Call to Action: No#ce #P–2023–01, and impacts on Tetlin Refuge
Alaska’s Resource Protection Teams: Patrol Captain/ Canine Handler Rob Barto with Eider and Senior Federal Wildlife Officer/ Canine Handler Pete Harvey with Togo. pc. Lisa Hupp
Imagine you are a Federal Wildlife Officer on a very busy National Wildlife Refuge. You just received a call from a concerned citizen stating they heard gunshots near a refuge lake while they were observing nesting migratory birds. The bird watcher stated they saw a huge flock of birds leave their nests as soon as the shots were fired. When the flock cleared, three birds lay motionless on the ground. It was not hunting season.
You respond to the area and try to locate the individuals responsible, but they are gone. So begins your investigation. The large lake is surrounded with high grasses. You follow a trail of flattened down grass to an area where it looks like someone had laid down. You search in vain through the grass to try and locate any shell casings or other evidence. Where do you go from here?
You know that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has nine Resource Protection Canine Teams throughout the country, and one of the teams is located in your area. You call up the team and ask for their assistance.
Eider ready to go to work,. pc: Lisa Hupp
This is where Federal Wildlife Canine Togo or Eider and their handlers Peter Harvey and Rob Barto come in. We are certified as Resource Protection Teams. This means Togo and Eider can detect illegally taken wildlife (currently certified in caribou, moose, brown bear and black bear detection), locate evidence of illegal activity (casings, knives, bullet fragments, etc.), track for missing persons, and help apprehend dangerous and violent offenders. Togo and Eider are one of the very few K-9s in the world that are trained for wildlife detection AND handler/public protection.
In this scenario, we would be able to use Togo and Eider’s unique ability to locate “articles” or “evidence” that has human odor. For instance, they would be able to locate any shotgun shells or rifle casings. Both canines are trained to perform a specific function that alerts us to when they have located evidence with human odor. Such evidence could be used in either our or other officer’s investigations.
Both teams are based on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge but work throughout the state. In addition to the Kenai, the K9s have worked on the Yukon Delta and Tetlin Refuges and assisted the BLM during caribou hunting season along the Steese and Taylor highways. They have participated in search and rescues and duck, moose and caribou hunter law enforcement. In one case with a happy ending, Pete got a call about a hunter harvesting a sub legal moose. Togo was sent out and quickly found the car but the harvested moose turned out to be legal! Both dogs live with their handlers in kennels but not as house pets.
Federal Wildlife Canine Togo was born in the Czech Republic and came to Alaska after training in Pennsylvania. Togo and Pete got to work in August of 2022. Togo got his name from the famous dog team that carried lifesaving medicine to the town of Nome, Alaska, during the 1925 Serum Run. He enjoys being active outdoors, hiking, swimming and eating milk-bones. Federal Wildlife Canine Eider is a four-year-old German Shepard and Belgian Malinois mix. He came from Belarus and was trained in Michigan in 2020. Eider was the first FWS K9 certified for both wildlife detection and handler protection.
Meet the Dogs
Do you want to see these dogs in action? Come to our indoor/outdoor presentation at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in Homer, Saturday May 6, 2 pm for adults and 4:30 pm for Junior and Teen Birders. You must register because space is limited, but you can do that online here.
by David Raskin, Friends Board President
Friend Sharon Baur teaching at the Shorebird Festival; pc: USFWS
Teaching in Arctic Village; duck banding in Tetlin, maintenance at Galbraith Lake and on the Kwethluk River, event planning, spring clean-ups, hosting an art show, showing kids the great outdoors and reaching out to the public – the refuges are asking for our help in a big way! Refuges from Alaska Maritime to the Yukon Delta have come back from the pandemic drought in volunteer projects to requesting our help with more than 15 projects. Most of these are now posted on our Volunteer Page along with the Volunteer Application.
Friends duck banding on Tetlin Refuge in 2022; pc: USFWS
Please consider donating some time to help a refuge this year. You could make a big difference. Projects range from a 10 day commitment at Izembek to a two hour shift at an outreach table in Homer, Soldotna, Kodiak, or Fairbanks. How about spring in Homer at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, May 3 to 7. Friends cosponsors the Festival and we need volunteers as bird guides, Friends outreach table, event help and much more. If you are in Anchorage or Fairbanks, help is needed for outdoor schools for upper elementary children. Opening a child’s eyes to nature is really our only hope for the future of wild places and wildlife. The outdoor schools are coming up quickly as well. Closing dates for applications vary but some are as soon as March 30.
There truly is something for everyone in our project list. In addition, both the Kenai and the Alaska Maritime Refuge will have projects not yet listed that will need help throughout the year. Watch for those. For more information go to the Volunteer Page or contact us at email@example.com.
Presented by Dan Rizzolo, Endangered Species Biologist.
Tuesday, April 18, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. AKDT
Dan’s presentation was recorded. Watch below:
Spectacled eiders were in rapid decline in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in 1993 when they received the protection of the Endangered Species Act by being listed as a Threatened species. They were a mystery then. Western science knew very little about this sea duck species with the spectacled plumage. We knew they made their nests in the coastal tundra along the Bering Sea and Arctic coasts of Alaska and Siberia, but not where they molted their feathers or spent the winter. How many were there? What did they eat? And, importantly, why were they in such rapid decline? In the 30 years since they were listed, we have learned much about this tough duck that winters among the pack ice in the Bering Sea. In this 50th anniversary year of the Endangered Species Act, join us for Dan’s review of what has been learned since listing, including how spectacled eiders are responding to changes in sea ice in the Bering Sea. But knowledge does not always bring recovery and with ongoing anthropogenic climate change, the spectacled eider continues to face an uncertain future.
‘ Dan, Mist Netting birds on the river. pc Mark Lindberg
by David Raskin, Friends Board President
Trustees for Alaska and the Native Village of Venetie filed reply briefs in support of Department of Justice (DOJ) on February 17, 2023. DOJ had previously filed its opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in the federal lawsuit 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 must file their reply brief by March 20. AIDEA also requested oral argument, which the court will likely schedule after their reply brief is submitted.
On February 8, 2023, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) filed a 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 and a full Environmental Impact Statement process 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 Interest Lands 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.
On December 13, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in its en banc review of the DOJ and State appeal of our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed Izembek road. The decision to rehear the case en banc nullified the disastrous panel decision and began the road proponents appeal anew. The panel, a majority appointed by Trump, could issue a decision as early as this month. The Izembek coalition is working at all levels of the administration and Congress to convince Secretary Haaland to withdraw the illegal land exchange before Ninth Circuit issues a decision. That is the only way to immediately put an end to the threats to Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and up to 150 million acres of federal conservation lands currently protected by ANILCA.
The Supreme Court on March 6, 2023, denied the State of Alaska’s writ of certiorari that sought a review of the Ninth Circuit’s decision that upheld the District Court decision that supported FWS hunting regulations. This is a great win for the Kenai Refuge, its wildlife, and all who worked so hard to help this happen.
We also received the wonderful news that FWS withdrew the June 11, 2020, Trump administration proposed rule to amend the refuge-specific regulations for Kenai Refuge. Based on the extensive public comments that Friends helped to organize, FWS reviewed the new information provided and determined that the best course of action was withdrawing the proposed rule.
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.
Presented by Dave Atcheson author, fly fisherman, canoeist
Come learn about the vast canoe country of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge with Dave Atcheson, author of the newly released book, Canoeing Yaghanen. Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe trails, just north of Sterling, Alaska, cover over 100 miles with more than 70 lakes, two river systems and portage trails. These routes are a national treasure having been recognized as Water Trails within the National Recreation Trail System. The Swan Lake trails and most of the Swanson River trails are within designated Wilderness, closed to motorized equipment and boats. All you will hear will be loon calls, beaver tail slaps, swans honking and wind in the spruce. Dave will share his images and thoughts on what makes this place so special, its wildlife and waterbirds, incredible trout fishing and of course, how you can plan your own adventure into this wonderful network of wilderness trails and waterways. From easy family weekend trips to weeklong adventures, paddlers of all abilities and ages will enjoy this unique wilderness experience.
‘ Portages varying in length from a hundred yards to nearly a mile connect the lakes of the canoe system. Dave Atcheson portaging. pc Cindy Atcheson
Dave Atcheson is an avid canoeist, sports fisher and hunter and has spent much of the last 30 years exploring the Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe systems. Dave writes that the canoe trails are one of his favorite places, not only in Alaska, but anywhere. He also writes that “this still-water wonderland contains some of the finest lake fishing Alaska has to offer.” (from Canoeing Yaghanen) Dave has written for a variety of periodicals from Outdoor Life to Boy’s Life to Alaska Magazine and is a past contributing editor to Fish Alaska. He is the author of the memoir of his commercial fishing days, Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas. He also wrote National Geographic’s Hidden Alaska, Bristol Bay and Beyond and the guidebook Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Dave teaches fly fishing and has run the Kenai Fishing Academy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula College. Originally from upstate New York, Atcheson has traveled all over Alaska and lives in Sterling close to the canoe country.
Dave Atcheson with Kenai River rainbow. pc: Lee Keuper
Canoeing Yaghanen (the Good Land): A Guide to Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s Swan Lake and Swanson River Canoe Systems was published by Alaska Geographic and is available from their online store here or at the Alaska Geographic bookstores at the Kenai Refuge and Alaska Maritime Refuge Visitor Centers.
by David Raskin, Friends Board President
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
On December 13, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in its en banc review of the appeal by the DOJ and the State of our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed Izembek road. Their decision to rehear the case en banc nullified the disastrous panel decision and began the road proponents appeal anew. We were extremely fortunate to obtain the pro bono services of San Diego expert appellate attorney Jennifer Bennett, who brilliantly argued our case before the 11-judge panel that unfortunately included a majority of six recent appointees by former President Trump. Assuming the panel decision could come as early as late March, the Izembek coalition is working diligently to convince Secretary Haaland to withdraw the illegal land exchange before the Ninth Circuit issues a decision. That is the only way to immediately put an end to potential threats to Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and more than 100 million acres of federal conservation lands currently protected by ANILCA
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
We have heard nothing concerning the October 27, 2022, State of Alaska writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of the Ninth Circuit’s decision that supported our win in the District Court. The State claims that the case raises questions of “exceptional importance” to states and the Ninth Circuit decision is “unsustainable on the merits.” It is noteworthy that Safari Clubs International did not join the State in this latest appeal. The Supreme Court rejects most petitions for review, and we expect the same in this case.
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
Presented by Brittany Sweeney, Outreach Specialist, Selawik Refuge
Presented by Bryce Lake, Wildlife Biologist, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Bryce Lake with sedated wolf after the radio collar was attached. His red coat was a deliberate choice so the helicopter capture crew could easily find Bryce in the expansive landscape to deliver a wolf to him for collaring.
Yukon Flats Refuge, a vast complex of wetlands, is the third largest refuge in the country.. pc: USFWS
Bryce Lake says the most rewarding aspect of his job is the inspiration he draws from interacting with and learning about the hidden ways of nature, some of which he will share in this talk. Bryce has been a wildlife biologist for the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge since 2008. He has broad experience in Alaska having spent 13 summers from 1998 to 2008 living in a tent and working as a field technician on the Copper River Delta, North Slope, Yukon Delta, and the Interior. He has had prior experience on other Alaska National Wildlife Refuges including Yukon Delta Refuge and as an intern at Kanuti Refuge. Bryce’s job as a wildlife biologist is to conduct biology to inform management decisions. This usually means aerial surveys to count wildlife, capture and radio collar birds and mammals, and band ducks. His latest experiment is using trail cameras to monitor furbearers, particularly lynx. You can read about surprising things that Bryce has discovered with his trail cameras in the Science Corner of our February 2021 issue of our newsletter.
Bryce holds a master’s degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His thesis focused on how early environment shapes the growth of goslings. In his spare time, he enjoys all things outdoors, usually fishing, camping, hunting, and hiking with his two dogs. He also enjoys watching a close hockey or football game. Bryce lives in Fairbanks.