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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.



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