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September 2018 Advocacy Update

By Board President, David Raskin

Oil Drilling in the Arctic Coastal Plain
The criticism continues concerning the DOI fast-track goal of completing a draft environmental statement (DEIS) for oil leasing in less than six months. There are serious questions about the financial health, expertise, and independence of the contractor to whom BLM has granted a permit to conduct extensive seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain. Such operations would leave lasting scars on the tundra and destroy vegetation. Seismic testing also poses a risk to denning polar bears that are increasingly coming onshore in the Arctic Refuge to build their winter maternity dens. Even with the best technology, it is not possible to identify all denning sites. The vibrations from testing can and have caused female polar bears to abandon their cubs. For a summary of the potential risks and impacts from seismic click on the Alaska Wilderness League fact sheet here.
 
The Bureau of Land Management has yet to post the full seismic application, only a seven-page project proposal summary document. Seismic exploration could begin as soon as this December. The BLM claims that the impacts from seismic exploration are minimal and necessitate only a brief Environmental Assessment rather than a full Environmental Impact Statement. This rushed and potentially flawed process to assess the potential damage from seismic exploration and oil development continues to raise the specter of legal action by conservation organizations that would considerably delay the government’s frantic rush to develop oil in the Arctic Refuge.
 
Izembek Land Trade and Road
The lawsuit challenging the proposed land trade and road through the heart of the Izembek wilderness continues to work its way through the Anchorage Federal District Court as Trustees for Alaska performs excellent legal work on behalf of Friends and eight other conservation organizations who filed the lawsuit against the proposed land trade and road.  Trustees is preparing our reply to the Department of Justice reply brief that was filed August 22. There is little new in the government brief, and we remain optimistic that we will prevail against this destructive, costly, and unnecessary project.
 
Kenai Revised Regulations 
The USFWS is preparing revisions to the regulations regarding hunting in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. This revision was ordered by DOI to accommodate the long-standing efforts of the State of Alaska to dramatically increase hunting and motorized access on the Refuge. As with the similar DOI orders to the National Park Service, their plan is to eliminate long-standing protections of habitat and wildlife on national wildlife refuges. The State wants to authorize hunting of brown bears at bait stations, which has never been allowed on refuges, and expand hunting and access in other areas of the refuge that have been limited by extensive studies and public participation that resulted in the current regulations. We are closely monitoring this process and working with our conservation partners to prevent or at least minimize these destructive regulations.
 
Sturgeon v. Frost
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rehear the Sturgeon lawsuit against the National Park Service that had prevented his continued operation of a hovercraft in a national park. This suit challenged the authority of the Park Service to regulate activities on navigable waters in the national parks, which has major implications for national wildlife refuges and other national conservation lands. We had joined an Amicus Brief submitted by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of 14 conservation organizations in support of the Park Service. The Sturgeon oral argument has been scheduled for Monday, November 5 in the Supreme Court.
 
There are no big changes in the government’s arguments, although there has been a change in the alignment of the amici.  The congressional delegation did not file this time, and the ANCSA corporations mostly dropped out, only Ahtna filed. We are in a strong position with the brief we had previously filed, which is being updated for resubmission.  The U.S. brief on behalf of the National Park Service will be filed on September 11.

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2018 September Membership Meeting – Sept. 18th

Please join us on Tuesday, September 18th, 5-6pm, for the Friends membership meeting. 

In person: Homer (Alaska Maritime) or Soldotna (Kenai NWR)
Call in a few minutes before 5pm: (866) 556-2149, code :8169747# 

Note Program Change:  Too much fire to talk fire!  The Kenai Fire Staff is on their way to the lower 48 where the fire season is still going hot in what Assistant Fire Manager Mike Hill calls “the new normal.”  The Fire on the Kenai program will be rescheduled after the snow flies.

Agenda:

Introductions and Discussion (5 minutes)
Introductions: Where do you live? (Poppy)
New People: Why did you join the call today?
Reminder to please mute yourselves when you aren’t talking

Board Activities/Decisions– Refuge Projects Approved (Betty)

Committee Reports (2-5 minutes each):
Volunteer Report – (Betty)
Summer projects wrap up – overview of funded volunteer projects
Call for board/ committee members

Membership/Outreach Events:
Upcoming events in Kenai and Homer (Tara)
Other Outreach (Poppy)
Details for all on our EVENTS tab – on website; we’ll send more updates via newsletter

Advocacy Updates (David Raskin)

Speaker/Presentation (30-40 minutes):  
Special Guest: Matt Conner, Ranger/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge 
Topic: “If You Teach a Kid to Fish


Although just 3 hours down the road from Alaska’s largest city, the Kenai Refuge is unknown and inaccessible to many Anchorage kids.  The Refuge partnered with Alaska Geographic and others to find those urban teens who have had no opportunity to experience the wild and bring them to the refuge.  Kenai Ranger Matt Connor uses flyfishing and archery to entice urban teens into engaging with and feeling comfortable in the outdoors.  No cell phone can offer the hands-on excitement of catching fish on a fly you have tied yourself. 

Come hear about Matt’s successful program “Stick and String Naturalist” and find out how you can help.  Stick and String campers learn stream ecology, aquatic invertebrates, and stream conservation and how to apply that knowledge to fishing skills such as knowing what fly to tie and how to read the riffles in the river.  They journal about nature, learn outdoor cooking, camping skills, photography and reading the landscape.  Ranger Matt is looking for flyfishing and archery knowledgeable Friends plus new ideas to help him expand this program to get more kids outside and connected to the refuges of Alaska!  


Download Stick-and-String Presentation

Next Meeting: Tuesday October, 5-6pm/ Susanna Henry, “Togiak Refuge’s Cape Peirce – Scenery, Wildlife, and Management Challenges”

*SIX meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October
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Sept. 1st – Free Guest Lecture: Ernesto Reyes, Cuban Biologist/ Ecologist

When:  Saturday, September 1
Time: 6:30-7:30pm
Where: Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center – Homer

The presentation will feature biological diversity of Cuba and its high degree of endemism. With a strategic location and many natural areas and vast rural landscapes, many migratory birds pass through or overwinter on the island. Ernesto will show some of his award-winning photos and overview how natural and cultural resources are managed within Cuba’s system of protected areas.

As a biologist with Cuba’s national system of conservation, Ernesto has participated in many expeditions ranging from surveys in the famed Zapata Swamp Biosphere Preserve to search for the Cuban Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Cuba’s Humboldt National Park. His presentations are the next best thing to visiting this remarkable living landscape.
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Kenai River Cleanup – Sept. 7-9, 2018 (Volunteer Opportunity)

Kenai River Cleanup – Do good, have fun and see more of the Kenai Refuge.  September 7 – 9.  Sportsmen’s Landing, Cooper Landing.  

Friends will join Alaska Fly Fishers in doing an end of season clean-up of Sportsmen Landing, and downstream beaches.

Event begins Friday evening with a potluck and music in the Sportsmen Landing/Russian River Ferry campground.  After a continental breakfast Saturday morning,  teams will either float the river cleaning beaches or clean around the landing, campgrounds and parking areas.  The Kenai Refuge will bring at least one raft to take Friends downriver to clean refuge beaches.  That evening the Alaska Fly Fishers will put on a free BBQ for all participants with prizes!  Sunday at 10, Friends will sponsor a hike on the Hidden Creek Trail off Skilak Lake Road. 

For more information and to sign up, contact Poppy Benson, Outreach  chair, poppyb.ak@gmail.com or call (907) 299-0092.  Check out our event co-sponsor’s website.

This promises to be a very fun event that will also help build an alliance with the Fly Fishers, Kenai Watershed Forum and other partners.

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August 2018 Advocacy Update

August 2018 Advocacy Update
by Board President, David Raskin

Oil Drilling in the Arctic Coastal Plain

There has been considerable criticism of the DOI fast-track goal of completing a draft environmental statement (DEIS) in less than six months. We participated in a meeting of conservation organizations with the BLM staff that is implementing orders from DOI.  The scoping process has been completed and comments can be viewed online.

It appears that the independent contractor hired to prepare the Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) will rely mostly on existing data and previous analyses, most of which are either incomplete or out of date. BLM was not forthcoming in response to our questions about the process and timing of actions. The Yukon government is launching its own study of drilling impacts in Alaska’s Arctic refuge. The Canadian territory is particularly concerned with potential impacts to the caribou herds who calve on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain and the Gwich’in people who depend on them for subsistence

In the meantime, BLM has accepted a permit to conduct extensive seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain. The BLM is working on an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the proposed activities, but they provided little information about the timing of its completion, if and when a public comment period will occur, and when a decision will be made on the need for a full environmental analysis. The potential damage from such activities is great, and lasting damage from previous seismic activities is described in this article:

This rushed and potentially flawed process to assess the potential damage from seismic exploration and oil development has raised widespread concerns that legal action by conservation organizations would cause considerable delays in government plans to develop oil in the Arctic Refuge.

Izembek Land Trade and Road

Under orders from DOI, the Fish and Wildlife Service granted a permit for survey work to delineate the boundaries of the lands in the Refuge that would be conveyed to build the road through the Izembek Wilderness. This legally-questionable survey that was hurriedly completed in July impacted wildlife and habitat with 80 helicopter landings and installation of 122 survey monuments. This intensive work with motorized equipment and aircraft was conducted within congressionally-designated wilderness in preparation for trading away vital public lands to a private entity to build the controversial road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness.

The lawsuit challenging the proposed land trade and road through the heart of the Izembek wilderness is working its way through the Anchorage Federal District Court as Trustees for Alaska continues its excellent legal work on behalf of Friends and eight other conservation organizations who filed the lawsuit against the proposed land trade and road.  Our legal brief was filed, and the Department of Justice reply brief is due on August 22. We remain optimistic that we will prevail against this destructive, costly, and unnecessary project.

Sturgeon v. Frost

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rehear the Sturgeon lawsuit against the National Park Service that had prevented his continued operation of a hovercraft in a national park. This suit challenged the authority of the Park Service to regulate activities on navigable waters in the national parks, which has major implications for national wildlife refuges and other national conservation lands. We had previously joined an Amicus Brief submitted by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of 14 conservation organizations in support of the Park Service. We reaffirmed our participation in this new round in the Supreme Court.

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Dalton Highway Invasive Plant Removal Effort Comes to an End with #24

Filed by Betty Siegel, Friends Volunteer Coordinator

Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge’s weed pulls on the Haul Road have taken place every summer since August 2006 with dozens of Friends volunteering for the 24 opportunities. After that initial project involving various agencies such as USFWS, BLM, NPS, AmeriCorps, and others, weed pulls occurred twice each year until June 2018 from the Kanuti River MP 105.8 (just south of the Arctic Circle) north to most recently the Dietrich River MP 207(north of the community of Wiseman), more than 100 miles. Recent efforts to eliminate all seed production were concentrated on all river crossings and culverts which moved westward toward the Kanuti Refuge. Staff and Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges (Friends) and others were concerned these waterways would become routes for dispersal of invasive White Sweet clover (Melilotus alba) into the Refuge. This non-native plant readily invades open and disturbed areas and has established extensive areas along early successional, gravel river bars elsewhere in Alaska and rapidly colonized the Dalton Highway corridor. In addition, invasive Bird Vetch (Viccia cracca) is growing within the Dalton Highway Corridor and downriver. These populations are all expanding. Control efforts have focused on manual pulling, but have also included mechanical and cultural control. 

The current political climate has resulted in decreased funding for refuges and other public lands. This translated to many staffing shortages and cuts to various programs each year. Now this shortage has made it impossible to continue the project in 2018.  Additionally, refuge staff indicate future efforts may include conducting early detection/rapid response surveys along rivers downstream of the Dalton Highway and within the Refuge so any newly established colonies of invasive plants can be controlled and eliminated quickly. They hope to involve Friends as these plans are developed so that there may be some volunteer opportunities in 2019.

During the 14 years volunteers signed on to work outside along the highway removing white sweet clover and bird vetch for long hours in dirty, dusty, hot or cold, wet or dry, occasionally smoky, and frequently buggy conditions, sleeping in dry cabins, going without showers. Many returned to do it all again as the benefits were tremendous, primarily having the experience of just being up there. There were opportunities for berrying, wildlife viewing, fishing, cooling off in the rivers, hiking, traveling to the grandeur of Atigun Pass, visiting Wiseman, Galbraith Lake, and Toolik Lake, and spending time in the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center (AIVC) chatting to Haul Road tourists about refuges.

 And then there was the food! Huge burgers and pulled pork sandwiches and shakes at the Hot Spot on the drive from Fairbanks to Coldfoot; breakfast and lunch makings and snacks provided by the refuge; and those fantastic Coldfoot Camp Buffets for dinner!

Perhaps the biggest rewards were the friendships that developed over the shared experiences: Staff from all three Fairbanks refuges, AIVC staff, and Friends volunteers worked side by side, from managers to seasonal interns, volunteers from age 16 to “in the 70s”, all with a commitment to protect our public lands and our wildlife for ourselves and future generations.

While I’m sad for this project to end suddenly, I look forward to hearing about alternative projects for monitoring/control. Stay tuned!


-Betty Siegel (So fortunate to have participated in 22 of the 24 weed pulls!)

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July 2018 Advocacy Update

July 2018 Advocacy Update
by Board President, David Raskin and Board Member, Val Glooschenko

Oil Drilling in the Arctic Coastal Plain

The Department of Interior (DOI) has completed the scoping hearings for the proposed sale of oil leases in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In spite of many formal requests to have additional hearings to allow testimony from those were not allowed time to speak at the hearings, DOI refused to extend the hearings, and the June 19 deadline for comments has passed. Conservation organizations estimated that at least a half-million comments were submitted in opposition to the lease sale and there were organized demonstrations at several hearings. We thank all of our members who submitted comments.  The DOI fast-track goal of completing a draft environmental statement (DEIS) in less than six months seems unrealistic if it is intended to comply with federal law. Conservation organizations are closely monitoring this process and will respond appropriately.

Izembek Land Trade and Road

The lawsuit challenging the proposed land trade and road through the heart of the Izembek wilderness is working its way through the Anchorage Federal District Court as Trustees for Alaska continues its excellent legal work on behalf of Friends and eight other conservation organizations who filed the lawsuit against the proposed land trade and road.  Our legal brief is due on July 11, and the Department of Justice reply brief is due on August 22. We remain optimistic that we will prevail against this destructive, costly, and unnecessary project.

Of interest was a June 26 interchange between President Trump and Senator Murkowski during a meeting with senate Republican appropriators. Ms. Murkowski erroneously stated it is “a non-commercial road that we have been fighting about for 30 years,” although she has previously stated that the road is for economic development, and the language of her own legislation includes authorization for commercial transportation. President Trump replied that in the next couple of months the appropriations “will be complete and they can go ahead and build.” We have very different ideas!

Stop Alaska’s War on Wolves and Bears
by Val Glooschenko

The Department of the Interior has proposed allowing unethical hunting practices on lands managed by the National Park Service?In May 2018, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed the National Park Service to allow extreme hunting methods in Alaska’s national preserves, such as baiting brown bears, killing black bear mothers and cubs in dens, and killing wolves and pups by trapping during denning season.  It is also proposed to allow gunning down migrating caribou while they are swimming and baiting of bears with garbage or donuts.

This unethical attack on bears and wolves on represents a reversal of hunting regulations finalized in 2015 by the Park Service, banning these unsportsmanlike practices. The Park Service implemented its previous 2015 wildlife management regulations after an extensive, multi-year public engagement process in which more than 70,000 Americans spoke out against these shameful hunting methods. However under Ryan Zinke, the National Park Service is being asked to reverse its previous 2015 policy.  Zinke’s reversal, if implemented, would force the Park Service to surrender its authority to protect bears and wolves and return to these shameful and unethical practices

Under leadership of the National Park Conservation Association, a number of conservation organizations are working together to alert the public about this matter.  A strategy is being outlined to generate letters to the editor, opinion pieces, group letters and letters from individual Alaskans opposing the change in park regulations by the National Park Service.  This comment period ends on July 23.

Additional information on this matter is available from the following  websites provided by the National Parks Conservation Association and Defenders of Wildlife: .  

Concerns about the proposed new regulations can be submitted through the NPCA or the Defenders of Wildlife websites or sent directly to the address below: 

Andee Sears, Regional Law Enforcement Specialist, Alaska Regional Office, 240 West 5th Ave., Anchorage, AK 99501. Phone (907) 644-3410. Email: AKR_Regulations@nps.gov

Several sample letters follow:

From Members of the Public :

I am an Alaskan (personalize here if possible). Like so many of us, I came to Alaska partially for the opportunity to live in a place with bears and wolves in the wild. I am very disappointed that Secretary Zinke has proposed allowing the state to use extreme sport hunting methods like brown bear baiting to reduce predator populations on national preserves. Those lands were set aside to protect our resources for future generations, including balanced populations of predators and prey. Alaska will be worse off if our national parklands are treated like glorified game farms.

Hunter Letter:

 I am a hunter. It is an important part of Alaska culture.  And I am glad hunting is allowed on the 20 million acres of national preserves in Alaska.  But I don’t support extreme sport hunting measures like brown bear baiting, and I don’t support the state of Alaska’s efforts to reduce bear and wolf populations on national parklands.  That is not what our country’s national park lands are for. The National Park Service needs to stand strong and protect predators and balanced, healthy ecosystems for us and for our children.

Tourism Talking Points

  • Last year, 2.7 million people visited AK national parks and spent $1.3 billion in the state.
  • Those people come to see wildlife, particularly bears.
  • Seeing bears in the wild is a special experience that is transformative for so many visitors, and for so many Alaskans.
  • We need to make sure the Park Service can protect bears, wolves and balanced ecosystems so that visitors and Alaskans have a chance to experience iconic wildlife and so that our tourism economy continues to bring in money for Alaskans.
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2018 Dragonfly Day

Trip Report by Friends Volunteer John Hudson, with photos by USFWS/Allyssa Morris

The 8th Annual Dragonfly Day took play on Saturday, June 23rd at Tanana Lakes Recreation Area, 11am-4pm.  Over 350 people attended this event, enjoying a variety of activities including: face painting, dragonfly balloon art, dragonfly temporary tattoos, various arts and crafts, live dragonfly larvae and other aquatic invertebrates in a touch tank, and dragonfly collecting. Participants caught adult dragonflies with nets and held them for a closer look and to learn about their ecology, biology, and life history.  The species list for the day included: Lake Darner, American Emerald, Northern Bluet, Boreal Whiteface, Hudsonian Whiteface, Belted Whiteface, Four-spotted Skimmer, Sedge Sprite, and Taiga Bluet.   

People of all ages fanned out along the shoreline of one of the Tanana Lakes intent on capturing the fast-flying, colorful, and acrobatic dragonflies swarming about. Participants learned that it’s best to “swing from behind” as dragonflies use their huge eyes to see in almost every direction, but rearward. Lucky collectors reached into their nets and pulled the robust and sturdy insects out by hand, allowing them a closeup view of the holographic-like compound eyes, the spine-covered legs, and intricate wing venation. Certainly, everyone went home with a greater appreciation for dragonflies.

This popular event was sponsored by the three Fairbanks refuges: Arctic, Kanuti, and Yukon Flats, as well as the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, US National Park Service, Student Conservation Association, and University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Tiglax to the Barren Islands (Field Report)

Field Report filed by Friends Member Christina Whiting

On a beautiful spring evening in May, a small group of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges members joined a handful of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service employees aboard the FWS research vessel Tiglax on an overnight trip to visit the wild, remote Barren Islands. Located just 60 miles from Homer, between the tip of the Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak, the Barren Islands are a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and home to the largest seabird colony in the northern Gulf of Alaska. During this 24-hour trip, FWS employees installed bird cams on one of the islands, while Friends members rode a zodiac to another island and spent a couple of hours hiking across sand dunes, through tall grasses and up to elevation with 360 degree views of the surrounding rugged, surreal landscape.

Invited to join the ship’s crew and FWS staff to visit this seldom-visited area of the refuge, on what might typically be an evening and day of weather, we enjoyed calm seas, beautiful skies, spectacular views, tasty meals and lots of time interacting with crew and staff during this unique and special opportunity to learn about a FWS project and a little glimpse into life aboard the ship.

The r/v Tiglax, Aleut for Eagle, provides critical support for biological work, management programs, and village outreach and education. Thanks to Refuge Manager, Steve Delahanty and the ship’s crew for allowing us on board.

Joining Christina Whiting on the ship were Friends members, Brenda Dolma, James Dolma, Louise Ashmun, David Schroyer and Anthony Munter and FWS staff Arthur Kettle, Aaron Christ and Jaclyn Lucas.

 

(All photos by Christina Whiting; exception Bird Cam by Jaclyn Lucas)

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