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A female brown bear pauses on the bank of the Kenai River in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

May Advocacy Report: Seasons Change, We Keep On!

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We are pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service leadership positions have been filled but continue to hope that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon. We have heard rumors but have seen no official announcement.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill that includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases may be headed for a possible reformulation. There are glimmers of hope that Senator Manchin will support a lesser version that will include the Arctic Refuge lease repeal in a revised version of the legislation. This may occur before summer. In the meantime, U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental EIS required by order of the Secretary. Many conservation organizations, including Friends have intervened on behalf of the government in the federal lawsuit by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and the State.


The threat to the Coastal Plain continues after the submission of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The validity of their claim that Kaktovik lands are an inholding without adequate and reasonable access must be decided by the Secretary in consultation with the Solicitor. If KIC prevails, there must be a notice of intent and a NEPA process. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS completed its report about the results of its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas. We expect that the report includes little hard evidence to support the claim of historic use of vehicles. The USFWS is processing the application to decide the validity of the Kaktovik claim.


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The March 16, 2022, panel decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of defendants’ appeal overturned our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. This disastrous decision rewrote Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to reinstate the land exchange for the road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. The far-reaching implications of this decision on 104 million acres of federal conservation units and lands in Alaska are potentially devastating.

As lead plaintiff in this case, Friends worked closely with Deborah Williams (former Alaska Special Assistant to Secretary Babbitt for Alaska), Nicole Whittington-Evans (Alaska Director for Defenders of Wildlife), and others to develop options and strategy to undo this extremely dangerous decision. Trustees for Alaska ultimately decided to petition the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc. Extensive efforts spearheaded by Ms. Williams achieved huge support for the petition by amicus briefs by President Jimmy Carter  and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and former Interior Solicitor John Leshy. Trustees also obtained amicus support from a group of 25 law professors. On May 16, the Court ordered the defendants to file a response to our petition, which is the first step toward a possible rehearing. This is very encouraging, but must be followed by a majority vote of the full Court. We hope that the Ninth Circuit will grant the en banc rehearing, which may take several months for a decision. A decision to rehear the case would nullify the disastrous panel decision and begin the appeal anew. 

Fulfilling her commitment to Senator Murkowski, Secretary of the Interior Haaland visited the Izembek Refuge and King Cove on April 19. She was accompanied by her Special Advisor Raina Thiele, Senator Murkowski, USFWS Director Martha Williams, Regional Director Sara Boario, Regional Chief of Refuges Brian Glaspell, and Izembek Manager Maria Fosado. After a very emotional welcome and ceremonies in King Cove, Secretary Haaland received a guided tour of the Refuge to see the values of wildlife, habitat, and Wilderness that would be severely impacted by the land exchange and the unnecessary and destructive road. The FWS personnel provided her with extensive information and documents about the destructive aspects of the road and more acceptable and positive alternatives to the unnecessary road. We do not expect a decision by the Secretary until the pending appeal is resolved although she may decide at any time.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
We received the extremely welcome news that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) canceled the proposed lease sale for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. This halted any proposed developments that would have created drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and the high risk of oil spills that could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge. Liz Mering of the Cook InletKeeper did an outstanding job of organizing and spearheading this major conservation victory.


Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
On April 18, 2022, the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a sweeping decision that rejected the appeal of the Kenai Refuge wildlife regulations lodged by Safari Clubs International and the State of Alaska, This decision maintained the Kenai regulations that include a ban on baiting of brown bears and other sensible controls on trapping and predator control. Friends was one of many intervenor-defendants in support of the government. Trustees for Alaska Staff Attorneys Katie Strong and Rachel Briggs did an outstanding job to secure this important victory..

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
We have heard nothing further on Hilcorp’s plans to begin seismic exploration next winter on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge.  There is great concern that this will lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact the world-class wildlife and fisheries and subsistence resources in the Refuge.




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27 Below, Snow to Your Armpits but Fun, Fun, Fun

By: Dan Musgrove; Soldotna, Alaska

In March of 2022 I joined Ralph Kiehl along with Ranger Tim Lorenzini of the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge for the purpose of maintaining remote cabins on the refuge.  Over a one week period the work involved cutting firewood, repairing a cabin porch, inventorying cabin supplies, hauling propane and a generator and taking snow depths for biologists.  The fun involved meeting new people, seeing a refuge I had not been to, ice fishing, snow machining and sharing meals.


 

 Stuver Lake Cabin jhkhhhhhh Jatahmund Cabin   

Once in Tok, Ralph and I attended a snow machine safety class, gathered gear for the trip and enjoyed eating at Fast Eddies, the one restaurant in town.  Our destination for this project was approximately 80 miles towards the Canadian border, with our first stop for staging at the Seaton Roadhouse. Once the snow machines were unloaded and packed we proceeded along for another 25 miles, stopping along the way to take snow depth measurements that would help the biologists. 

The first cabin we reached was the Stuver Lake Cabin with a stunning lake view.  After two days at this cabin shoveling snow, cutting wood and making repairs we headed another 15 miles to Jatahmund Lake Cabin where we spent another 2 days. We were greeted with the sight of 15 caribou on the lake.  At this cabin in addition to cutting wood, shoveling snow off roof structures, our repairs included building a new toilet seat for the outhouse! 

 

Tim measuring snow depth.  hhkkkkkkkkkkkhjkk Repairing Stuver Lake cabin porch floor.

Other duties as assigned. Dan builds an outhouse seat.

 

Dan was a wood-splitting machine.

 

Ralph stacking wood.

Jatahmund Cabin provided amazing mountain views, sunsets, and daily sightings of caribou near the cabin.  The ice fishing here was incredibly fun!  Maybe a few fish tales to tell!

Ranger Tim kept Ralph and me well-fed throughout the trip, cooking was done inside the cabins on propane stoves.  Gathering clean snow for drinking and cooking was a daily occurrence.

Tim and Jahtumend Lake pike.

My favorite part of this volunteer opportunity was seeing new country and sharing in the work of maintaining a refuge.  Volunteering with the Refuge was gratifying and satisfying.  I highly recommend volunteering if an opportunity comes your way. 




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April Advocacy Report: New leadership, looking forward!

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Friends welcomed recently appointed Alaska Regional Director Sarah Boario on our April board meeting. We had a wonderful interaction with her and look forward to a productive working relationship on programs and issues facing Alaska’s refuges. Now that the leadership positions have been filled, we hope that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon. We have heard rumors but have seen no official announcement.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill that includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases seems to be headed to a possible reformulation. There are glimmers of hope that Senator Manchin will support a lesser version that will include the Arctic Refuge lease repeal in a revised version of the legislation. This may occur before summer. In the meantime, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required by order of the Secretary. Many conservation organizations, including Friends have intervened on behalf of the government in the federal lawsuit by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and the State.

The threat to the Coastal Plain continues after the submission of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The validity of their claim that Kaktovik lands are an inholding without adequate and reasonable access must be decided by the Secretary in consultation with the Solicitor. If KIC prevails, there must be a notice of intent and a NEPA process. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS has completed its report about the results of its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas. We expect that the report includes little hard evidence to support the claim of historic use of vehicles. The USFWS will proceed with the administrative process to decide the validity of the Kaktovik claim.


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
On March 16, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. This disastrous decision rewrote  Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to reinstate the land exchange for the road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. The far-reaching implications of this decision on more than 100 million acres of federal conservation units and lands in Alaska are potentially devastating, as described in the summary of the decision. As lead plaintiff in this case, Friends is working with our legal team Trustees for Alaska and the other conservation clients on options and strategy to undo this extremely dangerous decision.

 
Secretary Haaland will be visiting Izembek Refuge and King Cove on April 19. We understand that she will be accompanied by Senator Murkowski, USFWS Director Martha Williams, Regional Director Sara Boario, and Alaska Chief of Refuges Brian Glaspell. Weather permitting, we expect that she will receive a guided tour of the Refuge to see the values of wildlife, habitat, and Wilderness that would be severely impacted by the land exchange and the unnecessary and destructive road.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
We await the Final EIS from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. The proposed developments would create drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and pose a high risk of oil spills that could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Oral arguments on the Federal Ninth Circuit appeal of the Kenai Refuge regulations by Safari Clubs International and the State were held on February 18. The Kenai regulations include a ban on baiting of brown bears and other sensible controls on trapping and predator control. Friends is one of many intervenor-defendants in support of the government. We were represented by Trustees for Alaska Staff Attorney Rachel Briggs who did an outstanding job. Based on the questions by the 3-justice panel, we expect that our victory in the Federal District Court will be upheld..

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Hilcorp announced plans to begin seismic exploration next winter on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge. There is great concern that this will lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact wildlife and fisheries in the Refuge.




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A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) prowls the edges of Izembek Lagoon.

A recent ninth circuit decision regarding Izembek Refuge poses a threat to all of Alaska’s refuges, parks, and wilderness

In March, a majority decision in the Ninth Circuit upheld a Trump administration land exchange, setting an incredibly problematic precedent for conservation and subsistence in  Alaska.

The majority opinion was developed and affirmed by two Trump-appointed Ninth  Circuit judges, and a very strong dissent was authored by a third judge who has been part of the  appellate court for decades since President Clinton appointed her. Beyond the extensive destruction that this decision causes to the subsistence and ecological values of Izembek, the  Ninth Circuit’s decision poses a broad existential threat to conservation, subsistence, and  conservation system unit (CSU) lands across Alaska, including national parks, wildlife refuges,  and congressionally designated Wilderness. With this decision, any Secretary will be able to  simply give away protected federal lands for industrial development while avoiding protections  for conservation and subsistence put in place by Congress. This decision undermines Alaska  National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in two important ways, as found by the  federal District Court: 

First, under ANILCA, the Secretary may only exchange lands where such an exchange furthers  ANILCA’s purposes. What the Ninth Circuit did in upholding Secretary Bernhardt’s land  exchange in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was to unilaterally determine that economic and  social benefits to Alaska Native Corporations or other entities can override ANILCA’s long  established purposes aimed at conservation, subsistence and protection of ecologically important  habitats, wildlife and wilderness values. This decision circumvents and thereby nullifies the  protections Congress established when adopting ANILCA, putting economic benefits on  par or superior to conservation and subsistence. The decision also provides the Interior Secretary broad and nearly unreviewable discretion to make such decisions. Under the  majority’s interpretation, the Secretary could, for example, trade away the heart of Denali  National Park — North America’s tallest mountain — based on finding economic benefits to  private landowners from charging hikers and climbers for use and access. 

Second, ANILCA Title XI governs the approval of all transportation systems proposed through CSUs and requires a very specific agency and public process to make sure impacts to CSUs are  minimized. In fact, for transportation systems proposed through Wilderness, Title XI expressly  limits the Executive Branch’s authority by requiring approval by both houses of Congress and  

the President. When entering the land exchange agreement, Secretary Bernhardt ignored this  mandate and unilaterally sought to exchange lands out of federal ownership to avoid Title XI’s  process and Congress’s role. The Ninth Circuit majority opinion upheld Bernhardt’s approach,  agreeing that Title XI doesn’t apply because once lands are exchanged, the lands are no longer federal lands, creating a huge loophole and allowing any Secretary to circumvent Congress’s  intent. 

Such an approach is ripe for abuse. Under this precedent, any future Secretary of the Interior  would have full discretion to enter into land exchanges in CSUs across Alaska that circumvent  ANILCA’s purposes and mandates. The Secretary could swap protected federal lands if the 

Secretary determines it would benefit Alaska Native or other corporations or entities  economically or socially, and completely bypass the strict procedures contained in Title XI to  allow roads, pipelines, or other transportation systems in CSUs. This puts millions of acres of  protected lands at risk by allowing the Secretary to overwrite Congressionally designated legal  protections.  

The Ninth Circuit decision also determined that the Secretary had adequately explained his  decision reversing the prior administration’s decision to not exchange lands for a road, going  against years of precedent under the Administrative Procedures Act. This aspect of the decision  has the potential to impact all federal regulatory decisions in the future. 

Izembek Background: 

The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, located on the southern end of the Alaska Peninsula,  encompasses a globally significant wetlands complex that sustains an extraordinary level of  biodiversity. The refuge provides important subsistence resources for Alaska Natives much  beyond refuge boundaries and vital habitat for terrestrial and marine species, including virtually  the entire global population of Pacific black brant. Nearly all of the Izembek Refuge is  Congressionally designated Wilderness. 

For decades the Aleutians East Borough and the City of King Cove have advocated for a road  through the refuge’s designated Wilderness to connect the community of King Cove with the community of Cold Bay. Numerous legislative, administrative, and judicial decisions have found  that constructing a road through the refuge would be destructive and unnecessary. In 2013, the  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that the proposed road would result in  significant impacts to refuge resources and would have “major effects” on brant and other  migratory birds due to increased human access, hunting pressure and disturbance. As a result of  this finding, Secretary Jewell rejected a land exchange to allow for a road. 

In 2018, Secretary Bernhardt approved a land exchange to allow for a road using the land  exchange provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) without  any public process or environmental analysis. Secretary Bernhardt justified this action under the  theory that once the lands were exchanged out of federal ownership, they would be private lands  and thus no longer be subject to the protections put in place for wildlife refuges and Wilderness (which prohibit road construction). 

That exchange was invalidated by the U.S. District Court in Alaska, resulting in a second  exchange in 2019. That second exchange agreement was also invalidated by the U.S. District  Court. The district court found that the exchange did not further ANILCA’s purposes, which are  for conservation and subsistence. The court further found that Secretary Bernhardt did not  comply with the mandatory provisions governing the authorization for a road in a refuge and  Wilderness contained in ANILCA Title XI, which requires action by the President and  Congressional approval. The court also concluded that Secretary Bernhardt did not adequately  explain Interior’s change in position considering Secretary Jewell’s 2013 decision rejecting a  similar exchange. Secretary Bernhardt successfully appealed this ruling to the Ninth Circuit  Court of Appeals.




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Bird Camp! A Summer Season on Aiktak Island with Sarah and Dan: Tuesday, 4/19, 5–6 pm (AKDT)

Presentation by: Sarah Youngren & Dan Rapp,
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Biological Technicians

Watch Presentation (Youtube)

Post-presentation Q&A:

 

There are islands in Alaska where hundreds of thousands of seabirds gather annually to breed. These islands are critical to the survival of these species. Imagine yourself living on one of these islands with one other person. Sound picturesque? It is, but you won’t be spending your days sipping umbrellaed drinks while lounging on the beach. You’re here to do a job. You’re here to collect long-term monitoring data on the seabirds (and other species) that breed on your island. You’re going to be cold, wet, and generally uncomfortable for most of your stay. It’s not an easy life, but it’s worth it. You’ll see and hear things very few ever will. You’ll get to collect data that monitors the health of Alaskan seabird populations and the ocean they, and mankind, depend on for survival. Join Sarah and Dan for a summer field season on Aiktak Island, in the Eastern Aleutians, as biological technicians for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. They will show you what it takes to work in this rugged and remote refuge.

pc: Grubbing arms.

Sarah Youngren and Dan Rapp are seabird researchers. Most people have no idea what they do, because they work where very few people go and with species that spend most of their lives at sea (or in these places few people get to go). Between Sarah and Dan, they have 28 years of experience working with seabirds on remote islands in Alaska and Hawaii (and a stint in Louisiana). They both started their professional careers working with Alaskan salmon, and dabbled in other fieldwork, but both eventually found their way to a remote seabird colony. All parts of living and working on these islands spoke to them, and their addiction hasn’t let up. They have worked with a plethora of seabird species, ranging in size from the armful Black-footed albatross, to the fit in your palm Leaches storm-petrel. Most of the data they collect contributes to long-term datasets for the purpose of detecting trends / changes within seabird populations. But they also conduct and participate in original research, most recently they helped outfit albatross with tags to track their movements across the North Pacific from their breeding colony at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Both Sarah and Dan earned their Masters degrees in marine science from Hawaii Pacific University in 2015, with theses that addressed patterns and impacts of plastic ingestion in Hawaiian seabirds. After completing their graduate work, they returned to seasonal fieldwork. Since 2015 they have been spending summers working for Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, specifically on Aiktak Island in the Eastern Aleutians.




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Polar Bear Cub on his back with one leg raised

March Advocacy Report: Our nation’s last true wild places.

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The U.S. Senate finally confirmed Martha Williams as Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This welcome action was followed by the appointment of Sarah Boario as Alaska Regional Director. Now that these leadership positions have been filled, we hope that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill that includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases seems to be dead. There are glimmers of hope that Senator Manchin will support a lesser version that will include the Arctic Refuge lease repeal in a revised version of the legislation. This likely will not occur before summer, if at all. In the meantime, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental environment impact statements (EIS) required by order of the Secretary. The federal lawsuit by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and the State to stop the process will likely see many conservation organizations intervening on behalf of the government.


The threat to the Coastal Plain continues after the submission of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The validity of their claim that Kaktovik lands are an inholding without adequate and reasonable access must be decided by the Secretary in consultation with the Solicitor. If KIC prevails, there must be a notice of intent and a NEPA process. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS has composed a draft of the results of its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas. However, they are still waiting to receive additional evidence from the applicant to support their claim.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There is no word from the Court since oral arguments were held before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 4 concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. We also await a final decision by USFWS regarding the State’s appeal of the denial of helicopter use in the designated Wilderness. After an extensive review by Department of the Interior (DOI), the findings have been sent to newly appointed Regional Director Sarah Boario in Anchorage to issue the final decision. We expect that the State’s appeal will be denied, but this may not occur before the Secretary visits King Cove, possibly in the spring.


Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The comment period closed on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Draft EIS for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. The proposed developments would create drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and pose a high risk of oil spills that could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge. We await the issuance of the EIS.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Oral arguments on the Federal Ninth Circuit appeal of the Kenai Refuge regulations by Safari Club International and the State were held on February 18. The Kenai regulations include a ban on baiting of brown bears and other sensible controls on trapping and predator control. Friends is one of many intervenor-defendants in support of the government. We were represented by Trustees for Alaska Staff Attorney Rachel Briggs who did an outstanding job. Based on the questions by the 3-justice panel, we expect that our victory in the Federal District Court will be upheld.

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Hilcorp announced plans to begin seismic exploration in March on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge.  There is great concern that this will lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact wildlife and fisheries in the Refuge.

Sturgeon Decision
We are unaware of any action following 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.


Ambler Road
The Department of Interior announced that it will not allow work to proceed on the proposed road to the Ambler Mining District, reversing a pro-mining ruling from the Trump Administration. DOI wants to review the faulty environmental impact statement process. The Department asked the federal court to remand the right-of-way decision to the agency to correct the significant deficiencies in the underlying analyses. The Department will reconsider the analyses related to the National Environmental Protection Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The DOI will suspend the right-of-way for the road during the review period to ensure that no ground-disturbing activity takes place that could potentially impact the resources in question. This is an important step to prevent this disastrous road from impacting national wildlife refuges and parks.




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Bears, the Emerald Isle and Bear Biology in Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge: Tuesday, 3/15, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKDT)


This meeting’s presentations were recorded.  Watch below:

Arctic Refuge Video




Dr. Joy Erlenbach, Kodiak Refuge Bear Biologist



Have you ever wondered what a bear biologist actually does? Get a tour of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge—see the lush green landscapes, the jagged peaks, the idyllic remote streams, the majestic bears and wildlife…and get to know the bears of Kodiak just a little bit better. Find out what the refuge has to offer, and the ways our biologists work to maintain the land and resources for future generations. Listen as Joy shares with us what it’s like to be a bear biologist at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge— the work she does, the needs of bears, and future directions for bear biology and management in Kodiak.

Protected ocean waters within a fjord, the surface of Three Saints Bay reflects mountains like the surface of a calm lake. pc: Robin Corcoran.

Joy Erlenbach says she became interested in bears because of the adaptability of bears—their ability to adjust to myriad challenges and still succeed—as well as their misunderstood nature.  Joy has studied black, brown, and polar bears but brown bears are her favorite because of their big personalities and grit.

Joy has been Kodiak Refuge’s bear biologist since March 2020. Prior to working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service she was a Postdoc, PhD Student, and Masters student at Washington State University where she studied nutritional ecology of Alaskan brown bears, optimal diets for brown bears in the wild and captivity, and energetics of polar bears on land.  She did extensive field work in Katmai National Park from 2015 to 2018 for her PhD as well as short stints for other projects on the Kenai Peninsula and the Kotzebue area. She has also done field work in Canada, Yellowstone, and California.  She has been involved in 15 scientific papers including her PhD thesis, Nutritional and Landscape Ecology of Brown Bears in Katmai National Park, Alaska.

“One of my favorite memories during some of my work was watching a young wolf and a young brown bear play tag on the intertidal. That and the time the same young bear recognized how bad she was at fishing and gave up and just lazy-river floated down the river instead.”

In addition to job skills such as collaborative research planning, data and statistical analysis, and population monitoring, Joy’s resume includes unusual skills such as capturing large wildlife by helicopter darting, aerial netting and snares, planning remote field research camps and projects, backcountry navigation and radio telemetry.




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February Advocacy Report: Looking forward, working hard

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We continue to wait for the U.S. Senate to confirm Acting Director Martha Williams as the new Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We expect that after her confirmation, the Executive Review Board will act to appoint a successor to Regional Director Greg Siekaniec who retired last August. We also hope that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon..


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Budget Reconciliation bill that includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases seems doomed after Senators Manchin and Sinema failed to support the bill passed by the House. We are hopeful that a compromise version will eventually be approved, and the Arctic Refuge lease repeal will remain in a revised version of the legislation. This may not occur before summer, if at all. In the meantime, USFWS and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have begun the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required by order of the Secretary. This is an unfortunate waste of scarce resources if it is ultimately rendered moot by repeal of the leasing program. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) filed suit to stop the process and was joined by the State. We anticipate that many conservation organizations will intervene on behalf of the government.

The threat to the Coastal Plain continues after the completion of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The validity of their claim that Kaktovik lands are an inholding without adequate and reasonable access must be decided by the Secretary in consultation with the Solicitor. If KIC prevails, there must be a notice of intent and a NEPA process. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS composed a draft of the results of its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including Wilderness study areas. However, they are waiting to receive additional evidence from the applicant to support their claim.
Award-winning Arctic Refuge Manager Steve Berendzen transfers on February 11 to manage a refuge complex in the Lower 48. He will be greatly missed for his outstanding work to protect the Arctic Refuge from the continuing threats of development and incursions into its pristine wilderness.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There still is no word from the court since oral arguments were held before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 4 concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. We also await a final decision by USFWS regarding the State’s appeal of the denial of helicopter use in the designated Wilderness. The findings by the Acting Regional Director in Anchorage have been sent to Acting USFWS Director Martha Williams and then to the Assistant Secretary and the Deputy Secretary. A decision probably will not be issued until Martha Williams is confirmed but we expect that the State’s appeal will be denied. Also, we have no word on plans for the Secretary of the Interior’s visit to King Cove.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The comment period closed on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. The proposed developments would create drilling platforms and underwater pipelines, pose a high risk of oil spills, and greatly increase industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet that could seriously impact lands and wildlife.in the Maritime Refuge. We await the issuance of the EIS.

Other Refuges
We have no significant updates on Kenai Refuge regulations or Yukon Flats Refuge oil exploration in Doyon inholdings.

Sturgeon Decision
We are unaware of further action following 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.




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An Eye to the Future: Stewarding the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge: Tuesday, 2/15, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKT)

Kris Inman, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Supervisory Wildlife Biologist

This meeting’s presentations were recorded.  Watch below:

Christina Nelson, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge:
Intro to Selawik

Kris Inman, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge:
Stewarding the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

(This recording has been edited to include the wolverine footage that wouldn’t play during Kris’ presentation.)


This is a time of unprecedented, profound, and rapid human-driven environmental change.  In her presentation, Kris will share a few of the Kenai biology team’s many projects that give a big-picture view of how wildlife populations and habitats might be changing or impacted by landscape issues like climate change and human population growth.  Changing water temperatures in salmon streams, increased traffic on the Sterling Highway, more people living and recreating around the refuge and the spread of non-native species are a few of the human caused impacts to the refuge wildlife that Kenai biologists and agency partners are addressing. 

Kris will share new technology like thermal imagery to document and understand the impact of water temperature changes on our world-famous salmon rivers that sustain bears, eagles, and people. She will also share results from the Refuge’s efforts to minimize the impact of increased human presence on the Kenai including the effectiveness of Alaska’s first wildlife road crossing project to provide safe movements for wildlife across the busy Sterling Highway which splits the Refuge.  She will also highlight collaborative efforts to eradicate or control the spread of non-native invasive species like pike, elodea, white sweet clover, bird vetch, and reed canary grass that influences salmon habitat or encroach on native vegetation. In doing so, the biology team, working with refuge staff and many partners, will meet the station’s vision of stewarding the lands and waters with an eye to the future, so the Refuge’s diverse and abundant wildlife remain for the enjoyment and well-being of generations to come. 

Moose using the new Sterling Highway wildlife underpasses.  Fences funnel wildlife to the underpasses of this increasingly busy highway.   Kris will discuss what the refuge has learned about the effectiveness of this project.

Kris Inman recently joined the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge as the Supervisory Wildlife Biologist. Before coming to Alaska, she worked on a wide range of wildlife research and inventory and monitoring projects, from the little-known Tomah mayfly and freshwater mussels to more charismatic species like wolves, bears, and wolverine. Kris received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maine and a Master of Science degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 

She spent the last twenty years living, working, and raising her family in the lands outside of Yellowstone National Park, where she and her husband co-led a collaborative wolverine research study for the Wildlife Conservation Society. This project eventually would contribute the largest body of science on wolverines in the lower 48 and would identify the biggest conservation needs: to restore, connect, and monitor wolverines across their current and historic range.

From there, Kris switched from researcher to implementor. She worked with broad stakeholder groups in SW Montana to apply wolverine science in a region critical to wildlife connectivity for not only wolverines but also migratory ungulates and recovered grizzly bear and wolf populations. As the Coordinator of Strategic Partnerships and Engagement for the Wildlife Conservation Society, she brought stakeholders together to develop tools to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions. She also explored and implemented natural climate adaptation strategies like beaver mimicry to improve private working ranchlands’ economic and ecological sustainability as critical corridors to public lands.

Kris holding a wolverine!

In 2018, the Disney Conservation Fund named Kris a Disney Conservation Hero for her contributions to science and engaging and empowering communities to take science to action. Kris was also selected as an American Association for the Advancement of Science IF/THEN® Ambassador, a network of 125 women STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals from around the country who share their professional stories so young girls see that a career in STEM is possible. 

 Kris sees the Kenai Peninsula as similar to the Greater Yellowstone Area in its global significance as a large, intact, wild landscape, diverse in its wildlife while grappling with the challenges of rapidly growing nearby communities seeking solitude and world-renowned outdoor experiences. 

Kris is glad to be a part of the Kenai Refuge and the larger refuge team in Alaska. She works with colleagues who recognize that conserving these great places will take a new future-oriented approach to conservation, and they are committed to developing solutions to meet the challenges of this century. At the same time, this work recognizes that people are part of nature and not separate from it.  Seeing people in this light, we no longer just identify people as the problem but also the solution.




Open post

January Advocacy Report: Changes that may make a difference

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We hope that the U.S. Senate will vote this month to confirm Acting Director Martha Williams as the new Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We expect that the Executive Review Board will act soon to appoint a successor to retired Regional Director Greg Siekaniec. During a productive meeting in Anchorage between representatives of national conservation organizations and Undersecretary Beaudreau, we expect that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon.


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Budget Reconciliation bill that includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases stalled after being passed by the House. This was caused by Senator Manchin’s refusal to support the House version. We are hopeful that a compromise version will eventually be approved, and the Arctic Refuge lease repeal will remain in a revised version of the legislation. In the meantime, USFWS and BLM must begin the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required by order of the Secretary. This will be an unfortunate waste of scarce resources if it is ultimately rendered moot by repeal of the leasing program.


There has been no development concerning the threat to the Coastal Plain posed by the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS continues its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There still is no word from the Court since oral arguments were held before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 4 concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. None of the parties asked for a stay, so we await further word from the Court. We also await a final decision by USFWS Acting Regional Director in Anchorage regarding the State’s appeal of the denial of helicopter use in the designated Wilderness, but we expect that the appeal will be denied.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The comment period closed on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. The proposed developments would create drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and pose a high risk of oil spills that could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge.

Other Refuges
We have no significant updates on Kenai Refuge regulations or Yukon Flats Refuge oil exploration in Doyon inholdings. 

Sturgeon Decision
We are unaware of further action following 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.




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