Open post

As we begin 2021, January Advocacy Report

  by David Raskin, Friends Board President


2020 was a wild year! The Department of the Interior (DOI) held the oil and gas leasing sale in the Arctic Refuge and pushed the Kenai Refuge to adopt destructive proposed wildlife and management regulations. However, there is hope on the horizon.

Kenai Regulations

The Kenai Refuge submitted to Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) a “skinny version” of the proposed regulations that omitted the baiting of brown bears and the removal of the Refuge trapping regulations. It went up the chain of command in Washington and was signed by the Assistant Secretary. However, pressure from the State of Alaska prevented it from being adopted, and FWS Director Skipwith began a rewrite of the proposal. If such a rewrite were to be published before the inauguration, it would not satisfy legal environmental and management requirements and would be subject to formal challenges. In light of the chaos in Washington and the limited resources at DOI, we are hopeful that there will be no formal action on the proposed regulations and no change to the current Kenai regulations. It is highly unlikely that the Biden administration would disturb the excellent regulations currently in place.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Our motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the lease sale and seismic testing was denied by the Alaska Federal District Court (Read Trustees Press Release Here]. However, the Court issued a very narrow ruling that did not address the merits of our pending lawsuits and does not diminish our chances for ultimate success. The DOI then held the lease sale on January 6, which was a complete bust! No major oil company entered a bid, and only 11 of the 22 tracts received a bid, 9 from the State of Alaska AIDEA and 2 from small bidders. Instead of the $1.8 billion revenue projected in the authorization under the 2017 Tax Act, the sale produced only $14 million, less than 0.1% of the promised windfall. The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign deserves our heartfelt thanks for their marvelous work in bringing about this great result!
 
The Court did not grant the injunction on the seismic testing because it found no imminent harm because the permit has not been finalized.   Bureau of Land Management continues to process the permit for seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain that Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corporation hopes to begin this winter. 
 
The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) continued their highly successful meetings with financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts. All major US and Canadian banks and dozens of more than 24 major financial institutions will not fund resource development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ARDC has continued their pressure on Chevron Oil and insurance companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic. 

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

The State of Alaska continued work on its application to FWS to construct a road through the Refuge under the theory that they are entitled to access to inholdings under Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) 1110(b). The State needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps and will seek other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation. There are National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. It is our understanding that their initial applications to FWS have been rejected as incomplete, and they have until January 22 to resubmit. By then, there will be a new administration that we hope will be able to stop this latest assault on the Izembek Wilderness.

Mulchatna Caribou

The latest data indicate a slight improvement in the declining population of Mulchatna caribou herd that ranges over a huge area of Western Alaska including large portions of the Togiak and Yukon Delta Refuges. The State wants to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to federal lands within the refuges. However, this is not consistent with FWS management practices and is unlikely to achieve the State’s hopes of increasing the caribou population. Since the declines in the caribou numbers are most likely due to human predation and smaller impacts of habitat loss and other factors, FWS is working to inform the local subsistence hunters about the problems of overharvest and enlist their support for a moratorium on hunting caribou.




Open post

A wild month! December Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President


It has been a wild month! The  Department of the Interior (DOI) took major steps toward oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Refuge and pushed the Kenai Refuge to adopt destructive proposed wildlife and management regulations. However, the DOI supported by Friends won a major lawsuit that upheld the 2016 Kenai Refuge wildlife regulations.


Kenai Regulations

There have been two different attacks on wildlife management direction on the Kenai Refuge.  One is a lawsuit by Safari Club and the State of Alaska against the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) seeking to overthrow aspects of the Kenai Regulations on the grounds they were not compatible with state regulations.  The second is the FWS’s own attempt to revise the Kenai Regulations under pressure from the State and DOI.
 
On November 13, 2020, the Federal District Court in Anchorage ruled against the State of Alaska and Safari Clubs International and upheld the long-standing 2016 Kenai Refuge regulations that prohibit the hunting of brown bears over bait and require management of the Skilak Loop Wildlife Recreation Area for wildlife viewing and education see Trustees Press Release HERE. The decision confirms that the Fish and Wildlife Service necessarily has the authority to manage wildlife on lands it oversees and to set management priorities within Refuges even if it conflicts with State priorities. Friends and 15 other conservation organizations intervened on behalf of the DOI to secure this major victory against those who blindly promote trophy hunting and predator control on our refuges and other public lands. Again, we received outstanding legal representation by Trustees for Alaska!
 
Over 45,000 individual comments were submitted to FWS during the two public comment periods on the proposed revisions to the Kenai Refuge regulations, which would allow hunting of brown bears over bait and eliminate federal trapping regulations and management. We understand that Washington officials feverously pushed to complete the required analysis of this massive number of comments in hopes of ramming through the regulations prior to the change in administration. There are numerous problems with the process and the details of the proposed regulations that may require major revisions and a possible EIS. It appears that these issues may not be adequately resolved before the January 20 inauguration and the installation of a conservation friendly DOI and FWS.

You can read more about this issue on our website.
 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officially issued its call for nominations for oil and gas leasing November 17, starting a 30-day comment period (ending Dec. 17th) where groups and individuals can state their opinions about areas/tracts BLM should or should not offer and what the agency needs to consider prior to doing so.  See the Call For Nominations and Comments  here. Friends plans to sign on a group comment to be assembled by Trustees.

We heard that the BLM will announce this week that they will hold a lease sale with bids to be opened on January 6, hoping to issue leases prior to a change in administration. It is an unprecedented maneuver to call for bids in the middle of the period for the public to formally comment on the call for nominations, and it may be a violation of the public process.  They will also be issuing the draft Incidental Harassment Authorization related to polar bears and the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) seismic proposal for public review, as BLM continues to process the permit for seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain that KIC hopes to begin this month. 

We urge all Alaskans to voice their opposition to oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge.  Since BLM is not accepting electronic comments, written comments must be mailed and received by December 17.  Mail to: State Director, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska State Office, 222 West 7th Avenue, Mailstop 13, Anchorage, AK 99513-7504.
 
The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) continued their highly successful meetings with financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts. Bank of America and TD Canada Trust joined more than 24 major financial institutions that will not fund resource development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ARDC has continued their pressure on Chevron Oil and insurance companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic. 

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

We have no specific news on the State of Alaska application to FWS to construct a road through the Refuge under the theory that they are entitled to access to inholdings under ANILCA 1110(b). The State needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps and will seek other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation. There are NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. Trustees for Alaska is closely monitoring this and will develop whatever is needed to respond to this latest insult to Izembek!

Pebble Mine

The Pebble Partnership received a knockout blow when the Army Corps of Engineers denied the mine permit because the Pebble Project failed to provide satisfactory mitigation plans for the proposed mine. We are hopeful that this ill-conceived, destructive project is finally moribund, but such promises of short-term financial riches have a tendency to be rejuvenated and need to be carefully watched.

Mulchatna Caribou

We have no specific update on the declining Mulchatna caribou herd that ranges over a huge area of Western Alaska and encompasses large portions of the Togiak and Yukon Delta Refuges. The State is asking to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to federal lands within the refuges. However, this is not consistent with FWS management practices and is unlikely to achieve the State’s hopes of increasing the caribou population. Since the declines in the caribou numbers are most likely due to human predation and smaller impacts of habitat loss and other factors, FWS may mount a major effort to inform the local subsistence hunters about the problems of overharvest and enlist their support for a moratorium on hunting caribou. Fortunately, there seems to be an overabundant moose population in the vicinity of the Yukon Delta Refuge that could help to alleviate the resulting reduction in food supply that would accompany a hunting moratorium. Unfortunately, there is no such overabundance of moose around the Togiak Refuge.




Open post

And it continues, November Advocacy Update


  by David Raskin, Friends Board President
Kenai Regulations

Over 34,000 public comments were submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) during the initial comment period, in addition to tens of thousands of petitions submitted in opposition to the proposed rule. After overwhelming opposition to the proposed rule and requests by our coalition to reopen the comment period and hold public hearings. FWS added an additional 30 day comment period which ended November 9 and scheduled three virtual hearings on Oct. 26-28. In the first two hearings, 64 people testified against the new rule, including many Alaskans who live near and use Kenai Refuge for recreation. Only four people spoke in support of the proposed rule, which included two Safari Club representatives and a state official. After two days of overwhelming opposition to the proposed rule, officials in Washington, DC ordered the cancelation of the third scheduled hearing, which left many opponents of the proposed regulation unable to testify. We understand that Washington officials are concerned about being able to complete their analysis of this massive number of comments in time to push through the regulations prior to a change in administration. To learn more visit our website.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

We are still waiting to hear about the expected call of nominations for oil leases. The window is narrowing for this process to unfold before a new administration is installed in January. 
 
Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) has applied to conduct seismic exploration on a portion of the Coastal Plain this winter. They are contracting with SAExploration, the same company that was supposed to do the seismic work under KIC and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s 2018 seismic application. The original proposal was limited to ~90,000 acres of KIC/ASRC lands, but BLM recently posted the plan of operations and proposal on their website and it includes both the private KIC/ASRC lands and roughly 450,000 acres of federal lands on the Coastal Plain. The agency also announced a 14-day comment period that closed November 6, 2020. 

https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2003258/510
 
It’s important to note that this is just the BLM permit; there is an additional approval required from FWS related to polar bears and the Marine Mammal Protection Act that we have not seen yet.
 
The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign’s, (ARDC) highly successful meetings with financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts reached another milestone with the announcement by the Bank of Montreal, 8th largest bank in North America, that they will not fund drilling in the Arctic Refuge. This is another success that we hope will encourage other Canadian financial institutions to take this step to protect the Arctic and their people who depend on it for subsistence and traditional ways of life. ARDC has continued their pressure on Bank of America and oil and gas development companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic. 
 
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

The State of Alaska has officially applied to FWS to construct a road through the Refuge under the theory that they are entitled to access to inholdings under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) 110(b). Applicants are the State, the Borough, and the City on behalf of the residents of King Cove. According to the application, the State will apply to the Army Corps in roughly 2 weeks for a Clean Water Act 404 permit and will seek other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation. There are NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. Trustees for Alaska is closely monitoring this and will develop whatever is needed to respond to this latest insult to Izembek!
 

Pebble Mine

The Pebble Partnership took a big hit following the disclosures of their behind-the -scenes antics that provoked the ire of Senator Sullivan and others. We hope that the Army Corps of Engineers will stick to their recent position that the Pebble Project failed to provide satisfactory mitigation plans for the proposed mine. The Corps gave the Pebble project 90 days to propose stream and wetland mitigation plans, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to put together such a plan in the next 60 days because of lack of options. 
 

Mulchatna Caribou

We have no update on the declining Mulchatna caribou herd that ranges over a huge area of Western Alaska and encompasses large portions of the Togiak and Yukon Delta Refuges. The State is asking to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to lands within the refuges. However, this is not consistent with FWS management practices and is unlikely to achieve the State’s hopes of increasing the caribou population. Declines in the caribou numbers are most likely due to human predation and smaller impacts of habitat loss and other factors, and FWS is not likely to allow the State to kill predators on refuge lands.




Open post

Proposed Rule Changes Threaten Kenai Refuge Wildlife and Visitors

There have been two different attacks on wildlife management direction on the Kenai Refuge.  Both aimed at overthrowing parts of the 2016 “Kenai Rule” which formalized many long standing management practices on the Refuge.  One is a lawsuit by Safari Club and the State of Alaska against the Department of the Interior (Fish & Wildlife Service) seeking to overthrow aspects of the Kenai Regulations on the grounds they were not compatible with state regulations.  The second is the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own attempt to revise the Kenai Regulations to conform to state practices under pressure from the State and DOI. 

What’s New?

1.  The lawsuit was settled in Fish & Wildlife’s favor on all counts except shooting within the Kenai River Corridor which was sent back for further documentation.  On November 13, 2020, the Federal District Court in Anchorage ruled against the State of Alaska and Safari Clubs International and upheld the 2016 Kenai Refuge regulations that prohibit the hunting of brown bears over bait and require management of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area for wildlife viewing and education.  See Trustees Press Release HERE. The decision confirms that the Fish and Wildlife Service necessarily has the authority to manage wildlife on lands it oversees and to set management priorities within Refuges even if it conflicts with State priorities. Friends and 15 other conservation organizations intervened on behalf of the DOI to secure this major victory and were represented by Trustees for Alaska. 
 
2.  Overwhelming public comment opposed DOI’s attempt to change the Kenai Refuge Regulations.  Over 45,000 individual comments were submitted to FWS during the two public comment periods on the proposed revisions to the Kenai Refuge regulations.  68 testified verbally at a two night virtual public meeting at the end of October.  Only four testified in favor of the regulation change.  All others were opposed.
 
3.  Since the comment period closed November 9, we have been waiting to hear.  We understand that Washington officials feverously pushed to complete the required analysis of this massive number of comments in hopes of ramming through the regulations prior to the change in administration.


What is the Issue?

The State of Alaska in the past decade has not been happy with some aspects of the Kenai Refuge’s management of game animals.  The State contends that the State should have all authority.  In the lawsuit brought in 2016 by the State with the Safari Club against the Fish & Wildlife Service, the State sought to overturn the refuge regulations banning brown bear hunting over bait, management of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area for wildlife viewing and photography with a prohibition on trapping and general hunting and prohibiting shooting in the Kenai and Russian River Corridor much of the year.  


The proposed regulation changes brought forth by Fish & Wildlife Service under pressure from the State and a sympathetic Department of the Interior sought to accomplish some of those same goals – opening the refuge to brown bear hunting and allowing shooting most of the year in the Kenai River corridor.  In addition, the proposed changes would remove all Refuge control of trapping.  The Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area management was not part of the proposed regulation changes however.


These changes would seriously weaken refuge regulations that were developed through extensive public processes and agreements with the state that cover 40 years.  Brown bears, trapping, visitor access, and public safety on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge would be affected.


The proposed regulations were released in June 2020 with a comment period that closed in August without a public hearing.  Over 34,000 comments were received, in addition to tens of thousands of petition signers. Friends as well as other conservation groups requested a public hearing and that request was granted.
Two nights of hearings were held in October and an additional 30 day comment period ended November 9.


The conflict between State and Refuge wildlife management that led to this stems from the different mandates of the two agencies. Federal laws and regulations require National Wildlife Refuges to be managed for natural biodiversity and a balance of predators and prey. The State mandate of maximum sustained yield of species such as moose and caribou is the justification for their predator control programs, especially killing bears and wolves. In contrast to the State, Refuges must also consider user conflicts, such as trappers vs. hikers with dogs and hunters vs. wildlife viewers and recreationists.


The Proposed Regulations

.  
Proposed Changes would replace the Refuge trapping regulations with the less restrictive State regulations. The Refuge trapping regulations were developed in the 1980s in response to trapping abuses under State management such as dogs and eagles caught in traps, traps left out after the close of the season, traps along popular trails and roads, no accountability because traps were not marked, traps that were rarely checked leaving animals to suffer, and overharvest of some species. The Refuge would not be allowed to manage trapping on the Refuge. Under State Management these changes to trapping on the Refuge would occur:
  • Eliminate the no-trap buffers around trailheads, campgrounds, refuge roads, and visitor facilities (Ski Hill Road) which protected visitors and dogs

  • Eliminate the requirement to regularly check traps which minimized undue suffering and facilitated release of non-target animals, such as moose, bear, and eagles

  • Eliminate the requirement to hide bait from view which protected eagles and other birds of prey

  • Eliminate the special provisions which prevented overharvest of lynx, fox, marten, and beaver

  • Eliminate prohibition of toothed-leg hold traps which reduced suffering and facilitated release of non-target species

  • Eliminate Trapper Orientation, trap marking and a Refuge trapping permit which ensured accountability and established best practices

All of these safeguards would be eliminated under State management of trapping. The new rule will apply to all of the Refuge, except the Skilak Recreation Area which has its own set of rules.
Proposed Changes include brown bear hunting over bait. Hunters would be allowed to use human food to lure bears to bait stations up the Swanson River Road. This would endanger visitors and oil field workers as only the largest bear to visit the bait station will be killed, leaving other bears to roam with their newly-acquired taste for doughnuts and cooking oil. This would be a trophy hunt only as hunters are not required to utilize the meat of brown bears.  
Other provisions of the Proposed Changes open the Russian and Kenai River corridors to shooting from November 1 to May 1.  This would benefit bear hunters at the expense of late season fishermen and watchable wildlife viewers.  Other provisions of the proposed changes would allow bicycles, game carts, and ATVs on some roads, trails, and lakes.  

Lynx trapped out-of-season, Kenai NWR

Link

Lynx trapped out-of-season, Kenai NWR


How You Can Learn More


How You Can Help

 Join Friends and stand with us to defend the Kenai Refuge. 


Friends Position
You can read our five page letter submitted during the comment period on the proposed regulations which details our positions and reasoning.

We are opposed to hunting brown bear over bait because it is incompatible with the purposes of the refuge, would have significant impacts on a unique brown bear population that is already under threat, and creates human safety issues.

We are opposed to having the State take over trapping management on the refuge. State trapping management is incompatible with the purposes of the Refuge because it does not safeguard species at risk, protect birds of prey, minimize unintended take and animal suffering, protect visitors and their pets, and require accountability from trappers.

We believe the Environmental Assessment is flawed, and does not meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Alaska Lands Act (ANILCA), and the Refuge Improvement Act. The required Compatibility Determinations were not completed for trapping. We believe that preparation of a full Draft Environmental Impact Statement is required for changes of this magnitude.

We joined the lawsuit as intervenors because we are opposed to hunting brown bear over bait as explained above, and we support the Refuge's management of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area for wildlife viewing and photography.  We are opposed to opening the Skilak area to trapping and general hunting.  



 


 

More questions? Contact us at info@alaskafriends.org

 

Recording of a panel of retired refuge staff discussing this issue at our July 21, 2020 meeting:





Open post

Kenai Public Hearing Scheduled, Comment Period Reopens

Thanks to all of your comments critical of the proposed changes to trapping, bear baiting, and other Kenai Refuge regulations plus letters from Friends and other conservation partners requesting a public meeting, the Department of the Interior granted our request for a hearing and another 30-day comment period.   The comment period is open until November 9, and the virtual public hearing will be October 26 at 4 pm, AKDT. 

Testimony at the virtual meeting is important because our passion on this issue took the other side by surprise and may bring them out in force.  You must pre-register for the meeting at this link.   You can  read the Federal Register Notice here.  Comment electronically here.  Comments you submitted in the first round prior to August 10 will be considered in the final analysis, but we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to raise other issues and describe how these changes will affect your personal enjoyment of the refuge.

Under pressure from the State of Alaska, the Department of the Interior required the Fish & Wildlife Service to propose new rules that would negatively affect brown bears, trapping, visitor access, and public safety on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  These changes would seriously weaken refuge regulations that were developed through extensive public processes and agreements with the state that cover 40 years. The proposed rules were released in June with a comment period that closed in August without a public hearing.  Over 34,000 comments were received, in addition to tens of thousands of petition signers.

Proposed Rules would allow brown bear hunting over bait for the first time.   Hunters could use human food to lure bears to bait stations up the Swanson River Road, jeopardizing the safety of visitors and oil field workers.  This unsporting hunting method is highly effective at killing bears and will have detrimental consequences on the refuge’s brown bear population.

Proposed Rules would open new areas to trapping and eliminate the safeguards in the refuge trapping program.  The Kenai Refuge would no longer be allowed to manage trapping on the refuge and the state, with it lax trapping rules, would take over resulting in these negative impacts:

  • Elimination of the 1 mile no-trap buffer around trailheads, campgrounds and roads
  • Elimination of special provisions to prevent trapping birds of prey
  • Elimination of provisions to prevent overharvest of species of concern
  • Elimination of required refuge permits, trapper orientation, trap marking and trap checking
  • Elimination of the ban on toothed leg-hold traps

Other provisions of the Proposed Rules would allow bicycles, game carts, and ATVs on some roads, frozen lakes, and trails and permit the discharge of firearms along the Kenai and Russian Rivers from November 1 to May 1. This would endanger public safety, increase the killing of watchable wildlife, and seriously degrade visitor experiences. 

Visit the Kenai Regulations page on our website  for a chart comparing existing regulations to these changes, information on how to comment non-electronically, advice on how to submit effective comments and more background information.




Open post

Advocacy Report October 2020

By David Raskin, Friends President


Kenai Regulations

We were successful in forcing the DOI to reopen the comment period for 30 days beginning on October 9 and schedule a virtual hearing on October 26. See the lead article in this newsletter for details. This major effort was led by the Alaska Wilderness Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, and Alaska Friends. 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

We are still waiting to hear about the expected call of nominations for oil leases. The window is narrowing for this process to unfold before a new administration is installed in January.

The village of Kaktovik and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation are exploring ways to drill for oil and gas on the inholdings in the Coastal Plain. They are planning to do seismic exploration this winter on their lands in the eastern area of the Coastal Plain. They will need to get permits from the USFWS, and the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) and Friends will be monitoring any developments and will take action if needed.

The ARDC campaign’s highly successful meetings with financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts reached another milestone with the announcement by the Royal Bank of Canada that they will not fund drilling in the Arctic Refuge. This is a major development that we hope will encourage other Canadian financial institutions to take this step to protect the arctic and their people who depend on it for subsistence and traditional ways of life. ARDC has continued their pressure on Bank of America and oil and gas development companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

The latest development is a refurbished effort by the State of Alaska to obtain a road right-of-way to connect inholdings in King Cove with Cold Bay. This is a new tactic to represent individual landowners in King Cove that is very complicated and hopefully will fail to meet the requirements for standing. The State has been interested in doing this for many years, and Trustees for Alaska had addressed this in our recent lawsuits. We feel that it has little chance of success and  remain vigilant for any attempts by the State and the Alaska delegation to sneak something through.

Pebble Mine

The Pebble Partnership took a big hit following the disclosures of their behind-the-scenes antics that provoked the ire of Senator Sullivan and others. We hope that the Army Corps of Engineers will stick to their recent position that the Pebble Project failed to provide satisfactory mitigation plans for the proposed mine. The Corps gave the Pebble project 90 days to propose stream and wetland mitigation plans, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to put together such a plan because of lack of options.

Mulchatna Caribou

The Mulchatna caribou herd has experienced declining populations for several years. It ranges over a huge area of Western Alaska that encompasses large portions of the Togiak and Yukon Delta Refuges. The State is asking to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to lands within the refuges. However, this is not consistent with FWS management practices and is unlikely to achieve the State’s hopes of increasing the caribou population. Declines in the caribou numbers are most likely due to human predation and smaller impacts of habitat loss and other factors, and FWS is not likely to allow the State to kill predators on refuge lands.




Open post

Advocacy Report August 2020

By David Raskin, Friends President


Kenai Regulations

The proposed Kenai Refuge public use, hunting, and trapping regulations and the environmental assessment were released with an August 10 deadline for comments. Friends have been working closely with a group of Alaska organizations to develop comments and recruit people to submit comments and have sent action alerts to their members. Poppy Benson has written many communications, and Becky Hutchison wrote the excellent op-ed that was published in the Peninsula Clarion. I submitted comments for Friends (see link on our website). We have also requested public hearings to rectify the flawed way in which the USFWS has minimized the visibility of the release of this program and failed to schedule public hearings. The Humane Society commissioned a scientific poll of Alaska residents that shows overwhelming opposition to the proposed regulation. This is a very important issue that not only affects the Kenai Refuge but could set undesirable precedents that would negatively impact other refuges.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

We are still waiting for the Secretary of Interior to issue the Record of Decision (ROD). The biological issues and uncertainty of a successful lease sale may be slowing its release by DOI. There has been no news to date, but we expect to see the ROD possibly by September.    

The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) lobbyists were again successful in their efforts to have minimum bid language included in the House Interior Appropriations bill. The language basically requires them to meet the stated minimum for how much they need to raise for a lease sale. If they do not achieve the minimum bids, they cannot use the funds. This presents a major problem for drilling proponents to have a successful lease sale, and we owe a big thank you to Representative Betty McCollum for shepherding this critical amendment through her committee. 

The ARDC campaign’s highly successful meetings with executives of oil companies, insurance carriers, and financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts. They have now focused on pressuring Bank of America and oil and gas development companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

Since the June 1, 2020 Federal District Court decision nullified the proposed land exchange with King Cove, there has been no news of any actions by road proponents. Any new attempt to resurrect the road would require an act of Congress and a signature by the president. Trustees for Alaska and all of our conservation partners remain vigilant for any attempts by the Alaska delegation to have a rider added to other legislation.

Ambler Road

Soon after the State of Alaska approved spending another $500,000 of taxpayers funds, a coalition of concertation groups filed suit to stop this damaging road from being built. It would invade the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and have the potential to disrupt wildlife and habitat that could have major negative impacts on the national park and nearby wildlife refuges. We hope that the lawsuit will halt this costly and destructive project.




Open post

Great American Outdoors Act to Benefit Alaska Refuges

Passage and signing of the Great American Outdoors Act last week was a big win for National Wildlife Refuges.  About 95 million per year for 5 years paid out of federal oil and gas receipts will go to the system nationwide to address the maintenance backlog.  Our partner, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, was instrumental in advocating for this bill.  

Across Alaska, nearly all 16 National Wildlife Refuges will receive funding for maintenance repairs. Facility upgrades are the main focus, such as outhouse construction, bunkhouse repairs, visitor center revitalization, and warehouse construction. Facilities damaged over the years from river floods and seismic activity will be given priority. Other projects will directly benefit visitors such as trail upgrades and improved river access.

Remoteness and extreme weather make regular maintenance both essential and expensive. Rarely is there enough money in annual budgets to cover maintenance needs resulting in a large backlog of unfunded projects.  The Great American Outdoors Act, which will address most of the backlog, will ensure that Alaska refuge’s buildings, trails, and other infrastructure will continue to provide benefits for staff and visitors for years to come.



Open post

Advocacy Report July 2020

By David Raskin, Friends Board President

Except for the release of the proposed regulations for the Kenai Refuge, it has been relatively quiet in terms of new developments.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge – Regulations

The proposed Kenai Refuge public use, hunting, and trapping regulations and the environmental assessment were released with an August 10 deadline for comments. Please see this post for detailed information about this critical issue and how to submit comments. This is a very important issue that not only affects the Kenai Refuge but could set undesirable precedents that could negatively impact other refuges.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

We are still waiting for the Secretary of Interior to issue the Record of Decision (ROD). The biological issues and uncertainty of a successful lease sale may be causing rethinking at DOI. However, there has been no news to date.    

The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) lobbyists were again successful in their efforts to have minimum bid language included in the House Interior Appropriations bill. The language basically requires them to meet the stated minimum for how much they need to raise for a lease sale. If they do not achieve the minimum bids, they cannot use the funds. This presents a major problem for drilling proponents to have a successful lease sale, and we owe a big thank you to Representative Betty McCollum for shepherding this critical amendment through her committee. 

The ARDC campaign’s highly successful meetings with executives of oil companies and financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts have now focused on pressuring oil and gas development companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

On June 1, the Federal District Court issued a resounding defeat to the proponents of the Izembek land exchange by nullifying the pending land exchange with King Cove. This decision hopefully puts an end to almost four decades of unsuccessful attempts to invade the Izembek Wilderness. Any new attempt to resurrect the road would require an act of Congress and a signature by the president. Trustees for Alaska and all of our conservation partners remain vigilant for any attempts by the Alaska delegation to have a rider added to other legislation.




Izembek Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 2, 2020

Contacts:

David Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, davidc.raskin@me.com, 425-209-9009

Gwen Dobbs, director of media relations, Defenders of Wildlife, gdobbs@defenders.com, 202-329-9295

Corey Himrod, Senior Communications Manager, Alaska Wilderness League, Corey@alaskawild.org, 202-266-0426

Fran Mauer, representative of Alaska Chapter Wilderness Watch, fmauer@mosquitonet.com, 907-455-6829 or 907-978-1109

Dawnell Smith, communications director, Trustees for Alaska,

dsmith@trustees.org, 907-433-2013

Court shuts down Interior’s second illegal land deal with King Cove Corp

Ruling sustains protections for vital wetlands in Izembek and for public lands everywhere

A federal District Court decision released late yesterday resoundingly shut down the Interior Department’s second attempt at an illegal land exchange with the King Cove Corporation to make way for a road through vital protected wetlands in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.   

“For the second time, the Court has told the road proponents that invading the Izembek Wilderness and damaging the biological heart of the Refuge to build an unnecessary and expensive road is unacceptable,” said David C. Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. “Let us hope that this decades-long, misguided effort is finally over, and the natural habitat and wildlife that depend on the Izembek Refuge will continue to be protected in perpetuity.”

Trustees for Alaska filed the lawsuit in January 2020 on behalf of nine groups. A court ruling in March 2019 voided Interior’s previous land swap agreement, nearly identical to the Agreement vacated by the Court yesterday. Interior appealed the court’s decision in the first lawsuit, but then entered into another unlawful land deal behind closed doors while that appeal was pending. The second land swap deal had violated the same laws as the first, but would have been even more damaging by allowing commercial use of any future road.

“The Court found that Interior broke the law again to benefit commercial interests, with no regard for the consequences to public lands, water, or wildlife,” said Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska. “Interior’s continued and failed attempts to dodge the laws mandating protections of our National Wildlife Refuges is an insult to the American public. We are thrilled the Court rejected this corrupt and illegal land exchange, finding that it is contrary to the purposes of Izembek and ANILCA, and that such an exchange could not be done without Congressional approval. We hope this is last time we need to ask a Court to reject such an exchange.”.”

Like the first lawsuit, the second one argued that Interior cannot use the land exchange provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to gut a National Wildlife Refuge and congressionally designated wilderness. Groups also argued that Interior circumvented public process, environmental review, and congressional approval.

Commercial and private interests have advocated for a road for decades. Under the Trump Administration, Interior has made repeated attempts to push through a land swap intended to trade Refuge and Wilderness lands to make way for a road.

The Court held that Interior violated ANILCA in two ways. First, the exchange does not meet ANILCA’s conservation purposes or the specific purposes of Izembek Refuge to protect wilderness and wildlife values. The court also agreed that the Exchange Agreement is an approval of a transportation system that falls within the ambit of ANILCA Title XI. As a result, Interior could not enter this exchange without approval from Congress and the President. Finally, the Court found — as in the previous lawsuit — that the Secretary failed to provide adequate reasoning to support the change in policy in favor of a land exchange and a road through Izembek.

GROUP STATEMENTS:

“The court has seen through the Trump administration’s illegal attempt to trade away the globally-renowned wildlife habitat and congressionally-designated wilderness lands of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This is a victory for an ecologically irreplaceable area and the black brant, Emperor geese, brown bears and stunning array of other wildlife that call it home.”

“The wilderness values of the Izembek Wildlife Refuge are irreplaceable. Unlawfully giving away public land to build a road right through its heart that could be used for commercial use is characteristic of this administration’s constant catering to private interests,” said Kristen Miller, Conservation Director at Alaska Wilderness League. “We applaud the court’s judgment today. Building a road through federal wilderness would have been a bad deal for taxpayers and a bad deal for the environment, especially when there are other, safer options available.”

“Once again, an illegal land trade scheme by the Trump administration to build a road across the Izembek Refuge Wilderness has been stopped by a court decision.” said Fran Mauer, Alaska Chapter of Wilderness Watch. “This decision not only protects the incomparable wildlife and wilderness of Izembek, but it also helps to preserve the integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System from a harmful precedent.”

“Today’s court decision once again holds the administration accountable for another blatant attempt to circumvent public process and environmental review,” said Sarah Greenberger, interim chief conservation officer and senior vice president for conservation policy at National Audubon Society. “Nearly every single Pacific Brant stops over in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge during migration each year. Paving the way for a road through this Refuge would put this bird population and others at significant risk. Any attempt to skirt the law and disrupt this vital habitat will be met with our strong opposition.”

“A road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would be a costly and ineffective use of taxpayer dollars, and would severely damage this important wilderness,” said Dan Ritzman, Director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Water Wildlife Campaign. “This deal has been repeatedly studied and consistently rejected for good reason, and we’re glad to see the court reject it once again.”

“Great news today. The Courts have once again protected the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge when the Administration has tried so hard to do the opposite,” says Geoffrey Haskett, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.  “The Administration keeps trying to plow this road through this magnificent wilderness ignoring all previous decisions to protect it. The rule of law prevails and the Izembek Refuge remains protected. This is an enormous victory protecting an incredible wilderness.”

“This is an enormous victory for one of the most spectacular places on the planet,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court shot down the Trump administration’s arrogance and hubris. We’re so grateful the judge recognized that there is absolutely no basis to overturn the decades of science and study that has already been done. All of this analysis agreed that bulldozing a road through the heart of Izembek would devastate one of the world’s most ecologically significant wildlife refuges.”




Posts navigation

1 2 3 4 5