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Recording data in a small notebook

September Advocacy Report: Waiting for an Announcement

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Department of the Interior announced that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon. We have not heard who is being considered and await an official announcement.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The bad news is the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act failed to include repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases.  The good news is that Knik Arm Services canceled its lease in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Along with Regenerate Alaska’s recent lease withdrawal, this is another step by oil and gas interests to walk away from drilling on lands sacred to the Gwich’in people. Only the State of Alaska’s Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) retains its leases, but the prospect of an oil company acquiring those leases becomes dimmer each year as the regulatory problems and the costs of development in the arctic make such efforts very unattractive. In the meantime, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study required by order of the Secretary. Many conservation organizations, including Friends have intervened on behalf of the government in the federal lawsuit by the AIDEA and the State.


We have no updates on the threat to the Coastal Plain by the submission of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area and the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas.

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

As lead plaintiff in this case, Friends worked closely with Deborah Williams (former Alaska Special Assistant to Secretary Babbitt for Alaska), Nicole Whittington-Evans (Alaska Director for Defenders of Wildlife), and others to develop options and strategy to undo this extremely dangerous decision. These efforts resulted in amicus briefs by President Jimmy Carter, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and former Interior Solicitor John Leshy. These developments influenced Trustees for Alaska to petition the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc, (when all the judges of a court hear a case). On May 16, the Court ordered the defendants to file a response to our petition, which has been filed along with their supporting amicus briefs. We are hopeful that these developments will be followed by a majority vote of the full Court that grants the en banc rehearing, which we await. A decision to rehear the case would nullify the disastrous panel decision and begin the appeal anew.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Following the welcome news that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) canceled the proposed lease sale for Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development, the Biden administration announced that there will be a new five-year leasing plan that includes the same lease sale. This resurrects the specter of drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and the high risk of oil spills that could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge


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




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August Advocacy Report: Fresh from the ocean

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill that included repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases was torpedoed by Senator Manchin. A minimal reconciliation bill is expected to come before the Senate in August without the Arctic Refuge oil and gas repeal. There is a possibility that an amendment to include the repeal might be adopted, but the chances are not good. If Manchin opposes it, the Democrats will need at least one Republican vote to adopt it. However, it appears that the Secretary of Interior has the power to cancel the lease sale, but there is much uncertainty in all of this.  In the meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement required by order of the Secretary.

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

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The March 16, 2022, panel decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of defendants’ appeal overturned our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. This disastrous decision rewrote Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to reinstate the land exchange for the road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. The far-reaching implications of this decision on 104 million acres of federal conservation units and lands in Alaska are potentially devastating.
 
As lead plaintiff in this case, Friends worked closely with Deborah Williams (former Alaska Special Assistant to Secretary Babbitt for Alaska), Nicole Whittington-Evans (Alaska Director for Defenders of Wildlife), and others to develop options and strategy to undo this extremely dangerous decision. Following Trustees for Alaska petition the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc, extensive efforts spearheaded by Ms. Williams achieved huge support for the petition by amicus briefs by President Jimmy Carter and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and former Interior Solicitor John Leshy. Trustees also obtained amicus support from a group of 25 law professors. The Court ordered the defendants to expeditiously file a response to our petition, which is the first step toward a possible rehearing. This was very encouraging, and the Department of Justice requested a 30-day extension to file their response and then requested another 30-day extension, both of which the Court granted with the admonition that no more extensions will be granted. Their new deadline to file is August 5, and amicus briefs in support of the defendants must be filed within 10 days. A majority vote of the full Court is required to grant the en banc rehearing, which may take several months for a decision. A decision to rehear the case would nullify the disastrous panel decision and begin the appeal anew. However, if our petition is granted, the Secretary of Interior could withdraw the land exchange, which would end the legal process and leave our district court victory intact.
 
The National Wildlife Refuge Association and Defenders of Wildlife drafted and submitted a letter to Secretary Haaland on behalf of 13 CEOs of national conservation organizations and Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges requesting a meeting with the Secretary to discuss the problems created by the land exchange and the Ninth Circuit decision. . We were granted a 30-minute virtual meeting with the secretary and her key staff that occurred on July 14. The agenda and presentations were superbly organized by the Defenders of Wildlife staff in Anchorage and Washington, DC. The meeting went extremely well, and the notes can be found here. We are hopeful that the meeting will produce positive actions by her.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
After the extremely welcome news that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) canceled the proposed lease sale for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale because of lack of interest by the oil and gas industry, we received the disappointing announcement that the Biden administration has again included a lease sale in the new five-year plan.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
On April 18, 2022, the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a sweeping decision that rejected the appeal of the Kenai Refuge wildlife regulations lodged by Safari Clubs International and the State of Alaska. This decision maintained the Kenai regulations that include a ban on baiting of brown bears and other sensible controls on trapping and predator control. Friends was one of many intervenor-defendants in support of the government. Trustees for Alaska Staff Attorneys Katie Strong and Rachel Briggs did an outstanding job to secure this important victory. However, the State has now petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court for an en banc rehearing of the case. Our attorneys have indicated that they do not feel that the State has made a compelling case for a rehearing, very few of which are granted.

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
We have heard nothing further on Hilcorp’s plans to begin seismic exploration next winter on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge.  There is great concern that this will lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact the world-class wildlife and fisheries and subsistence resources in the Refuge. If our appeal of the Izembek decision fails, it may to lead to administrative actions to facilitate possible oil and gas development by means of a land trade or other mechanism.




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

May Advocacy Report: Seasons Change, We Keep On!

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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




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April Advocacy Report: New leadership, looking forward!

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Izembek Background: 

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

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

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

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




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Polar Bear Cub on his back with one leg raised

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

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Sturgeon Decision
We are unaware of any action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019. Based on this ruling and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska.


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




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February Advocacy Report: Looking forward, working hard

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sturgeon Decision
We are unaware of further action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019. Based on this ruling and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska.




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January Advocacy Report: Changes that may make a difference

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sturgeon Decision
We are unaware of further action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019. Based on this ruling and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska.




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December Advocacy Report: Wildlife refuges are places where a majority of our nation’s animals find the habitat they need to survive.

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The U.S. Senate held a confirmation hearing for Acting Director Martha Williams to become Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We expect that she will be confirmed soon and will be a strong supporter of the Refuges. We still have no word on the possible successor to Regional Director Greg Siekaniec.  The Acting Regional Director is Karen Clark Cogswell, Brian Glaspell will become the Deputy Acting Regional Director, and Socheata Lor will become the Acting Regional Chief of Refuges 


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill was passed by the House and includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases: Section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 is repealed, and any leases issued pursuant to section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 are hereby canceled, and all payments related to the leases shall be returned to the lessee(s) within 30 days of enactment of this section. The legislation is now in the lengthy Senate process and may receive a final vote this year or possibly in January. We expect that the Arctic Refuge lease repeal will remain in the final version of the legislation. In the meantime, the BLM issued the scoping report for the Supplemental EIS on the leasing program. Significantly, the USFWS was elevated to co-manage the Supplemental EIS with BLM. This was a very positive development due to successful efforts by USFWS to play a major role regarding this proposed development on a national wildlife refuge managed by the USFWS! Hopefully, this process will be rendered moot after the Budget Reconciliation becomes law.

The threat to the Coastal Plain concerning the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area continues. The USFWS is waiting for KIC to provide additional information to complete their application. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. Both claims of a surrounded inholding without access ignore the facts that Kaktovik and King Cove have marine access and other options. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS continues its evaluation of Kaktovik’s claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas. Since in-person interviews in Kaktovik must be held as part of the process, it is doubtful that the final report will be completed before next year.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There still is no word from the Court since oral arguments were held before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 4 concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. None of the parties asked for a stay, so we await further word from the Court. 
 
The State had appealed the decision by USFWS that denied the use of helicopters for the Special Use Permits for activities in designated Wilderness. No final decision has been announced by the USFWS Acting Regional Director in Anchorage, but we expect that the appeal will be denied. 

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued the Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. The proposed developments would create drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and pose a high risk of oil spills which could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge. You can provide written comments at: boem.gov/ak258. Click HERE  for more information. The public comment period closes December 13.

Other Refuges
We have no significant updates on Kenai Refuge regulations or Yukon Flats Refuge oil exploration in Doyon inholdings.  The Yukon Delta Refuge closed hunting on the Mulchatna caribou herd, but there are abundant moose to support subsistence hunting. The State continues to monitor predation of the herd with regard to possible predator control in the Yukon Delta and Togiak Refuges. However, existing evidence indicates that predation is not the primary cause of recent declines in the caribou population.




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November Advocacy Report: Some changes are coming

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The Secretary of Interior nominated Acting Director Martha Williams to be Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We expect that she will be a strong supporter of the Refuges. We have no word on the possible successor to Regional Director Greg Siekaniec. Acting Regional Director is Karen Clark Cogswell. 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases. The text of the current House bill: Section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 is repealed, and any leases issued pursuant to section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 are hereby cancelled, and all payments related to the leases shall be returned to the lessee(s) within 30 days of enactment of this section. 

The reconciliation bill has been repeatedly delayed due to negotiations with conservative senators and representatives over their objections about its size and timing and is expected to be taken up by the full House early this month. 

The threat to the Coastal Plain concerning the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area continues. The USFWS review of their application determined that KIC must provide additional information to complete their application. There was a 30-day period for review of an updated application, but we have not heard anything from USFWS. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. Both claims of a surrounded inholding without access ignore the facts that Kaktovik and King Cove have marine access and other options. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The report from the contractor hired to evaluate Kaktovik’s claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas, is scheduled to be completed in December.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There has been no word from the Court since oral arguments were held before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 4 concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. Since Secretary Haaland postponed her trip due to concerns about the high level of Covid-19 infections in Alaska, we have not heard how this might influence the Court’s decision regarding a possible stay of the proceedings. None of the parties asked for a stay, so we await further word from the Court. The State appealed the decision by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that denied the use of helicopters for the Special Use Permits for activities in designated Wilderness. No final decision has been announced by the USFWS Acting Regional Director in Anchorage, but we expect that the appeal will be denied. 

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) for a Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. The proposed developments would create drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and pose a high risk of oil spills which could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge. BOEM will hold virtual public hearings November 16, 17, and 18 and a public comment period which closes December 13. You can register to testify and provide written comments at: boem.gov/ak258. Click HERE  for more information.

Other Refuges

We have no significant updates on Kenai Refuge regulations, Yukon Flats Refuge oil exploration in Doyon inholdings, the Mulchatna caribou herd and possible predator control in Yukon Delta and Togiak Refuges, and the BLM Central Yukon Plan

Sturgeon Decision
We are unaware of further action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019. Based on this ruling and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska.




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