’s northern National Wildlife Refuges; 2) subsistence activities involving migratory birds; 3) migratory birds inhabiting wild landscapes; and/or 4) any activity (i.e.: bird watching, hunting, scientific research) involving migratory birds.

TO APPLY: Applicants must submit 3-5 images and an artist statement. The images must be representative of the work to be exhibited at the Art in the Arctic Art Show. Minimum image resolution should be 300 dpi and 1,400 x 2,000 pixels. The artist statement should be no more than 1,000 characters.

Applicants must describe in detail each piece (up to 5) they plan to exhibit.

In addition to the above application materials, please submit your 1) name; 2) mailing address; 3) phone number; 4) email address; 5) website (if you have one); and 6) a unique identifier for each of your submitted images.

APPLICATION SUBMISSION: Applications must be submitted by November 15, 2019.

Submit electronic applications to: Allyssa_Morris@fws.gov

Mail hard-copy applications to:

Allyssa Morris

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

101 12th Avenue, Room 262

Fairbanks, Alaska 99701

For questions about the application process or the Show, please contact Allyssa Morris at Allyssa_Morris@fws.gov or (907) 456-0224. 

ACCEPTANCE: All applicants will be notified about acceptance by December 6, 2019.

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Kodiak Refuge Week Events 2019

Poster Details:

Sunday September 29 4 pm – 8 pm:

Stamp with us @ the Salmon Life Celebration

Look for our table and join us for some salmon-inspired art projects! 

At the Fort Abercrombie Group Recreation Site.

 

At the Refuge Visitor Center, 402 Center Ave. All Events FREE:

Monday September 30 7 pm – 8 pm
From Arctic to Attu: A Photo Journey with Trivia

A slideshow-style presentation of landscape and wildlife photography from several Alaska Refuges with trivia challenge by Lisa Hupp, Refuge Outreach Specialist

 

Tuesday October 1st 5 pm – 7 pm
Art Night for All Ages: Watercolor Night Scenes  

Join our Education Specialist Shelly Lawson and paint your night fun! Option to enter paintings into the Arts Council Trading Card Show.

 

Wednesday October 2nd
10:30 am: 10:30 AM: Recycling F.U.N. Program (3-5 yr olds & families)

7 pm: Film – “Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?”

This FREE award-winning film focuses on the politics of bags, single-use disposables, waste and recycling and the health of our oceans. Popcorn provided!

 

Thursday October 3rd 12 pm – 1 pm

Seabird Science: Die-Offs, Tern Tagging, & Surveys

Join Robin Corcoran, Refuge Bird Biologist, for an update about our seabirds and the science that monitors their health. Bring Your Own Lunch.

 

Friday October 4th 5 pm – 7 pm
Welcome to Wild: Photography & Art Show

Community show for First Friday with light refreshments.

We welcome submissions!

 

Ongoing:

Trash Pickup Challenge and lottery

Love Your Lands by cleaning up Kodiak and reducing waste!

Starting now – take a picture of your trash clean up and share it in order to earn entries into the lottery to win Refuge prizes!  You can enter a pic everyday by emailing your photo to Ranger Robins at evan_robins@fws.gov, and you can earn another entry by sharing your photo on social media with both #TrashChallenge and #KodiakTrashChallenge. We’ll draw for a winner every day during Refuge Week..

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Extreme Fire Behavior Torches the Kenai Refuge

By Poppy Benson, Outreach Chair

We last reported on the lightning-caused Swan Lake Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in July just as temperatures moderated, humidity increased, and the fire spread came to a crawl.  The Type 2 fire crew was sent elsewhere to battle more active fires and life on the Refuge returned to something near normal.

But then came August’s record heat and record drought.  In two intense days a 35 mile an hour wind gusting to 40 whipped up the fire, sending it racing across the landscape.  At 2 am on the night of August 17th as the winds howled, refuge staff began evacuating sleepy campers from campgrounds and cabins in its path.  Less than 24 hours later the fire jumped the highway and the Kenai River and overran the access roads to those campgrounds.  The Sterling Highway, the only road access to the Kenai Peninsula towns of Sterling, Homer, Soldotna and Kenai, shut down for more than a day.  For the next two weeks, the highway would be periodically closed due to hazardous conditions and pilot cars and long waits were often necessary to travel through the burn area.   Dense smoke invaded the communities even as far as Anchorage, and the towns of Cooper Landing and Sterling were put on notice that evacuation might be imminent.  Initial attack on the rekindling of the Swan Lake Fire was complicated by the other three fires burning in Southcentral all of which had the potential to take out many homes and one – the McKinley fire – did destroy more than 50 homes.  The Type 2 fire team that was in route to Swan Lake was diverted to the McKinley Fire because more lives and homes were at risk there.  A Type One (highest level) firefighting crew was then ordered and began to arrive on August 18.  The Great Basin Incident Management Team arrived to attack the r fire concentrating on protecting the towns and highway.  More bulldozers and aircraft were added to the fight although dense smoke shut down aircraft use on some days.  Refuge fire qualified trail crews worked on hand lines and saving the much-loved Refuge recreational cabins.  The Refuge had previously created defensible space around the cabins and that foresight coupled with the efforts of the crew saved all three cabins at risk.   Since July, acreage burned increased 60% from 100,000 acres to 160,000 acres but by Labor Day, the fire had once again slowed to a crawl and efforts moved from firefighting to mop-up. 

As I write this the rains are falling, temperatures are dropping with the move into fall, and hours of daylight are decreasing by five minutes a day.  It is unlikely that this fire will kick up again this year given this seasonal change, but then again nothing about it has been typical.  From its beginning in June the Swan Lake Fire displayed extreme behavior such as burning in tundra above timberline, burning several feet deep into the duff, and burning over rock piles.  This can best be attributed to the extreme weather of this summer and the flammability of black spruce which has been referred to as “gasoline on a stick”.   According to Leah Eskelin, Kenai Refuge Public Information Officer, even winter won’t completely put out this fire and smoke from hot spots will be visible next summer and maybe even longer.  However, those hot spots will be within the burned area and are not likely to have the fuels available to spread.  She explained that the fire containment lines near the towns are being checked by infrared sensors and human hands to ensure there are no hot spots within 100 feet of the fire’s perimeter.

Thanks to the efforts of the fire crews, there have been no casualties.  However, the fire took an enormous toll on people, particularly those in Cooper Landing and Sterling, who feared for their homes. Smoke and highway shutdowns canceled all kinds of travel plans and events from medical appointments to schools to business meetings to the Friends Kenai River cleanup.  The tourist economy from Homer to Cooper Landing took a hit as visitors did not want to chance driving the highway or breathing smoke.  A big area of the refuge and the adjacent Forest Service lands as well as the famed Kenai River were closed to all recreational use for several weeks.  And, of course, fire suppression costs an incredible amount of public money which is yet to be tallied.  The good news is that no homes or lives were lost and the long-term risk of fire in these communities in greatly reduced now that the mature black spruce trees have been consumed by this fire.   

The refuge is just beginning to get a look at the results of the fire.  The cabins were spared but many popular hiking trails and recreational access roads were burned over resulting in downed and hazardous trees and areas where hidden pits of burning ashes pose risks to the public.  Dozer lines mar the landscape in many areas.  The once beautifully forested Skilak Lake Recreational Area is a little heartbreaking to look at now, but life will return with a new and wildlife-friendly young forest.  Mushroomers and moose hunters are enthusiastic about hunting prospects as a result of the burn and the regrowth to come.  Leah reports that bear and wolf cubs have already been spotted in burned over areas. “And, it is really easy to spot wildlife now,” she added.  “The mix of burned and unburned landscape means many more species are going to find their future homes inside the fire’s perimeter.”

For more information and more photos of this fire go to http://kpboem.blogspot.com

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2019 September Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update by David Raskin, Friends Board President

As battles continue to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments, the Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey and proposed Ambler road have been added to the list of threats to our Alaska refuges. 

Izembek NWR

We have no news on the August 7, 2019 suit filed 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. We will provide updates as these work their way through the legal process

Arctic NWR

There is much news concerning DOI plans to sell leases this year for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The BLM Final EIS is now expected in September, 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. In the meantime, Joe Balash, who spearheaded the effort at DOI, resigned to take an executive position with Oil Search, a Papua New Guinea oil firm with development interests on the North Slope. His taking a job with the oil industry raised ethical questions, as well as concerns about his possible role in the suppression of scientific reports and alteration of federal agency analyses about the impacts of proposed oil development.

Another major event is the sale of BP’s Alaska assets to Hilcorp of Texas. Hilcorp has an abysmal environmental record, having been fined $3 million for at least 68 environmental violations since the year 2000. However, the departure of BP is another indication of the lack of interest of major companies in the oil potential of the Coastal Plain. Other good news concerns difficulties for the proposed seismic exploration. A study from researchers at UAF indicates that low snow levels and warmer temperatures on the Coastal Plain pose problems for the operation of heavy equipment and construction of ice roads to support exploration and development. With each passing month, it seems that the potential for oil and gas development on the Coastal Plain weakens as more negative information comes to light.

The Restore Protections Bill (HR 1146) to  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. Also, the Arctic Refuge Protection Act is expected to be introduced in the Senate on September 10. It would designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a wilderness area and protect its sensitive coastal plain from oil and gas leasing and development. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (CO); Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA); Sen. Tom Carper (DE); Sen. Ed Markey (MA); Sen. Charles Schumer (NY); and Sen. Tom Udall (NM). Friends joined a thank-you letter to these senators.

Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

The release of the proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations is expected very soon. The most serious threat to wildlife is the likely regulation to allow hunting of brown bears over bait.  At a minimum, Friends will urge the Kenai Refuge to develop a permit process to limit the areas of the Refuge and number of bears to be taken, consistent with mandated management practices and potential threats to the brown bear population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2019–2020 Station-Specific Hunting and Sport Fishing Regulations, Proposed Rule (Regulation Identifier Number 1018-BD79) that was drafted by the DOI in Washington eliminated Alaska USFWS regulations that prohibit the taking of wildlife on the same day that hunters fly in. That regulation was designed to prevent illegal and unethical use of aircraft that could decimate wildlife populations. However, we have been informed by USFWS that the eliminated rule was redundant with the existing national regulation that still prohibits such same-day hunting.

Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey

Hilcorp is planning a seismic survey of its offshore lease site in lower Cook Inlet to search for untapped oil and gas deposits near Anchor Point and Homer. Such seismic blasting can reach 250 decibels and be heard for very long distances. This large number of high intensity blasts would cover 370 square miles, much of it within waters of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Relying on the in-house analysis by Hilcorp of potential impacts on fisheries, marine mammals, including the endangered beluga whales, and other marine life, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released an environmental assessment that concluded there would be no significant impact of the seismic activities. Allowing no opportunity for public input, the Bureau claimed the seismic survey would have negligible effects on marine life and birds.  NOAA also announced provisions that allow Hilcorp’s proposed oil and gas activities in Cook Inlet by claiming to minimize harm to marine mammals over the next five years. 

Since the proposed activities are within the boundaries of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Hilcorp must receive a permit from the USFWS before proceeding with their plans this year. However, the Center for Biological Diversity just filed suit against the administration to stop Hilcorp’s plans that will disrupt the feeding and mating activities of endangered beluga whales and could drive them closer to extinction, in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.

Ambler Road

The proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road is on an “unprecedented, extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official. This road could have major impacts on national wildlife refuges and parks in northern Alaska. A DEIS meeting regarding the Ambler Road is scheduled in Anchorage on Tuesday, September 10 from 6-8 pm in the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center and in Fairbanks on Monday, September 23 from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Wedgewood Resort (see https://www.nps.gov/gaar/learn/management/ambler-row.htm for more information). The draft EIS limited to 150 pages that lack details and fails to address anything outside of the road construction, e.g., impacts to the Dalton Highway or any mining actions.

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Ft. Yukon Culture Camp Experience

My name is Lindsay, and I’ve been working as an artist in residence with USFWS for four years.  You have supported a few of my projects in the past, and I’m so grateful.  Most recently, you reimbursed my airfare to and from Ft Yukon so that I could attend and assist Julie Mahler in her Culture Camp at 8-Mile for one week.  I wanted to send a quick writeup on what was accomplished there, a few photos, and express my gratitude for your continued support for my work in Alaska.  
Julie’s camp is 8 miles outside of Ft Yukon, located on a slough off the Porcupine River.  This is what the backyard looks like 🙂
Recently, Julie’s cabin burned down, but this didn’t stop this intrepid woman from bringing 14 kids out to camp to learn, play, practice their Gwich’in culture, and enjoy the magnificent land.  Here’s a shot of Julie in the outdoor kitchen where we cooked every meal every day: 
The wood burning stove, made out of a split oil can, served as both the provider of food and a space for gathering. 
We all camped in tents, and the elder who joined us to teach Gwich’in language and sewing to the kids, Freeda, stayed in a canvas tent with a wood burning stove. We all piled in there to do art and listen to stories on a particularly rainy day.  Otherwise the kids were outside from morning to night, playing traditional Gwich’in games, building forts in the forest, swimming in the river, learning about the native plants, fishing, and more.  
I even taught the kids (and the adults) yoga!  Here’s a pic of Stella, the camp dog, enjoying her version of yoga too.  
Julie taught them about some of the edible and medicinal plants that are found in the area on a nature hike, and the kids brought back specimens and learned how to draw them.  
I brought a bunch of art supplies with me, and we did drawing every day.  We stitched together a massive quilt of their drawings that showed their love for Culture Camp at 8 Mile! 
I absolutely loved my time at 8-Mile.  I learned so much from both the adults and the children and enjoyed sharing the skills that I can.  Here’s to many more successful years of Culture Camp at 8-Mile.  Thank you for your support! 
Sincerely,

Lindsay Carron
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2019 September Membership Meeting

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

In person meetings:
Anchorage Loussac Library Anchorage Moose Room-reception begins at 4:30pm
Homer Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Highway
Soldotna Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Ski Hill Road
Fairbanks Watershed School 4975 Decathlon

For those outside these cities: you can download the presentation from this page the day of the meeting and call in a few minutes before 5pm (866) 556-2149, code 8169747#

Guest Speaker Presentation: Nicole Whittington-Evans, Defenders of Wildlife, Alaska Program Director and former Friends’ Board Member

Wildlife and Wildlands in These Trying Times

What are the prospects for our Alaska environment and wildlife given recent reports, administration actions, regulation changes and proposed projects? How will key species and wildlife areas be affected? How do we keep from being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of these changes and proposed projects competing for our attention and response? Nicole, one of Alaska’s most dedicated wildlife advocates, will give her perspective on where we are now and what we can do as individuals and groups to face these alarming proposals and predictions for our state and our planet.  

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.

Download Presentation:
PowerPoint version:  1909-friends-of-alaska-nwrs-presentation

PDF version:

Agenda:

Introductions and Discussion (5 minutes)
  • Introductions: Where do you live?
  • New People: Why did you join the call today?
  • Reminder to please mute yourselves when you aren’t talking
Board Activities/Decisions
  • Refuge Projects and Reports 
Committee Reports (2-5 minutes each): Volunteer Report – (Betty) Membership/Outreach Events: Upcoming events (Tara) Advocacy Updates (David, Dave)

Speaker/Presentation (30-40 minutes) –
Nicole Whittinton-Evans
Topic: Wildlife and Wildlands in these Trying Times 

Next Meeting: Tuesday, October 15, 5-6pm Guest Speaker TBA
Six meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October

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