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Moving forward, slowly. May Advocacy Report

By David Raskin, Friends Board President

Appointments to Department of the Interior (DOI) and the United States Fish and WIldlife Service (USFWS) are moving through the Senate very slowly. It is not clear how long it will take for nominations and confirmations of key personnel, including the Director of USFWS. We are particularly concerned about whether there will be an appointment of a Special Assistant for Alaska. If these processes drag on for too long, it may be difficult to achieve important conservation goals for Izembek, Arctic, and other Refuges.

Sturgeon Decision
The most recent action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019 was the announcement by the State of Alaska concerning federal waters on the Kenai Peninsula, including the Kenai Refuge. Based on this ruling and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska. They can apply for quiet title through the courts or to BLM for a disclaimer of interest. If they succeed, they will be able to manage navigable waterways in refuges and parks that might include many rivers and lakes and wild and scenic rivers. This would require a determination of which are navigable waters, which have never been clearly defined. This creates a frightening potential for access to mining, motorized recreation, and oil and gas development on refuge rivers, lakes, and lands. We need to work with DOI and refuge staff to minimize these potential impacts.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The moratorium on all oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge continues under President Biden’s executive order that directs the Interior Department to review the oil-leasing program for the Refuge, and “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law,” to do a new analysis of its potential environmental impacts. The Arctic Refuge Defense Coalition (ARDC) continues to monitor the impacts of President Biden’s Executive Order, including what it means for seismic exploration in the Refuge and the leasing program overall. In the meantime, the 60-day stay in litigation which was to end in mid-April has been extended until June 11. We are waiting for an announcement from BLM that they have denied or not acted upon the seismic application following the Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) not being acted upon. 

The lease holder 88 Energy may be planning to do directional drilling from the adjacent State land on which they hold a lease. The ARDC continues to put pressure on 88 Energy to halt their plans. We will watch for any news on threats to the Refuge.  

The potential damage to the Arctic Refuge by the recent claim by Kaktovik that they have an established right to use off-highway vehicles (OHV) for subsistence hunting in the Refuge is the subject of a year-long study under contract to USFWS to be completed by December 23, 2021. The study is gathering information to determine if there is a factual basis for their claim that there are established traditional uses of OHVs in the Refuge. In the meantime, the solicitor’s opinion issued under the prior administration determined that the Refuge is currently open to OHV uses for subsistence because no formal policy prohibits such uses. We are hopeful that Robert Anderson will be confirmed as DOI Solicitor and will re-examine that decision, which many believe was an incorrect interpretation to allow OHV use in the Refuge.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The Alaska FWS is working on the State of Alaska’s four revised applications to do summer work to support resubmitting their application to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness. There is extreme political pressure to approve these permits for wetland delineations, endangered species, and cultural resources. The State plans to use helicopters to access the designated Wilderness, which could complicate the permit process and possibly result in litigation. If the process does proceed, it will likely take at least a year for the required NEPA process. The State also needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and is seeking other ANILCA temporary permits. There are also National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. We hope that the new administration will ultimately rule that this latest assault on the Izembek Wilderness by the State and King Cove is not allowed under ANILCA. In the meantime, we await the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. We are hopeful that the new administration will abandon the appeal.

Other Refuges
We have no no significant update on oil exploration on Doyon inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge, the Mulchatna caribou herd and possible predator control in Yukon Delta and Togiak Refuges, and the BLM Central Yukon Plan.

 

(pc: Becky Hutchinson)




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Summer Pause on Meetings & Newsletters

Membership Meetings & Newsletters   
Our monthly meet-ups and newsletters provide unique opportunities for us all to listen, learn, and speak up about important and fun happenings on Alaska’s 16 Wildlife Refuges.

We’ll be taking a pause for the summer, so look forward to a July/August Newsletter and set a reminder for 9/21/2021 when we’ll all meet again for our membership meeting!

pc: After a long winter of feeding on tree bark, the North American porcupine (Iluqtaq) is on the search for nutrient rich food sources. In addition to fresh leaves and buds, you may notice chew marks from porcupines on antlers, bones, glued plywood and even paint.  What summer meal are you looking forward to?   Photo of porcupine eating fresh green leaves by Moosealope FlickrCC/Selawik NWR




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The conservation community looks forward. April Advocacy Report

  by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Deborah Haaland was confirmed as the first Indigenous Secretary of the Interior. Both Alaska U.S. senators voted for her confirmation. The conservation community looks forward to working with her and her appointments to DOI and the USFWS. We are particularly concerned about the upcoming choice of her Special Assistant for Alaska. This is the letter that Friends sent to Secretary Haaland and key staff concerning her choice and related Izembek issues.

Sturgeon Decision
There have been serious repercussions from the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct.(1066) 2019. Based on this ruling and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska. They can apply for quiet title through the courts or to BLM for a disclaimer of interest. If they succeed, they will be able to manage navigable waterways in refuges and parks that might include many rivers and lakes and Wild and Scenic rivers. This would require a determination of which are navigable waters, which have never been clearly defined. This creates a frightening potential for access to mining, motorized recreation, and oil and gas development on refuge rivers, lakes, and lands. We need to work with Department of the Interior (DOI) and refuge staff to minimize these potential impacts.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The moratorium on all oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge continues under President Biden’s executive order that directs the Interior Department to review the oil-leasing program for the Refuge, and “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law,” to do a new analysis of its potential environmental impacts. In the meantime, the lawsuits to nullify the lease sales by the conservation community were stayed for 60 days that likely will be extended another 60 days.
 
The lease holder 88 Energy may be planning to do directional drilling from the adjacent State land on which they hold a lease. The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign is putting pressure on 88 Energy to halt their plans. We will watch for any news on this latest threat to the Refuge.  
 
Meanwhile, the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) application for seismic exploration this winter on their inholding was not granted because it did not meet the February 13 deadline set by USFWS. This resulted from the failure of FWS to act on the required Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) because they ran out of time to analyze the 6 million comments they had received. KIC criticized FWS for delaying the permit process and has reapplied for a permit to conduct seismic exploration next winter. We understand that the IHA is nearly complete and is awaiting guidance from DOI about its issuance. It is related to a possible permit from BLM for seismic exploration next winter.
 
The threat to the Arctic Refuge by the recent claim by Kaktovik that they can use off-highway vehicles (OHV) for subsistence hunting in the Refuge is the subject of a year-long study under contract to USFWS to be completed by December 23, 2021. The study is gathering information to determine if there is a factual basis for their claim that there are established traditional uses of OHVs in the Refuge. In addition, the solicitor’s opinion issued under the prior administration determined that the Refuge is currently open to OHV uses for subsistence because no formal policy prohibits such uses. We are hopeful that recently nominated DOI Solicitor Robert Anderson will re-examine that decision, which many believe was an incorrect interpretation that allows OHV use in the Refuge.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The State of Alaska is working on their revised application to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness. The Biden Administration 60-day pause of all FWS permitting processes expires this month, and we are waiting to see how DOI proceeds under Secretary Haaland. If the permit process does proceed, it will likely take at least a year for the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The State also needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and is seeking other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation, including wetland delineations, endangered species, and cultural resources. There are also NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. We hope that the new administration will ultimately halt this latest assault on the Izembek Wilderness by the State and King Cove. In the meantime, we await the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. We are hopeful that the new administration will abandon the appeal.

Central Yukon Management Plan
The recently released Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Central Yukon Draft Resource Management Plan and Draft EIS affects 56 million acres of public lands, which include 13.1 million acres of BLM-managed lands along the Dalton Highway and Central Yukon areas. Their proposed plan could open up many areas to mining and other developments that would negatively impact wildlife, habitat, and fisheries of many tributaries that flow into the Yukon River and several refuges. Together with the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Friends submitted comments and worked with other organizations that succeeded in having the comment period extended until June 9, 2021 

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Doyon Corporation is working with Hilcorp to develop a plan for exploration and possible drilling on Doyon’s inholdings in the Refuge. They plan to do exploratory drilling on Doyon inholdings but will not need a permit for these activities that will be conducted using helicopters. As of now, Doyon has not requested permits from FWS for activities on Refuge lands. We will be watching this very closely and will explore options to prevent any proposed activities on Refuge lands




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Membership Meeting, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, 5pm AKDT

Insight into Izembek:  From Unangax Culture to the Incredible Wildlife of its Magnificent Lagoons    

Tuesday, April 20, 2021, 5-6pm (AKDT) 
Patrick Magrath, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

Recorded Meeting Video

If you love gigantic bears, clouds of migrating birds filling the skies, waves of salmon running up the rivers and truly wild conditions — then you will love Izembek Refuge.   Patrick Magrath will give you a whirlwind tour of the anthropological history, biodiversity, and significance of Izembek’s magnificent lagoons with their extensive eelgrass meadows. In addition, long time Arctic nesting waterfowl researcher, David Ward, will contribute to this presentation. Most of the world’s population of Pacific Black Brant as well as Steller’s Eiders, Emperor Geese and Cackling Geese visit these lagoons during migration.   Located in Southwest Alaska, it is the smallest of the National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska but mighty in terms of sheer numbers of birds and species diversity.  It was the first area in the US to be recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention and was designated as a Globally Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

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Brown Bear at Grant Point, Izembek Refuge, pc Kristine Sowl/USFWS

Patrick Magrath grew up outside the nation’s capital.  He would get in trouble for skipping classes to hike in solitude and visit the National Zoo.  Where traditional studies were lacking, Patrick found his education being supplemented by nature and museums.  He gained a footing in public lands through the conservation corps with the Forest Service in central Idaho in 2013.  Since then, he has worked at: 6 National Parks, 2 National Monuments, and 1 other National Forest, all before arriving at Izembek for the Fish & Wildlife Service.  His esotericism includes art, wilderness, ruins, and international cuisine.  Good wine, good cheese, and a great conversation make for an entertaining night for Patrick and his far better half Kayleigh.   Patrick lives in Cold Bay, Alaska headquarters for the Izembek Refuge.
 
David Ward recently retired as a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey- Alaska Science Center.  During his 33 year career, he led an international research program on the population ecology of arctic-nesting waterfowl and their use of coastal habitats, principally seagrass ecosystems.  He has authored numerous papers on the waterfowl and eelgrass habitats of Izembek Refuge.  

Pacific Black Brant in Izembek Lagoon, pc Kristine Sowl/USFWS


This meeting and presentation was recorded.







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Conservation Community Makes a Difference. February Advocacy Report

  by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We await the Senate vote on the nomination of Representative Deborah Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior. Senator Murkowski met with her and voted in favor of her nomination being forwarded to the full Senate for confirmation. The conservation community is closely following this as it develops.

Kenai Regulations
As we wrote last month, the Kenai Refuge survived the possible adoption of the revised regulations pushed by outgoing Department of the Interior Secretary Bernhardt. The only remaining issue is the proposed restriction on shooting within the Kenai River corridor that the Court sent back for Fish and WIldlife Service (FWS) to provide a basis for this aspect of the 2016 regulations. That is being prepared for submission to the Court.The State of Alaska and Safari Clubs were unsuccessful in challenging other aspects of the regulations. This leaves the most important provisions of the 2016 Kenai regulations in place.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
There is no news concerning the leasing program as the moratorium on all oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge ends in mid-April. We hope that the Administration is actively exploring avenues to nullify or buy back the leases that were sold to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and two small companies. In the meantime, the lawsuits to nullify the lease sales by the conservation community have been stayed for 60 days.


There is a new threat to the Coastal Plain. The other leaseholder, 88 Energy, may be planning to do directional drilling from the adjacent State land on which they hold a lease. We will watch for any news on this latest threat to the Refuge.  
 
Meanwhile, the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) application for seismic exploration this winter on their inholding was not granted because it did not meet the February 13 deadline set by USFWS. This resulted from the failure of FWS to act on the required Incidental Harassment Application (IHA) because they ran out of time to analyze the 6 million comments they had received. KIC criticized FWS for delaying the permit process and has reapplied for a permit to conduct seismic exploration next winter.
 
We have no update on the threat to the Arctic Refuge by the recent claim by Kaktovik that they can use off-highway vehicles (OHV) for subsistence hunting in the Refuge. They based their assertion on unsupported statements that there is an established traditional use of OHVs in the Refuge. We are monitoring this situation as it develops.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The State of Alaska is working on their revised application to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness. The Biden Administration 60-day pause in all FIsh and Wildlife Service (FWS) permitting processes expires this month, and we are waiting to see how the Department of the Interior (DOI) proceeds after the confirmation of the new Secretary. If the permit process does proceed, it will likely take at least a year for the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The State also needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and will seek other Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) temporary permits for site investigation. There are also NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. We hope that the new administration will ultimately halt this latest assault by the State and King Cove on the Izembek Wilderness. In the meantime, we await the decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road.

Central Yukon Management Plan
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Central Yukon Draft Resource Management Plan and Draft EIS, linked here, that affects 56 million acres of public lands, which include 13.1 million acres of BLM-managed lands along the Dalton Highway and Central Yukon areas. Their proposed plan could open up many areas to mining and other developments that would negatively impact wildlife, habitat, and fisheries of many tributaries that flow into the Yukon River and several refuges. We are working with the National Wildlife Refuge Association to submit comments that are due by March 11, 2021.

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
We recently learned that Doyon Corporation is working with Hilcorp to develop a plan for exploration and possible drilling on Doyon’s inholdings in the Refuge. They may be developing requests for permits from FWS for these activities on Doyon lands and possible permit applications for drilling on Refuge lands. We will be watching this very closely and will explore options to prevent any such activities on Refuge lands. It never ends!!.

Mulchatna Caribou
The Alaska Board of Game has postponed until 2022 its meeting to consider proposals for the State to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to federal lands within the refuges. We will be watching for any developments.




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Membership Meeting, Tuesday, March 16, 2021, 5pm AKT

Wild, Outstanding, and Remarkable: Meet the Seven Wild and Scenic Rivers Flowing on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges    

Tuesday, March 16, 2021, 5-6pm (AKDT) 
Jennifer Reed, Arctic Refuge and FWS Wild and Scenic Rivers Program Lead

Recorded meeting below

Jennifer Reed of the Arctic Refuge will bring you on an unforgettable adventure exploring each of these distinct and thriving waterways.  While Alaska’s Refuges TEEM with countless amazing rivers, the rivers Congress deemed superlative and distinct within the Alaska  Refuges include:  Andreafsky (Yukon Delta); Beaver Creek (Yukon Flats); Ivishak, Sheenjek, and Wind (Arctic Refuge); Nowitna (Nowitna Refuge); and Selawik (Selawik Refuge).  Some are great salmon highways; others host more northern species like grayling and sheefish.  Some are corridors for vast caribou migrations and all furnish important riparian habitat and travel routes for waterfowl, songbirds, furbearers and all grazing species.  People have used them as transportation corridors and food sources for millennia,  since they are within the homelands of Alaska’s indigenous peoples. Subsistence users have now been joined by  adventurers and fisherfolk seeking solitude and the joy of rivers.

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Sheenjek Wild and Scenic River, Arctic Refuge (USFWS/A. Bonogofsky)

Jennifer Reed is the national and regional Fish and Wildlife Service lead for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program.  She has lived between the Alaska Range and the Brooks Range since finishing college and leaving Detroit for her first Alaska job as a Denali Park Ranger.  She taught school for 8 years, part of the time on Nelson Island, before developing a federal career focused on connecting people with their public lands.  Jennifer confessed that she was not initially a rivers person beginning her  love affair with landscape-meets-human as a backpacker. Dog mushing and hiking are more natural to her but she became a boater because of her dedication to relating to the visitors to the Arctic Refuge. Since then she has boated most of the major rivers in the West.  Jennifer lives in Fairbanks. 



View Recorded Meeting:





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Membership Meeting, Tuesday, February 23, 2021, 5pm AKT, 6pm PT

Vets, Kids and Fly Fishing;
Finding Healing and Leadership in Wild Places    

Tuesday, February 23, 2021, 5-6pm (AKDT)
Friends monthly meeting with guest speaker, Chad Brown of Soul River Inc.

Recorded meeting video

Navy Veteran Chad Brown was homeless and medicated for PTSD when he discovered fly fishing and the healing power of rivers.  Brown said that the first tug on his line from his first fish was like a bolt of nature’s electricity bringing him back to life.  He founded Soul River, Inc. to share what rivers and fishing had done for him.  He pairs vets and inner city kids  on “deployments” to wild rivers including several trips to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Amid the grandeur of the Refuge, the vets found purpose as mentors and the youth flourished in this new world of nature, adventure and fishing.  

Brown will share with us his story, the success of Soul River and how his mission has grown into protecting the Arctic Refuge and being of service to Native  communities.  He will tell us about his new non-profit, Love is King, which is dedicated to creating equitable and safe access to the outdoors for people of color.

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Chad Brown grew up in Texas hunting and spending time on his grandparents farm.  He joined the Navy to get the GI Bill and served in Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Restore Hope Somalia.   After the military, he earned a Master of Science in Communications Design and had a successful career as an art director and  photographer before his PTSD caught up with him and brought him down.  After fishing and rivers and the VA healed him he started Soul River as well as serving as creative director of Chado Communication Design and Soul River Studios.  Besides being an avid fly fisherman he is a bow hunter, outdoor adventurer and conservationist. 

Brown is a Board member of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. He has been featured on BBC, CBS, as well as in national publications such as Outside Magazine and The Drake, and in various Pacific Northwest publications. Additionally, Brown was the first recipient of the Breaking Barriers Award Presented by Orvis, as well as the Bending Toward Justice Award from Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. Chad Brown resides in Portland, Oregon.

Soul River videos



This meeting was recorded; watch below:




Chad Brown pc: Corey Arnold




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Kenai Refuge grooms 10 KM of trails at Headquarters Lake. pc:Leah Esklin.USFWS

Changes! 2021 February Advocacy Report

By David Raskin, Friends Board President  
 
The last month has witnessed many developments and actions by the outgoing Trump Administration and the incoming Biden Administration, many good and some bad! The good news includes many replacements at the upper levels of the Department of the Interior(DOI) with the nomination of Representative Deborah Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior and the return of Cynthia Martinez as the Chief of Refuges for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).


 

Kenai Regulations
The Kenai Refuge survived the possible adoption of the revised regulations pushed by the outgoing DOI. The strategic submission by the Refuge of a “skinny version” of the proposed regulations that omitted the baiting of brown bears and the removal of the Refuge trapping regulations delayed the process long enough to prevent their adoption before the inauguration. Friends and other conservation organizations played a major role in helping to slow down and ultimately stop those destructive regulations. The remaining issue is the proposed restriction of firearms on the Kenai River corridor that the Court sent back for FWS to provide a basis for this aspect of the 2016 regulations that were unsuccessfully challenged by the State and Safari Clubs. That is being prepared for submission to the Court. This leaves the most important provisions of the 2016 Kenai regulations in place.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The great news was the executive order by the Biden administration on his first day in office that declared a moratorium on all oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge along with other areas. It was wonderful to see this as a headline event on Day 1. Kudos to the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign! The next step is for the Administration to explore avenues to nullify or buy back the leases that were bought by the Alaska AIDEA and two small companies. Meanwhile, U.S. Representatives Huffman and Senator Markey on February 4 introduced the Arctic Refuge Protection Act  that would provide Wilderness designation to the Coastal Plain, prevent oil, gas, or other development, and safeguard the subsistence rights of the Indigenous people.
 
The latest threat to the Arctic Refuge is the recent claim by people in Kaktovik that they can use off-highway vehicles (OHV) for subsistence hunting in the Refuge. They based their assertion on unsupported statements that there is an established traditional use of OHVs in the Refuge. Without any evidence to support their claim, the Trump era DOI Solicitor in Washington issued an opinion that Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) allows the Refuge to be open for such use in the absence of a contrary regulation or law to prevent it. This appears to be a forced and incorrect interpretation of the law and is being re-evaluated by the new administration. We are monitoring this situation as it develops. 

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
In the final days of the Trump administration, Interior Secretary Bernhardt overturned the FWS determination that the State of Alaska application to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness was incomplete in major respects and could not be considered until they provide considerable information and correct serious deficiencies. Bernhardt arbitrarily overrode the requirements and ordered the FWS to proceed “expeditiously” with the approval process. However, the Biden Administration instituted a 60-day pause in all FWS permitting processes, which  allows a complete re-evaluation of the legal basis for the State’s theory that they are entitled to access to inholdings under ANILCA 1110(b). If the permit process does proceed, it will likely take at least a year for the required NEPA process. The State also needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and will seek other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation. There are also National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. We expect that the new administration will ultimately halt this latest assault by the State and King Cove on the Izembek Wilderness.

Central Yukon Management Plan
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has developed a Central Yukon Management plan that includes a vast amount of public land that borders seven Alaska National Wildlife Refuges in the northern and central areas of the state. BLM has released a Central Yukon Draft Resource Management Plan and Draft EIS that affects 56 million acres of public lands, which include 13.1 million acres of BLM-managed lands along the Dalton Highway and Central Yukon areas. Their proposed plan could open up many areas to mining and other developments that would negatively impact wildlife, habitat, and fisheries of many tributaries that flow into the Yukon River and several refuges. Comments are due by March 11, 2021.

Mulchatna Caribou
The latest development is the postponement of the Alaska Board of Game meeting that would consider the State’s desire to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to federal lands within the refuges. We will be watching for any developments.




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Good News First? January Advocacy Report

  by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The last month has witnessed many developments and actions by the outgoing Trump Administration and the incoming Biden Administration, many good and some bad! The good news includes many replacements at the upper levels of the DOI with the nomination of Representative Deborah Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior and the return of Cynthia Martinez as the Chief of Refuges for the USFWS.

Kenai Regulations

The The Kenai Refuge survived the possible adoption of the revised regulations pushed by the outgoing DOI. The strategic submission by the Refuge of a “skinny version” of the proposed regulations that omitted the baiting of brown bears and the removal of the Refuge trapping regulations delayed the process long enough to prevent their adoption before the inauguration. Friends and other conservation organizations played a major role in helping to slow down and ultimately stop those destructive regulations. The remaining issue is the proposed restriction of firearms on the Kenai River corridor that the Court sent back for FWS to provide a basis for this aspect of the 2016 regulations that were unsuccessfully challenged by the State and Safari Clubs. That is being prepared for submission to the Court. This leaves the most important provisions of the 2016 Kenai regulations in place..

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The great news was the executive order by the Biden administration on his first day in office that declared a moratorium on all oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge along with other areas. It was wonderful to see this as a headline event on Day 1. Kudos to the ARDC! The next step is for the Administration to explore avenues to nullify or buy back the leases that were bought by the Alaska AIDEA and two small companies.. Meanwhile, U.S. Representatives Huffman and Senator Markey on February 4 introduced the Arctic Refuge Protection Act  that would provide Wilderness designation to the Coastal Plain, prevent oil, gas, or other development, and safeguard the subsistence rights of the indigenous people.
 
The latest threat to the Arctic Refuge is the recent claim by people in Kaktovik that they can use off-highway vehicles (OHV) for subsistence hunting in the Refuge. They based their assertion on unsupported statements that there is an established traditional use of OHVs in the Refuge. Without any evidence to support of their claim, the Trump era DOI Solicitor in Washington issued an opinion that ANILCA allows the Refuge to be open for such use in the absence of a contrary regulation or law to prevent it. This appears to be a forced and incorrect interpretation of the law and is being re-evaluated by the new administration. We are monitoring this situation as it develops. 

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

In the final days of the Trump administration, Interior Secretary Bernhardt overturned the FWS determination that the State of Alaska application to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness was incomplete in major respects and could not be considered until they provide considerable information and correct serious deficiencies. Bernhardt arbitrarily overrode the requirements and ordered the FWS to proceed “expeditiously” with the approval process. However, the Biden Administration instituted a 60-day pause in all FWS permitting processes, which  allows a complete re-evaluation of the legal basis for the State’s theory that they are entitled to access to inholdings under ANILCA 1110(b). If the permit process does proceed, it will likely take at least a year for the required NEPA process. The State also needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and will seek other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation. There are also NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. We expect that the new administration will ultimately halt this latest assault by the State and King Cove on the Izembek Wilderness

Mulchatna Caribou

The BLM has developed a Central Yukon Management plan that includes a vast amount of public land that borders seven Alaska National Wildlife Refuges in the northern and central areas of the state. BLM has released a Central Yukon Draft Resource Management Plan and Draft EIS that affects 56 million acres of public lands, which include 13.1 million acres of BLM-managed lands along the Dalton Highway and Central Yukon areas. Their proposed plan could open up many areas to mining and other developments that would negatively impact wildlife, habitat, and fisheries of many tributaries that flow into the Yukon River and several refuges. Comments are due by March 11, 2021.

Mulchatna Caribou

The latest development is the postponement of the Alaska Board of Game meeting that would consider the State desire to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to federal lands within the refuges. We will be watching for any developments




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Membership Meeting, January 19, 2021, 5 pm AKT


Arctic Refuge, A Symbol for a Time of Global Change   Please join us online or by phone Tuesday, January 19, 2021, 5-6pm (AKT), for our Friends monthly meeting with guest speaker, Roger Kaye of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  

Webinar Recording


Roger Kaye has done it all – worked the Slope, spent a winter on a trapline, flew his own float and ski planes, hunted, hiked, explored all over Alaska, wrote a book on the Arctic and earned a PhD at University of Alaska Fairbanks.  He has spent much of his 41-year career with the Fish & Wildlife Service experiencing, thinking about and advocating for true wilderness, particularly of the Arctic Refuge.  On this 60th Anniversary of the Refuge, Roger Kaye will share some of his vast knowledge and take us back to the seven-year struggle to establish the Arctic Refuge.   He will explore the similarities with the struggle to defend the Refuge today.  

Olaus and Marti Murie, two giants of Alaska conservation and science,
were instrumental in protection of the Arctic through the designation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Arctic Refuge establishment was among the first, unprecedented American conservation initiatives of the 1960s that came about in response to concern over the worsening environmental degradations accompanying the prosperous postwar march of progress.  The campaign to establish the Refuge became emblematic of the larger contest between competing views of the appropriate relationship between postwar American society and its rapidly changing environment. Which notion of progress should this landscape represent—that underlying the prevailing rush toward attaining an ever-higher material standard of living, or that underpinning the emerging ecology-based perspective that emphasized sustainability and called for restraint? The question of whether or not to preserve this preeminent wilderness symbolized “the real problem,” as campaign leader Olaus Murie characterized it, “of what the human species is to do with this earth.”

Now again we face a new order of environmental threat, a convergence of global energy and resource scarcity, climate change, and widespread biospheric alterations. And now the Arctic Refuge is at the center of one of the nation’s longest and most contentious environmental debates. The question of oil development verses wilderness preservation here transcends the issue of potential resource impacts within the Refuge’s boundaries and has become symbolically intertwined with these larger, global issues. Again, the Arctic Refuge stands as a national symbol of pivotal questions and decisions Americans face: How does our consumption and material standard of living affect the national and global environments, and what quality of them are we to leave to future generations?

Roger Kaye skipped his college graduation ceremony in 1974 to come to Alaska and  work at Camp Denali for famed Alaskan conservationists Cecelia Hunter and Ginny Woods.  He started grad school but dropped out to earn enough money working on the Slope to buy his first airplane.  Once he met that goal, he took off on a series of Alaska adventures until the money ran out.   Then, he started his wildlife career first with ADFG and for 41 years the Fish & Wildlife Service.  He has been a planner, refuge pilot, Native liaison and in recent years, the agency’s Alaska wilderness coordinator. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Alaska where he has taught courses on wilderness, environmental psychology, and the Anthropocene. He is the author of Last Great Wilderness: The Campaign to Establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and numerous journal and popular articles related to wilderness. Currently, he is working on a book considering the future of the wildness of Wilderness in the Anthropocene. Roger lives in Fairbanks and works for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


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