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2018 October Advocacy Report

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. The environmental assessment for the seismic testing has not been issued. For a summary of the potential risks and impacts from seismic click on the Alaska Wilderness League fact sheet here.

Izembek Land Trade and Road
DOI is moving forward with technical administrative items to advance the land exchange, including surveying the road corridor and material sites.  Notice of the survey was in Federal Register on Sept. 12th DOJ has confirmed that BLM is going to be republishing the FR Notice because it was confusion.  This will restart the clock on the 30 day review and protest period once it is republished.

The lawsuit challenging the proposed land trade and road through the heart of the Izembek wilderness is in the hands of 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.  We await a ruling by the court on our motion for summary judgment. There was 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. We expect that the Department of Interior will that the Refuge follow the demands of the State to allow baiting of brown bears, off-road vehicle access during the winter, expanded hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area along the Skilak Loop Road. We are closely monitoring this process and working with our conservation partners to prevent or at least minimize these destructive regulations.

 

 

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2018 National Wildlife Refuge Week

It’s celebration time! 

National Wildlife Refuge Week, observed the second full week of October each year, celebrates the great network of lands and waters that conserves and protects Americans’ precious wildlife heritage.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provides vital habitat for thousands of native species, including sandhill cranes, bison and sea turtles.  Refuge Week is a wonderful time to discover the outstanding recreational opportunities available on national wildlife refuges. Tens of millions of Americans visit refuges each year to enjoy fishing, hunting, hiking and wildlife watching.

Wildlife refuges also improve Americans’ comfort and safety by curbing flood risk and wildfire damage, providing cleaner air and water, and supporting local communities. Refuges generate $2.4 billion per year and more than 35,000 jobs to regional economies.

The Refuge System includes 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts covering more than 100 million acres of lands.

Check out these awesome events going on around the state at Alaska’s 16 National Wildlife Refuges:

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
10/25 – Thursday:  9am Welcome Brunch for Friends and refuge staff at Islands and Ocean.  Join us to welcome Ray Hudson and his wife to Homer and enjoy an opportunity to socialize with them, refuge staff and other Homer area Friends.  Please RSVP to poppyb.ak@gmail.com

6pm Talk, Reading, Book Signing and Reception:  “Fact, Fable, and Natural History; Writing about the Aleutians with Ray Hudson” – Enjoy a talk by author and long time Aleutian educator Ray Hudson.  Hudson lived in Dutch Harbor for more than 20 years and knew the old generation of Aleuts documenting their culture in Moments Rightly Placed.  Hudson will speak and read from his newest book, Ivory and Paper: Adventures In and Out of Time, followed by a book signing with an opportunity to purchase books and a reception hosted by Friends.


Arctic, Kanuti and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges
10/18 – Thursday
4 to 6 pm, Art Talk: A week (and More) on Beaver Creek Wild and Scenic River-  Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center.   Artists in Residence Margo Klass and Frank Soos will share their art and experiences from a float trip on Beaver Creek  last summer.  A portion of their journey was on Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge and the event celebrates both National Wildlife Refuge Week and the 50th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  Soos is a former Alaska Poet Laureate and Klass is a mixed medium artist who often incorporates fish skins in her work.  A reception sponsored by Friends will follow.

10/20 – Saturday
2 to 4 pm, Super Saturday – The Fairbanks Children’s Museum.  Free with museum admission ($8)  Kids will make nature cards, explore furs and skulls, jump in a canoe and learn about the Arctic Refuge.  Friends is funding the supplies.

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge – Events All Week
10/16 Tuesday
Noon-1pm: Opening Reception. Stop by our Visitor Center to enjoy coffee and cookies, meet our Refuge managers, and check out a photography exhibit of landscapes by Jeff Jones and wildlife by the local Kodiak Camera Club.

10/17 Wednesday:
10:30 am – 11:15 pm: a special refuge themed FUN program for little nature lovers and their families.
5 pm-7 pm: Nature Journaling with Shelly – explore nature with your creative side!

10/18 Thursday:
Noon-1pm: Year of the Bird: The 2018 Photo Log of a Kodiak Bird Biologist with Robin Corcoran

10/20 Saturday:
2pm-3pm Movie and popcorn! Take a visual tour through Alaska Wildlife Refuges with a series of short films.

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2018 October Membership Meeting – Oct. 16th

Please join us on Tuesday, October 16th, 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# 

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)

Membership/Outreach Events:
Upcoming Events & 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: Susanna Henry, Refuge Manager/TogiakNational Wildlife Refuge 
Topic: “Togiak Refuge’s Cape Peirce – Scenery, Wildlife, and Management Challenges


Download Cape Peirce Presentation

Next Meeting: Tuesday January 15, 2019

*SIX meetings yearly: January, February, March, April, September, October
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2018 Virtual Arctic Bird Fest

The first ever Arctic Refuge Virtual Bird Festival took flight during the last week of September – a digital celebration of migratory marvels in the far north. Every summer, thousands of birds travel from around the world to nest and raise their young in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. By fall, they are on the move again. Maybe you’ve seen them pass through your backyard pond or stop over on your local beach – they connect us all as they move along all five flyways. Yet few have witnessed the summer bloom of life that happens in the far Arctic tundra during the short summer season.  

The virtual festival brought this northern nursery to an online audience through photos, video, activities, and stories from several different organizations. US Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Audubon Alaska, Manomet, and Alaska Geographic to share content across many social media platforms at the local, regional, and national level. Festival participants “met” by responding to an event page on the Arctic Refuge Facebook account: more than 650 attended via the event page, and the 68 event posts reached almost 18,000 people. Partners also took to Twitter, Instagram, Steller Stories, and Medium, with engaging and educational stories of birds, science, and the refuge. 

This jam-packed week connected new audiences with the birds that call Arctic National Wildlife Refuge home. If you missed out in September, we invite you to explore the festival on your own time and find your connection to this special place: 

Arctic Refuge Virtual Bird Festival Facebook Event (go to “Discussion” to view posts) – link below
Stories about the place, the birds, the people:

Twitter Highlights

Video Playlist

 

 (filed by Lisa Hupp/ USFWS)

 

  

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Doing Good and Having Fun in the Sun: Kenai River Clean-up

Refuge Discovery Trip Report by Poppy Benson

On the stunning, golden weekend of September 7, 14 Friends and 3 friends of Friends took part in the Kenai River Clean-up sponsored by the Alaska Fly Fishers , the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  About 60 people in all helped in the effort to clean beaches and roadsides around the Russian River Ferry.  The Friends concentrated on Refuge beaches as everything downstream from the ferry is in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.   We floated the river in two refuge rafts and a drift boat manned by Kenai Refuge staff.  Along the way, particularly on the “combat fishing” beaches across from the ferry, we picked up loads of monofilament line, sinkers and hooks, all potentially deadly to wildlife and all likely to be swept downstream into the refuge. 

Being on the river in such beautiful weather would have been reward enough but the Alaska Flyfishers know how to have fun.  There was free food all day, door prizes, and three blue grass bands playing in the evening.  We all camped right at the Russian River ferry where events centered around a big event tent with great silver salmon fishing right on our doorstep.  On Sunday, we sponsored a hike on the Refuge’s Hidden Creek trail which leads to a sunny beach on Skilak Lake.   We couldn’t keep our hands off of the high bush and low bush cranberries that lined the trail and several of us came home with bags full.  And if all this wasn’t good enough, we recruited three new members, got an offer to speak at an Alaska Flyfishers meeting and bonded with Refuge staff members and our fellow Friends from Homer, Soldotna, Sterling and Anchorage.  The Alaska Flyfishers want us to be a full partner next year and I think this should an annual event.

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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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