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2020 January Advocacy Report

By: David Raskin, Friends Board President


The Arctic Refuge drilling proposal continues front and center on the national stage, and the administration’s numerous assaults on the environment remain bogged down under the pressures of time, resources, and inadequate scientific studies!


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

There is some news concerning DOI plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The Record of Decision (ROD) continues to be delayed for unannounced reasons and is now delayed until at least sometime in January. Since the lease sale had been planned for December 2019, the delay of the ROD and the necessary waiting periods after its release have pushed any possible lease sale farther into February at the earliest.

There is no word about plans for seismic exploration, which likely cannot occur before the 2020-21 winter, if at all. A recent report published in the Journal of Wildlife Management describes the potential impacts of various seismic scenarios. Even the most restrictive alternative would risk some polar bear mortality. So far, we have not seen a proposed plan for exploration. The warming arctic temperatures have narrowed the window of opportunity for such activities on frozen tundra. However, the State of Alaska appears to be moving forward with seismic exploration on State lands immediately adjacent to the Canning River in the Arctic Refuge.

Our conservation and Native Alaskan partners continue to hold successful outreach events throughout the country, and there have been many great pieces in various media. The 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 producing impressive results. Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, is spearheading this campaign and has recently received national recognition for her great work. We will win this latest in the decades-long battle to save and preserve the Arctic Refuge and its subsistence and cultural values!

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

There is no significant development in the suit filed on August 7, 2019 in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with eight conservation partners. We have not received a ruling from the Court, and 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 have not been released, but we continue to expect them soon. It is likely that the new regulations will allow hunting of brown bears over bait, as well as loosened restrictions on hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and 4-wheel drive access to frozen lakes. It appears that there will be a 30-day comment period, but no public hearings. Recently, the State of Alaska and the Safari Club filed their motion for summary judgment challenging the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s rule that bans brown bear baiting (among other things). The Friends and other organizations are intervenors in this lawsuit and are closely following these developments. If the DOI adopts new predator guidelines, this lawsuit may be rendered moot. 

Ambler Road

The has not been any significant development on the proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road even though it is on an “unprecedented, extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official. Trustees for Alaska assembled detailed, comprehensive comments on the DEIS that were submitted on behalf of numerous organizations, including Friends. We await information on the comments that were submitted and the issuance of a Final EIS. As with the many hurried and poorly supported BLM assaults on public lands, this process seems to have slowed.

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2019 December Advocacy Report

By: David Raskin, Friends Board President



The Arctic Refuge drilling proposal continues to be front and center on the national stage, and the administration’s numerous assaults on the environment seem to be bogging down under the pressures of time, resources, and inadequate scientific studies!

 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

There is some news concerning DOI plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refu­ge. The Record of Decision (ROD) continues to be delayed for unannounced reasons and is now delayed until at least the end of the year. Since the lease sale had been planned for December 2019, the delay of the ROD and the necessary waiting periods after its release have pushed any possible lease sale into at least next February. The longer it takes to try to sell leases, the better.

There is no word about plans for seismic exploration, which likely cannot occur before the 2020-21 winter, if at all. However, the State of Alaska appears to be moving forward with seismic exploration on State lands immediately adjacent to the Arctic Refuge. Pam Miller sent the following useful information:

Public notice issued Dec 3 for public comment closing 4:30 pm, Jan 3, 2020 on the ADNR Geophysical Exploration Permit.  The proposed survey start date given as Jan 10, 2020. The survey outlined in the application’s map shows it immediately west of the Arctic Refuge (official FWS) border of Arctic Refuge and it is described as “entirely on State lands.”  This should be carefully checked against the legal descriptions for the survey. However, the application section G. lists the Canning and Staines Rivers as anadromous fish streams which may be crossed — yet the entirety of both these rivers are within the Arctic Refuge (FWS) boundaries. Clearly SAE 3-D seismic vehicles would be poised to quickly move into the Refuge if the IBLA ruled against the federal government in the pending border dispute. The permit application lists USFWS LOA for Polar Bear Incidental Take but it is not included here with the application, nor are other permits listed.

Our conservation and Native Alaskan partners continue to hold successful outreach events throughout the country, and there have been many great pieces in various media. The 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 producing results. At least three major financial institutions have indicated they will not finance oil development in the Arctic. They seem to recognize the risks posed by the challenges of development in the Arctic and the obvious prospects that there will be a number of lawsuits to stop the leasing program. We will win this latest in the decades-long battle to save and preserve the Arctic Refuge and its subsistence and cultural values!

 

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

There is no significant development in the August 7, 2019 suit filed in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with the previous eight conservation partners. We have not received any ruling from the Court, and we will provide updates as this lawsuit works its way through the legal process.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge-Regulation Changes

The proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations have not been released, but we continue to expect them soon. It is likely that the new regulations will allow hunting of brown bears over bait, as well as loosened restrictions on hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and 4-wheel drive access to frozen lakes. It appears that there will be a 30-day comment period, but no public hearings. Friends and other organizations are closely following these developments and will take action at the appropriate time.

 

Kanuti and Selawik National Wildlife Refuges-Ambler Road

The proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road would skirt the north end of the Kanuti Refuge and cross streams feeding the Selawik Refuge. The Ambler Road is on an “unprecedented extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official. Trustees for Alaska assembled detailed, comprehensive comments on the DEIS that were submitted on behalf of numerous organizations, including Friends. We await information of the comments that were submitted and the issuance of a Final EIS. As with the many hurried and poorly supported BLM assaults on public lands, this process seems to be slowing down.

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2019 November Advocacy Report

By: David Raskin, Friends Board President

The Arctic Refuge drilling proposal is front and center on the national stage, and the administration’s numerous assaults on the environment seem to be bogging down under the pressures of time, resources, and inadequate scientific studies!

Arctic NWR

There is continuing news concerning DOI plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The Record of Decision (ROD) has been delayed for unannounced reasons, but is expected soon. A lease sale had been planned for December 2019, but the delay of the ROD and the necessary waiting periods after its release have pushed any possible lease sale into 2020. Also, there is no word about plans for seismic exploration which likely cannot occur before the 2020-21 winter, if at all. The longer it takes to try to sell leases, the better. Our conservation and Native Alaskan partners continue to hold successful outreach events throughout the country, and there have been many great pieces in various media. The campaign is now holding meetings with executives of oil companies and financial institutions to enlighten them about the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts.  There is little doubt that there will be a number of lawsuits to stop the leasing program. We will win this latest in the decades-long battle to save and preserve the Arctic Refuge and its subsistence and cultural values!

Izembek NWR

There is no significant development in the August 7, 2019 suit filed in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with the previous eight conservation partners. King Cove Native Corporation, the Agdaagux Tribe, and the Native Village of Belkofski moved to intervene, and the plaintiffs did not object. We have not received any ruling from the Court, and 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 have not been released, but we still expect them very soon. It is likely that the regulations will allow hunting of brown bears over bait, as well as loosened restrictions on hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and 4-wheel drive access to frozen lakes. It appears that there will be a 30-day comment period, but no public hearings. Friends and other organizations will be closely following these developments and will take action at the appropriate time.

Ambler Road

The proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road was on an “unprecedented, extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official. The draft EIS was limited to 150 pages that lack details and fail to address anything outside of the road construction, e.g., impacts to the Dalton Highway or any mining actions. Trustees for Alaska assembled detailed, comprehensive comments on the DEIS that were submitted on behalf of numerous organizations, including Friends. As with the many hurried and poorly supported BLM assaults on public lands, this process seems to be slowing down.

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Advocacy Report October 2019

Advocacy Update by David Raskin, Friends Board President


As battles continue to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments; the Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey, the proposed Donlin mine on the Upper Kuskokwim River, and the proposed Ambler road have been added to the list of threats to our Alaska refuges.

Izembek NWR

There are no significant developments in the August 7, 2019 suit filed in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with the previous eight conservation partners. The King Cove Corporation plans to intervene on behalf of the defendants. However, the Aleutians East Borough, City of King Cove, and the City of Cold Bay likely will not intervene. The plaintiffs see little to be gained by opposing the interventions. This suit includes the numerous legal claims against the agreement, and we are confident that we will again prevail. Trustees also submitted to DOI “Notice of Violation of the Endangered Species Act Section 7 for Failing to Consult Regarding the Izembek Land Exchange” and intent to sue the DOI on behalf of the same plaintiffs. We will provide updates as these work their way through the legal process.

Arctic NWR

There is important news concerning DOI plans to sell leases this year for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The BLM Final EIS was released in September, with a Record of Decision (ROD) expected soon after the close of the 30-day comment period on October 22. A lease sale is planned for December 2019. Since the FEIS was so hastily done and grossly inadequate, without a new EIS process it is likely that the Final EIS will not withstand the many legal challenges that will be raised. Numerous conservation groups, Alaska Native Tribes, states, and legal organizations are carefully analyzing the FEIS and the forthcoming ROD. There is little doubt that there will be a number of lawsuits to stop the leasing program.

Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

The release of the proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations is expected very soon. The most serious threat to wildlife is the likely regulation to allow hunting of brown bears over bait, as well as loosened restrictions on hunting in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area and 4-whell drive access to frozen lakes. It seems that the DOI is will modify the existing regulations to agree with all of the demands by the State of Alaska. Although the USFWS requested a delay to study the major impacts on these areas and the problems of access posed by damaged trees caused by the extensive Swan Lake fire, the DOI refused to delay the process. It appears that there will be a 30-day comment period, but no public hearings. Friends and other organizations will be closely following these developments and will take action at the appropriate time.

Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey

Hilcorp began a seismic survey of its offshore lease site in lower Cook Inlet to search for untapped oil and gas deposits near Anchor Point and Homer. Such seismic blasting can reach 250 decibels and be heard for very long distances. This large number of high intensity blasts would cover 370 square miles, much of it within waters of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. There are potential impacts on fisheries, marine mammals, including the endangered beluga whales, and other marine life, but the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released an environmental assessment that concluded there would be no significant impact of the seismic activities. Allowing no opportunity for public input, the Bureau claimed the seismic survey would have negligible effects on marine life and birds.  NOAA also announced provisions that allow Hilcorp’s proposed oil and gas activities in Cook Inlet by claiming to minimize harm to marine mammals over the next five years. However, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against the administration to stop Hilcorp’s plans that will disrupt the feeding and mating activities of endangered beluga whales and could drive them closer to extinction, in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.

Ambler Road

The proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road is on an “unprecedented, extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official. This road could have major impacts on national wildlife refuges and parks in northern Alaska.). The draft EIS was limited to 150 pages that lack details and fail to address anything outside of the road construction, e.g., impacts to the Dalton Highway or any mining actions. Numerous organizations are working on responses to the DEIS.



Donlin Min
e

The proposed Donlin Mine lies in the headwaters of the Kuskokwim River, with potentially devastating impacts on the Yukon Delta NWR. According to Alaska Public Media “Many villages in the region are conflicted over the mine. The old mine near the village of Red Devil was built 100 years ago, and now carries a toxic legacy of mine pollution (for a three part series on the proposed mine,” see “The proposed mine requires a lot of infrastructure: a port, an airstrip, a power plant, a proposed 315-mile pipeline to bring gas for the power plant from Cook Inlet, a road and fiber optic cable. . . The Donlin Mine could be one of the biggest gold mines in the world. And the project is well on its way. Last year, it secured two vital federal permits and a handful of state permits. This year, it expects to receive several more. It’s also completing its safety certification for the seven dams it plans to build. That can take up to two years. It’s unclear when they will actually start mining.” However, the Association of Alaska Village Council Presidents, which represents 56 federally recognized tribes of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, has formally opposed the Donlin development. Conservation organizations are closely monitoring this proposed project and its potential impacts on the Kuskokwim watershed and the wildlife and habitat of the Yukon Delta Refuge, one of the largest and most important migratory bird areas on the planet.

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2019 September Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update by David Raskin, Friends Board President

As battles continue to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments, the Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey and proposed Ambler road have been added to the list of threats to our Alaska refuges. 

Izembek NWR

We have no news on the August 7, 2019 suit filed in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with the same eight conservation partners. This suit includes the numerous legal claims against the agreement, and we are confident that we will again prevail. Trustees also submitted to DOI “Notice of Violation of the Endangered Species Act Section 7 for Failing to Consult Regarding the Izembek Land Exchange” and intent to sue the DOI on behalf of the same plaintiffs. We will provide updates as these work their way through the legal process

Arctic NWR

There is much news concerning DOI plans to sell leases this year for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The BLM Final EIS is now expected in September, with a decision soon after the close of the 30-day comment period. Since the DEIS was so hastily done and grossly inadequate, without a new DEIS process it is likely that a Final EIS will be insufficient to withstand legal challenges. In the meantime, Joe Balash, who spearheaded the effort at DOI, resigned to take an executive position with Oil Search, a Papua New Guinea oil firm with development interests on the North Slope. His taking a job with the oil industry raised ethical questions, as well as concerns about his possible role in the suppression of scientific reports and alteration of federal agency analyses about the impacts of proposed oil development.

Another major event is the sale of BP’s Alaska assets to Hilcorp of Texas. Hilcorp has an abysmal environmental record, having been fined $3 million for at least 68 environmental violations since the year 2000. However, the departure of BP is another indication of the lack of interest of major companies in the oil potential of the Coastal Plain. Other good news concerns difficulties for the proposed seismic exploration. A study from researchers at UAF indicates that low snow levels and warmer temperatures on the Coastal Plain pose problems for the operation of heavy equipment and construction of ice roads to support exploration and development. With each passing month, it seems that the potential for oil and gas development on the Coastal Plain weakens as more negative information comes to light.

The Restore Protections Bill (HR 1146) to  remove the tax bill provision that authorized the sale of leases in the Coastal Plain was introduced by Representative Jared Huffman and a record 182 cosponsors. It was reported out of committee, and a full House vote is expected in September. Although it likely will pass the House, the Senate is unlikely to pass it. Also, the Arctic Refuge Protection Act is expected to be introduced in the Senate on September 10. It would designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a wilderness area and protect its sensitive coastal plain from oil and gas leasing and development. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (CO); Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA); Sen. Tom Carper (DE); Sen. Ed Markey (MA); Sen. Charles Schumer (NY); and Sen. Tom Udall (NM). Friends joined a thank-you letter to these senators.

Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

The release of the proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations is expected very soon. The most serious threat to wildlife is the likely regulation to allow hunting of brown bears over bait.  At a minimum, Friends will urge the Kenai Refuge to develop a permit process to limit the areas of the Refuge and number of bears to be taken, consistent with mandated management practices and potential threats to the brown bear population.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2019–2020 Station-Specific Hunting and Sport Fishing Regulations, Proposed Rule (Regulation Identifier Number 1018-BD79) that was drafted by the DOI in Washington eliminated Alaska USFWS regulations that prohibit the taking of wildlife on the same day that hunters fly in. That regulation was designed to prevent illegal and unethical use of aircraft that could decimate wildlife populations. However, we have been informed by USFWS that the eliminated rule was redundant with the existing national regulation that still prohibits such same-day hunting.

Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey

Hilcorp is planning a seismic survey of its offshore lease site in lower Cook Inlet to search for untapped oil and gas deposits near Anchor Point and Homer. Such seismic blasting can reach 250 decibels and be heard for very long distances. This large number of high intensity blasts would cover 370 square miles, much of it within waters of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Relying on the in-house analysis by Hilcorp of potential impacts on fisheries, marine mammals, including the endangered beluga whales, and other marine life, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released an environmental assessment that concluded there would be no significant impact of the seismic activities. Allowing no opportunity for public input, the Bureau claimed the seismic survey would have negligible effects on marine life and birds.  NOAA also announced provisions that allow Hilcorp’s proposed oil and gas activities in Cook Inlet by claiming to minimize harm to marine mammals over the next five years. 

Since the proposed activities are within the boundaries of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Hilcorp must receive a permit from the USFWS before proceeding with their plans this year. However, the Center for Biological Diversity just filed suit against the administration to stop Hilcorp’s plans that will disrupt the feeding and mating activities of endangered beluga whales and could drive them closer to extinction, in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.

Ambler Road

The proposed 211-mile long Ambler industrial road is on an “unprecedented, extreme fast track,” according to a BLM official. This road could have major impacts on national wildlife refuges and parks in northern Alaska. A DEIS meeting regarding the Ambler Road is scheduled in Anchorage on Tuesday, September 10 from 6-8 pm in the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center and in Fairbanks on Monday, September 23 from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Wedgewood Resort (see https://www.nps.gov/gaar/learn/management/ambler-row.htm for more information). The draft EIS limited to 150 pages that lack details and fails to address anything outside of the road construction, e.g., impacts to the Dalton Highway or any mining actions.

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2019 August Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update


By David Raskin, Friends Board President

The battles continue to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments and limit the impact of the expected predator control regulations for the Kenai Refuge and proposed changes to same-day airborne hunting of wolves and wolverines on all refuge lands.

Izembek NWR

The Department of Justice dismissed its appeal of the decision by the Anchorage Federal District Court that granted the motion for summary judgment in our lawsuit that challenged the legality of the land exchange and road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. A week later, the DOI announced a new land exchange agreement that was also secretly crafted in Washington without any participation or notice to the USFWS and the public.  The new agreement includes Secretary Bernhardt’s desperate attempt to explain their decision process in an effort to overcome the prior court ruling. Based on the numerous, serious inadequacies of the new agreement, on August 7, 2019 Trustees for Alaska filed suit in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with the same eight conservation partners. This suit includes the numerous legal claims against the agreement, and we are confident that we will again prevail. Trustees also submitted to DOI “Notice of Violation of the Endangered Species Act Section 7 for Failing to Consult Regarding the Izembek Land Exchange” and intent to sue the DOI on behalf of the same plaintiffs.

Arctic NWR

There is little news as DOI continues to press forward with plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. Lease sales are planned this year. The BLM Final EIS is still expected to be released in August, with a decision soon after the close of the 30-day comment period. Since the DEIS was so hastily done and grossly inadequate, without a new DEIS process it is likely that a Final EIS will be insufficient to withstand legal challenges.

We have no news concerning the proposed seismic exploration that is expected to begin next season and extend over two years. It requires a plan that would satisfy Incidental Take Regulations (ITR) regarding denning polar bears and marine mammals. The recently-proposed low-altitude aerial survey appears to have been abandoned. Both companies that were mentioned have stated that they have no plans to conduct aerial surveys of the Coastal Plain. This means that prior to the planned lease sale, there may be no new information about the amount of oil under the area. This is another indication of industry’s waning interest in drilling the Arctic Refuge. The conservation community is closely monitoring these developments and will take whatever actions are necessary to prevent the undesirable impacts of seismic exploration and oil leases.

Trustees also filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, TWS, Defenders, and AWL challenging BLM, FWS, and DOI’s failure to comply with FOIA and produce documents in response to nine requests concerning the Arctic Refuge.

Other encouraging news is that the Royal Bank of Scotland announced that they will not provide financial backing for Arctic energy development, joining  the National Australia Bank and Barclays PLC that have also declined to support Arctic drilling.

The Restore Protections Bill (HR 1146) that would remove the tax bill provision that authorized the sale of leases in the Coastal Plain was introduced by Representative Jared Huffman and a record 182 cosponsors. It was reported out of committee, and a full House vote is expected in September. Although it likely will pass the House, the Senate is unlikely to pass it.

Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

The proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations still have not been released, but are expected very soon. The most serious threat to wildlife is the expected regulation that will allow hunting of brown bears over bait.  At a minimum, we will urge the Kenai Refuge to develop a permit process to limit the areas of the Refuge and the number of bears to be taken consistent with mandated management practices and potential threats to the brown bear population. 


Friends signed onto comments being prepared by Trustees concerning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2019–2020 Station-Specific Hunting and Sport Fishing Regulations, Proposed Rule (Regulation Identifier Number 1018-BD79). This rule was drafted by the DOI in Washington and would adopt regulations proposed by the State of Alaska. This could result in many violations of USFWS policies and regulations that prohibit the taking of wildlife on the same day that hunters fly in. The current regulations are designed to prevent illegal and unethical use of aircraft that could decimate wildlife populations.

The conservation community is closely monitoring these developments and is prepared to provide the responses necessary to protect the integrity and biological diversity of the Kenai Refuge wildlife and prevent same-day aerial hunting of wolves and wolverines on all national refuge lands in Alaska.

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Izembek Lawsuit Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 7, 2019

Contact:
David C. Raskin, Ph.D., president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, davidc.raskin@me.com, (425)-209-9009
Fran Mauer, Alaska chapter representative, Wilderness Watch, fmauer@mosquitonet.com, 907-455-6829
Tim Woody, communications manager, The Wilderness Society, tim_woody@tws.org, (907) 223-2443
Randi Spivak, public lands director, Center for Biological Diversity rspivak@biologicaldiversity.org, (310) 779-4894
Dawnell Smith, communications director, Trustees for Alaska, dsmith@trustees.org, (907) 433-2013

Lawsuit challenges Trump administration’s new land swap deal to bulldoze a road in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today by challenging a land swap deal between the Interior Department and King Cove Corporation aimed at putting a road through the heart of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Izembek is one of America’s most ecologically significant refuges with wetlands that support wildlife of all kinds and millions of migrating birds, fish, and caribou.

The court threw out a previous land swap in March 2019 after successful litigation by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the same groups. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt responded by executing a new deal on July 12 without public knowledge or input. Unlike the previous deal, the new one does not limit use of the road to health, safety, and non-commercial purposes. It is otherwise similar to the previous agreement rejected by the court.

“The Department of Interior has attempted an end run around the recent federal court decision that halted its plans to desecrate the Izembek Refuge Wilderness and its wildlife,” said David C. Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. “This new backroom deal adds to a long series of actions by Interior to give away public lands to serve special interests at the expense of the American people. We are disappointed by this continuation of the illegal and unethical efforts of the current administration to circumvent decades of legislation and regulations enacted to protect public lands and natural areas from destructive developments and preserve them for the benefit of all Americans. We will use every means at our disposal to continue the fight to save the Izembek Refuge.”

Today’s lawsuit, filed by Trustees for Alaska in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, claims that Interior cannot use the land exchange provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to gut a national wildlife refuge and circumvent public process, environmental review, and congressional approval. It further claims that the latest land swap deal violates the National Environmental Policy Act and fails to provide adequate justification for the agency’s reversal of its 2013 decision to reject a land exchange.

“This deal violates the same laws as the first one and we’re prepared to continue the legal fight to protect this irreplaceable wilderness,” said Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney for Trustees for Alaska. “This is another Trump administration public land giveaway that breaks multiple laws and dishonors the public processes that go into protecting the health of the lands, waters and wildlife of the National Refuge and Wilderness System.”

Congress passed ANILCA to preserve natural landscapes, wildlife, unaltered habitat, and designated wilderness areas. With a land swap, Interior would give an ecologically irreplaceable corridor of land between lagoons—a vital area of the isthmus forming the heart of the Izembek Refuge—to King Cove Corporation for a road.

“Spending millions to build a road through federal wilderness would be a bad deal for taxpayers and a bad deal for the environment,” said Kristen Miller, conservation director at Alaska Wilderness League. “Yet the Bernhardt Interior Department continues to try and sidestep bedrock environmental laws like the Wilderness Act and the federal court system to satisfy political desires and commercial interests. The previous administration looked long and hard at the road proposal and rejected it for sound reasons, and the District Court and the Ninth Circuit agreed. This new plan, and really the entire process, reeks of self-serving backroom dealing and public lands theft at its most egregious.”

Alli Harvey, the Alaska campaign representative from the Sierra club, said, “The Trump administration’s plan to trade away wilderness in Izembek to be industrialized has been repeatedly studied and consistently rejected for good reason. Now, despite confirmation from the District Court that it’s illegal, Secretary Bernhardt is shamelessly trying to work behind closed doors to push the same deal forward again. We will continue to fight back against this costly and irresponsible deal.”

Trustees also notified Secretary Bernhardt today about its clients’ intent to sue for Endangered Species Act violations related to the land swap.

“Bernhardt’s shady backroom deal is just as illegal as the land swap a judge already rejected,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Izembek is a vital wildlife refuge that feeds millions of birds from three continents. You can’t swap land here for anywhere else because there’s nothing else like it. We’ll keep fighting to ensure Izembek remains protected.”

Fran Mauer, representative of the Alaska chapter of Wilderness Watch, said, “The Trump administration is once again trading away public lands for a road through the Izembek Refuge Wilderness that would not only destroy the ecological integrity of Izembek, but would also establish a ruinous precedent for the entire National Wilderness Preservation System. This must not stand!”

Sarah Greenberger, vice president of conservation policy at the Audubon Society, said, “Common ground exists between critical wildlife protections for some of the world’s largest flocks of migrating birds and community needs of rural Alaskans. But it doesn’t require the sacrifice of an internationally important wetland refuge with tremendous costs to American taxpayers.”

David Krause, assistant state director for The Wilderness Society, said, “The Trump administration is up to its usual shady shenanigans to give away America’s public lands within a federally protected wilderness area. Like the previous backroom deal that was struck down by a federal court less than five months ago, we will fight this every step of the way.”

Parties to the lawsuit include Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Watch.
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2019 July Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The battles continue to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges and Bristol Bay from destructive developments and limit the impact of the expected predator control regulations for the Kenai Refuge.
 
Izembek NWR
 We have no news concerning the Department of Justice appeal of the decision by the Anchorage Federal District Court that granted the motion for summary judgment in our lawsuit that challenged the legality of the land exchange and road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. This decision had halted all activity related to the transfer of Refuge land and the construction of a road. Although the DOI instructed the USFWS to continue working on a contaminants analysis regarding the lands that they would exchange, there is no indication of any work that would violate the decision by the Court.  We assume that the government is  continue its efforts to figure out how to respond to the court order and explain their decision process to satisfy the court. Our conservation partners and legal team are closely monitoring any such actions and will mount all available legal and legislative challenges to counter any attempt by the Department of Interior (DOI) to revive the unacceptable land exchange and destructive road.
 
Arctic NWR
The DOI continues to press forward with plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. BLM is in the process of preparing a final EIS, which is expected to be released in August and a decision soon after the close of the 30-day comment period. Since the DEIS was so hastily done and grossly inadequate, without a new DEIS process it is likely that a Final EIS will be insufficient to withstand legal challenges. Lease sales are planned this year.

The proposed seismic exploration is expected to begin next season and extend over two years. It requires a plan that would satisfy the Incidental Take Regulations (ITR) regarding denning polar bears and marine mammals. The recently-proposed low-altitude aerial survey appears to have been abandoned. The French company CGG stated that they no plans to conduct aerial surveys of the Coastal Plain. This means that prior to the planned lease sale, there may be no new information about the amount of oil under the area. This is another indication of industry’s waning interest in drilling the Arctic Refuge. The conservation community is closely monitoring these developments and will take whatever actions are necessary to prevent the undesirable impacts of seismic exploration and oil leases.
 
A positive development is the Restore Protections Bill (HR 1146) that would remove the tax bill provision that authorized the sale of leases in the Coastal Plain. The bill was introduced by Representative Jared Huffman and had a record 182 cosponsors. It was reported out of committee and a full House vote is expected in July. Although it is expected to pass the House, the Senate is unlikely to pass it.
 
Kenai NWR Predator Control Regulations
 The proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations have not been released, but are expected very soon. The most serious threat to wildlife is the expected regulation that will allow hunting of brown bears over bait.  At a minimum, we will urge the Kenai Refuge to develop a permit process to limit the areas of the Refuge and the number of bears to be taken consistent with mandated management practices and potential threats to the brown bear population. The conservation community is closely monitoring any developments and is prepared to provide the responses necessary to protect the integrity and biological diversity of the Kenai Refuge wildlife.
 
Pebble Mine
Friends joined 13 conservation organizations on the submission of a 433-page comment on the Corps of Engineers Pebble Mine DEIS. These comments were prepared and submitted by Trustees for Alaska and the Sierra Club Environmental Law Program. The breadth and contents of this extensive set of comments and its numerous attachments document the grossly inadequate DEIS prepared by the Corps. We hope that this horrible project with its potential impacts on Bristol Bay salmon fisheries and many national wildlife refuges will ultimately be stopped after a 15-year battle. We thank the staffs of Trustees and Sierra Club for this monumental effort.

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2019 June Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The battles continue to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments and limit the impact of the expected predator control regulations for the Kenai Refuge.

Izembek NWR

The Department of Justice has appealed the decision by the Anchorage Federal District Court that granted the motion for summary judgment in our lawsuit that challenged the legality of the land exchange and road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. This decision had halted all activity related to the transfer of Refuge land and the construction of a road. The defendants have now appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Our most recent information indicates that the DOI may be working on a plan that could impact the status of the entire lawsuit and may have instructed the USFWS to continue some work in anticipation of  their possible success in overcoming trying to figure out how to respond to the court order and explain their decision process to satisfy the court. Our conservation partners and legal team are closely monitoring any such actions and will mount all available legal and legislative challenges to counter any attempt by the Department of Interior (DOI) to revive the unacceptable land exchange and destructive road.

(photo by Alaska Wilderness League/ Izebemek NWR)

Arctic NWR

The DOI continues to press forward with plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. A major national effort resulted in an extensive set of technical comments that were submitted by Trustees for Alaska citing numerous, serious deficiencies in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the BLM. BLM is in the process of preparing a final EIS, which is expected to be released in August and a decision soon after the close of the 30-day comment period. Since the DEIS was so hastily done and grossly inadequate, without a new DEIS process it is likely that a Final EIS will be insufficient to withstand legal challenges. Lease sales are planned this year.

A related activity is the proposed seismic exploration and a recently-proposed low-altitude aerial survey. These require a plan that would satisfy the Incidental Take Regulations (ITR) regarding denning polar bears and marine mammals. The conservation community is closely monitoring these developments and will take whatever actions are necessary to prevent the undesirable impacts of seismic exploration.

A positive development is the Restore Protections Bill (HR 1146) that would remove the tax bill provision that authorized the sale of leases in the Coastal Plain. The bill was introduced by Representative Jared Huffman and had a record 180 cosponsors. It was reported out of committee and a full House vote is expected soon. Although expected to pass the House, the Senate is not expected to pass it.

Kenai NWR Predator Control Regulations

The proposed Kenai Refuge predator control regulations have not been released, but are expected very soon. The most serious threat to wildlife is the expected regulation that will allow hunting of brown bears over bait.  At a minimum, we will urge the Kenai Refuge to develop a permit process to limit the areas of the Refuge and the number of bears to be taken consistent with mandated management practices and potential threats to the brown bear population. The conservation community is closely monitoring any developments and is prepared to provide the responses necessary to protect the integrity and biological diversity of the Kenai Refuge wildlife.

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2019 – May Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We are pleased to report the exciting developments in the battles to save the Izembek and Arctic Refuges from destructive developments. These and other issues are discussed below.

Izembek NWR

On 29 March 2019, Friends and eight national conservation organizations scored a major victory when the Federal District Court in Anchorage granted the motion for summary judgment in our lawsuit that challenged the legality of the land exchange and road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. In her opinion that invalidated the land exchange, Judge Gleason ruled that the process for land exchange authorized by the Secretary of Interior was “arbitrary and capricious.” This decision halted all activity related to the transfer of Refuge land and the construction of a road. We are all extremely indebted to the staff of Trustees for Alaska who did an amazing amount of superb legal work that resulted in this wonderful victory after decades of battling to protect Izembek from this proposed destruction. However, this is not the final event, as the road proponents will continue to develop legal and legislative approaches to undue this rejection of the road. We and our conservation partners and legal team will closely monitor any such actions and will mount all available legal and legislative challenges to counter any attempt by the Department of Interior (DOI) to revive the unacceptable land exchange and destructive road. Check out the Trustees for Alaska press release for more information.

Arctic NWR

The DOI continues to press forward with plans to sell leases for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. A major national effort resulted in an extensive set of technical comments that were submitted by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the numerous, serious deficiencies in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement issued by the BLM. Friends also submitted more general comments.  We await the release by BLM of data concerning the number and nature of comments received in response to the national campaign by conservation organizations, including Friends, to encourage their members and the general public to express their concerns about the hurried and flawed process by which the BLM and DOI are attempting to ram through this prosed desecration of the Coastal Plain.

A parallel campaign has been spearheaded by the Gwich’in people of the United States and Canada to prevent the desecration of this Sacred Land and their subsistence culture and way of life. They and scientists and conservationists recently provided powerful testimony on the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, H.R. 1146 introduced by Representatives Huffman and Fitzpatrick to prevent the proposed oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain. In furtherance of these goals, the Alaska Wilderness League lured our longtime refuge champion Desiree Sorenson-Groves from the National Wildlife Refuge Association to head the national coalition to protect and preserve the Arctic Refuge. We welcome her able and energetic leadership will continue to work closely with Desiree and the coalition.


The other dangerous aspect of the proposed oil and gas development is the plan to conduct an extensive and disruptive seismic exploration of the Coastal Plain. In spite of their frantic rush to further this program, those involved were unable to perform the necessary analyses required to obtain authorization for the seismic activity in time for 2018-2019 winter season. The current plan is to do the required analyses and issue findings to support seismic exploration in the coming winter season. The conservation community will closely monitor these developments and take whatever actions are necessary to prevent the undesirable impacts of seismic exploration. Interestingly, a recent New York Times investigation revealed that the closely-held and secret data from the only test well ever drilled on the Coastal Plain found little support for the presence of recoverable oil to justify oil and gas development.

Kenai NWR Predator Control Regulations

The proposed changes to the Kenai Refuge predator control regulations have not been released. Information from the FWS indicates that proposed drafts have gone back and forth between the Refuge, Regional Staff, and DOI regarding the extent to which the undesirable State demands will be incorporated into the published draft of the revised regulations. We anticipate that proposed regulations will soon be published in the Federal Register, and the conservation will closely monitor any development and be prepared to provide the responses necessary to protect the integrity and biological diversity of the Kenai Refuge wildlife.

 

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