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Proposed Rule Changes Threaten Kenai Refuge Wildlife and Visitors

What’s New?

1. Public virtual hearing
October 26, 4 p.m. AKDT
. Register for meeting (required)

2. Comment Period Reopened until November 9
Comment Electronically

3. Wildlife Wednesday: How to Stay Safe During the Kenai Peninsula’s Trapping Season, October 21, 7 pm, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, zoom. Learn about kinds of traps, trapping areas and how to free your dog.

4. Learn How to Use Your Voice for Alaska’s Wildlife, October 23, 12 pm. Training on making effective written and oral comments.

What is the Issue?

Under pressure from the State of Alaska, the Department of the Interior required the Fish & Wildlife Service to propose new regulations 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 regulations 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. Friends as well as other conservation groups requested a public hearing and that request has been granted. The hearing is October 26 at 5 pm, and the comment period is open until 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.

In addition to the proposed changes to Refuge regulations, the State and Safari Club International filed suit in 2016 to overturn existing Refuge regulations. Friends is one of 15 intervenors on behalf of the defendants in the lawsuit that is pending in the courts.

The Proposed Regulations

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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 would occur:

  • Eliminate the no-trap buffers around trailheads, campgrounds, refuge roads, and visitor facilities to protect visitors and dogs

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

  • Eliminate the requirement to hide bait from view to protect eagles and other birds

  • Eliminate special provisions to prevent overharvest of lynx, fox, marten, and beaver

  • Eliminate prohibition of toothed-leg hold traps to reduce suffering and facilitate 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.

Other provisions of the Proposed Changes would allow bicycles, game carts, and ATVs on some roads, trails, and lakes, but these are less controversial. However, allowing shooting along the Kenai and Russian Rivers from November 1 to May 1 threatens public safety and would increase the take of watchable wildlife in this area.

Lynx trapped out-of-season, Kenai NWR

Link

Lynx trapped out-of-season, Kenai NWR

How You Can Learn More

How You Can Help

1. Attend the October 26, 4 p.m. virtual public hearing and comment. Register here

2. Submit written comments. If you commented during the first round this summer, your comments will be considered in the final analysis. However, your comments will have greater impact if you can add new items and personalize them by describing your experiences on the Refuge and what the refuge means to you. Comment on-line or by mail by 7:59 pm ADT, November 9:

OR Comment by Mail to

Public Comments Processing
Attn: FWS-R7-NWRS-2017-0058
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
MS: JAO/1N, 5275
Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803

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

Friends Position on the Proposed Regulations

You can read our five page letter submitted during the first comment period 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 create 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.

 


 

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:


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.”

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Advocacy Report June 2020


By: David Raskin, Friends President

We had a HUGE victory on Izembek (see below). Otherwise, it has been relatively quiet in terms of new developments.

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 ARDC campaign’s meetings with executives of oil companies and financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts are now focused on pressuring Bank of America to join the other 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. The decision essentially blocks any future attempts without congressional legislation signed by the president. The Izembek press release by Trustees for Alaska describes this marvelous decision in more detail. This decision hopefully puts an end to almost four decades of unsuccessful attempts to invade the Izembek Wilderness. We are extremely grateful to Trustees and all of our conservation partners for their untiring efforts to finally achieve this wonderful result that protects and preserves the Izembek Refuge for the foreseeable future.

Kenai Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

The proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations still have not been released, but we continue to expect them soon. Meanwhile the continuing intervention in the litigation by Friends and our conservation partners supports the effort to protect brown bears and reasonable hunting restrictions promulgated for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness in Alaska.

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Advocacy Report May 2020

By: David Raskin, Friends President 

Secretary of Interior Bernhardt has instructed DOI personnel to push forward in spite of the Covid-19 epidemic and shutdowns. However, the dramatic drop in oil consumption and the glut of oil that has strained the US storage capacity have increased the problems for the Trump administration’s push to expand oil and gas development.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

We still have no specific update on when the Secretary of Interior will issue the Record of Decision (ROD). There are indications that DOI is having difficulty overcoming the problems posed by the threats to polar bears that would accompany oil and gas activity on the Coastal Plain. The excellent study authored by scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (Seismic survey design and potential impacts to maternal polar bear dens) demonstrates the extreme difficulty of legally conducting oil exploration in critical denning habitat for the threatened Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears, which increasingly den on the coastal plain due to the climate-driven loss of sea ice. This research compounds the many problems faced by the proposed oil leasing program.

The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign’s meetings with executives of oil companies and financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts continue to produce impressive results. Four of the five major US financial institutions (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo) have now adopted policies that prohibit financing of oil and gas development in the Arctic, only Bank of America has not acted. The crash of oil prices has created problems for the pending sale of BP’s Alaska assets to Hilcorp. These are very positive developments in the decades-long battle to save and preserve the Arctic Refuge and its subsistence and cultural values!

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published proposed regulations in the Federal Register to improve hunting and fishing opportunities across the National Wildlife Refuge System.  Included in this broader package is a proposal that would prohibit the use of domestic sheep, goats, and camelids (i.e., llamas and alpacas) on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge lands due to concerns about disease transmission to Dall Sheep and other wildlife. Please click here to review the proposed regulation and submit comments by June 8, 2020. There will be a virtual hearing Wednesday, May 13 starting at 3:00 PM (AST). Register in advance for this public hearing here.   

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing the information needed to join the meeting. 

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

It seems that the Court is preparing to issue a decision in our federal lawsuit to stop the land transfer and road, and we look to another ruling in our favor. In the meantime, DOI issued a contract for the cultural and contaminants survey that is planned for September-October. No other on-the-ground activities are planned for the coming summer field season. We will provide updates as this lawsuit works its way through the legal process.

Kenai Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

The proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations still have not been released, but we continue to expect them soon. Meanwhile the continuing intervention in the litigation by Friends and our conservation partners supports the effort to protect brown bears and reasonable hunting restrictions promulgated for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness in Alaska.

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Advocacy Report April 2020

By: David Raskin, Friends President

In spite of the Covid-19 epidemic and shutdowns, the Trump administration continues to push forward with expanded oil and gas development, and the State of Alaska and their allies continue their efforts to promote the Izembek Road, increase hunting of bears and other predators, and build the highly destructive, proposed Ambler road.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

We have no specific update on when the Secretary of Interior will issue the Record of Decision (ROD). However, a recent development in the Arctic Refuge involves the Kaktovik school that burned down in February. The Arctic Refuge issued a temporary permit that allowed modules for temporary classrooms to be transported across the ice through the Arctic Refuge to Kaktovik. The success of that emergency effort has prompted Kaktovik to consider applying for a multi-year permit that could lead to oil and gas development on the Coastal Plain. We will monitor the situation and take any needed action to prevent this from happening.   

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published proposed regulations in the Federal Register to improve hunting and fishing opportunities across the National Wildlife Refuge System.  Included in this broader package is a proposal that would prohibit the use of domestic sheep, goats, and camelids (i.e., llamas and alpacas) on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge lands due to concerns about disease transmission to Dall Sheep and other wildlife. This management action was identified in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Revised Comprehensive Conservation Planwhich was finalized in 2015 after an extensive public process in which Friends participated. Please click here to review the proposed regulation and submit comments by June 8, 2020. 

Our conservation and Native Alaskan partners continue their highly successful outreach events throughout the country, and there have been many more great pieces in various media. The ARDC campaign’s meetings with executives of oil companies and financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts continue to produce impressive results. Also, the crash of oil prices has led  Morgan Stanley and other financial institutions, including Wells Fargo, to raise questions about financial support of the sale of BP’s Alaska assets to Hilcorp. This could have major impacts on oil and gas development in Alaska. We continue to make progress in the decades-long battle to save and preserve the Arctic Refuge and its subsistence and cultural values!

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

The State of Alaska and King Cove, defendants in our federal lawsuit to stop the land transfer and road, requested the Court to hold oral arguments on our motion to void the land transfer. However, the Court promptly denied their request and stated that the documents already submitted provide a sufficient basis for a decision by the Court. It seems that the Court may be preparing to issue a decision, and we look to another ruling in our favor. We will provide updates as this lawsuit works its way through the legal process.

Kenai Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

The proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations still have not been released, but we continue to expect them soon. Meanwhile the continuing intervention in the litigation by Friends and our conservation partners supports the effort to protect brown bears and reasonable hunting restrictions promulgated for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness in Alaska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) promulgated these regulations, which have been challenged by the State of Alaska, the Safari Club International, and a coalition called the Alaska Professional Hunters Association. At issue is a set of regulations finalized by the FWS in May 2016 that codified several long-standing, common-sense management decisions, collectively known as the Kenai Rule. The State and the Safari Club challenged the following three parts of the Kenai Rule:

  1. To continue the longstanding prohibition on hunting brown bears over bait in the Refuge,
  2. To emphasize wildlife viewing and environmental education in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area (WRA) within the Refuge, including restrictions on some hunting and trapping on two percent of the Refuge, and
  3. To extend the FWS’s typical safety buffer regarding the use of firearms in high-use areas to protect public safety in the Kenai River and Russian River corridors.

Trustees for Alaska, on behalf of the conservation organizations, recently filed a cross-motion with a supporting memorandum in support of the FWS rule and a memorandum in opposition to the State and Safari Club brief. The State and Safari Club reply is due mid-April, DOJ’s reply in mid-May, and our reply on May 18. In the meantime, Trustees was scheduled to get the Plaintiffs’ brief challenging the Park Service regulation on April 6. DOJ’s cross-motion is due June 15, ours is due June 22.

Ambler Road

Bureau of Land Management officials maintained their support for the most direct proposed road route to Alaska Interior mining prospects in their final environmental review of the plan published March 27, the same day leaders of the state-owned development bank allotted $35 million for future work on the project amid sharp public criticism. The 211-mile industrial road concept preferred by BLM Alaska officials to reach the Ambler mining district was proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in early 2017 when they submitted federal permit applications for the project. This road could have major impacts on nearby wildlife refuges, national parks, and other valuable environmental habitats and wildlife.

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