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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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October Advocacy Report: when we know, we can act.

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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. However, the reconciliation bill has been 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 later this month. 
 
Extensive comments on the Notice of Intent of scoping for the Supplemental EIS (SEIS) were prepared by many organizations and experts and were organized and submitted by Trustees for Alaska. Friends and more than 20 other organizations signed on to the comments. The scoping report by the BLM is expected by the end of the year.
 
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 reviewed their application and determined that KIC will need to provide additional information to complete their application. There will be a 30-day review period of an updated 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 in national parks and all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.
 
The contractor’s evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including Wilderness study areas, is progressing and should be completed sometime in December. The decision will be made by the Arctic Refuge Manager.


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. However, on September 6, Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that Secretary of the Interior Haaland postponed her trip due to concerns about the high level of COVID-19 infections in Alaska, but we have not heard how this latest development might influence the Court’s decision regarding a possible stay of the proceedings. In the meantime, the State has appealed the decision by USFWS that denied the use of helicopters for the Special Use Permits for activities in designated Wilderness. The final decision will be made by the USFWS Acting Regional Director in Anchorage. We expect that the appeal will be denied. 

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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September Advocacy Report: Add your comments!

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The House Natural Resources Committee marked up their portion of 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. The language will now be merged into the full reconciliation bill and taken up by the full House. This successful effort was led by the excellent lobbying work by Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ARDC). 
 
The comment period for the Notice of Intent of scoping for the Supplemental EIS (SEIS) is open until October 4
, 2021. BLM is holding six virtual scoping meetings for the SEIS that will take place September 14, 15, and 16. If the reconciliation bill is enacted with the House language that terminates the Arctic drilling leases, this exercise will become moot. 
 
A new threat to the Coastal Plain emerged with an SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. KIC claims to be an inholding according to provisions of ANILCA, like the claim made by King Cove for a road through the Izembek Wilderness. KIC had previously been granted an emergency permit to move school modules across the ice in winter, but this request is for an annual permit to move goods and supplies across land each year. Like King Cove, Kaktovik seems not to qualify as an inholding since it has marine access and other alternatives for the proposed uses. The Fish and WIldlife Service (FWS) review of their application must be completed by October 5 to determine the additional information that KIC will need to include to complete the application. 


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

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. Trustees for Alaska did an outstanding job of arguing our position. During this session, the Court suggested a possible stay of the proceedings until after Secretary of the Interior Haaland’s scheduled September 17 visit to King Cove. The Court was concerned that after her visit, the Secretary might take actions that would effectively resolve the lawsuit and waste the resources of the Court if the proceedings were not stayed. The plaintiffs indicated that we would not oppose a stay of the proceedings, but the Government and the State opposed a stay. However, on September 6, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that Secretary Haaland postponed her trip due to concerns about the high level of Covid-19 infections in Alaska. We have not heard how this latest development might influence the Court’s decision regarding a possible stay of the proceedings.

The Fish and Wildlife Servic (FWS) denied the use of helicopters to access the Izembek Wilderness in special use permits requested by the State Department of Transportation to inventory cultural resources and wetlands for the proposed Isthmus Road. The FWS issued permits that required access by foot, but the State has refused to sign the permits without helicopter access. We are very pleased that there will be no on-the-ground-activity this summer.

Sturgeon Decision
There has been no further action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019. Based on this ruling and ANILCA Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska.

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




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The conservation community speaks. July/August Advocacy Report

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Appointments to DOI and the USFWS continue to move very slowly through the Senate. We still do not know if/when there will be an appointment of a Special Assistant for Alaska. If these processes drag on for much longer, it may be difficult to achieve important conservation goals for Izembek, Arctic, and other Refuges.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
On June 1, the Department of the Interior suspended all activities related to the implementation of the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Secretarial Order 3401 directs the Department to initiate a comprehensive environmental analysis to review the potential impacts of the leasing program and to address legal deficiencies in the current leasing program’s environmental review under NEPA. The Department notified lessees that it has suspended oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge, pending the review, to determine whether the leases should be reaffirmed, voided, or subject to additional mitigation measures. However, the review and Draft Environmental Statement to be completed in eight months has been assigned to BLM and the USFWS will not be a full participant. This will make it more difficult to ensure that the mission of the USFWS to protect the Coastal Plain will be fully implemented.

The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) is monitoring the timing of the upcoming Senate budget reconciliation and whether it will include a cancellation of the leases.  Votes on the Budget Resolution could occur before the August recess.

Conservation CEO meetings with key decision makers continued and included meetings with Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Speaker Polosi.  ARDC is developing a paid media campaign in D.C. and target states to ramp up visibility on the Arctic Refuge in anticipation of a possible vote in Late July. Friends made a substantial donation to this. On July 12 in Homer, Friends hosted ARDC Assistant Director, Becca Appel, for a training session on the campaign and what Friends can do to further assist the campaign.

The Arctic Refuge Protection Act continues to gain co-sponsors and is currently at 117 co-sponsors in the House and 30 in the Senate.  ARDC members continue to hold meetings to increase co-sponsorship for the bills.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
On June 2, Friends participated in an hour-long special meeting with DOI officials that included, Special Advisor to the Secretary Raina Thiele, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife Shannon Estenoz, Acting FWS Director Martha Williams, and a DOI Assistant Solicitor. The meeting was requested and superbly organized by Defenders of Wildlife Alaska Director Nicole Whittington-Evans. It included presentations by Nicole, Wilderness Society Alaska Director Karlin Itchoak, former Indian Health Services local director Dr. Pete Mjos, NWRA Vice President and Friends Board Member Caroline Brouwer, Former Special Assistant for Alaska to Secretary of Interior Deborah Williams, Defenders of Wildlife Alaska Senior Policy Advisor Patrick Lavin, and me. We presented very detailed descriptions of the history and all major aspects and arguments against the proposed road, which we hope were effective in educating the DOI officials about the problems and need to reject the road.

The Bernhardt memo authorizing the permitting process for the proposed Izembek road was withdrawn July 15, but DOI says that will not preclude field work. The State of Alaska has reduced its applications for summer work to include only wetland delineations and cultural resources to support resubmitting their application under ANILCA Title XI to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness. The Alaska Regional Office of FWS denied the State’s plans to use helicopters to access the Izembek Wilderness. They released a compatibility determination with public comments open until August 8.Izembek WR Public Review Opportunity info can be found here.  Activity could begin in August but permitting summer field work does not necessarily indicate a policy decision on the proposed road. The State will have to comply with the Wilderness Act, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act. In the meantime, we await the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. We were disappointed that the new administration is continuing this appeal, with oral arguments scheduled for August 4. 


Sturgeon Decision
We have not seen further action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019 was the announcement by the State of Alaska concerning federal waters on the Kenai Peninsula, including the Kenai NWR. Based on this ruling and ANILCA Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska. They can apply for quiet title through the courts or to BLM for a disclaimer of interest. If they succeed, they will be able to manage navigable waterways in refuges and parks that might include many rivers and lakes and wild and scenic rivers. This would require a determination of which are navigable waters, which have never been clearly defined. This creates a frightening potential for access to mining, motorized recreation, and oil and gas development on refuge rivers, lakes, and lands. We will work with DOI and refuge staff to minimize these potential impacts.

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




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Sometimes things move slowly. May/June Advocacy Report

  by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Appointments to Department of the Interior (DOI) and the United States Fish and WIldlife Service (USFWS) are moving through the Senate very slowly. It is not clear how long it will take for nominations and confirmations of key personnel, including the Director of USFWS. We are particularly concerned about whether there will be an appointment of a Special Assistant for Alaska. If these processes drag on for too long, it may be difficult to achieve important conservation goals for Izembek, Arctic, and other Refuges.

Sturgeon Decision
The most recent action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019 was the announcement by the State of Alaska concerning federal waters on the Kenai Peninsula, including the Kenai Refuge. 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. They can apply for quiet title through the courts or to BLM for a disclaimer of interest. If they succeed, they will be able to manage navigable waterways in refuges and parks that might include many rivers and lakes and wild and scenic rivers. This would require a determination of which are navigable waters, which have never been clearly defined. This creates a frightening potential for access to mining, motorized recreation, and oil and gas development on refuge rivers, lakes, and lands. We need to work with DOI and refuge staff to minimize these potential impacts.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The moratorium on all oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge continues under President Biden’s executive order that directs the Interior Department to review the oil-leasing program for the Refuge, and “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law,” to do a new analysis of its potential environmental impacts. The Arctic Refuge Defense Coalition (ARDC) continues to monitor the impacts of President Biden’s Executive Order, including what it means for seismic exploration in the Refuge and the leasing program overall. In the meantime, the 60-day stay in litigation which was to end in mid-April has been extended until June 11. We are waiting for an announcement from BLM that they have denied or not acted upon the seismic application following the Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) not being acted upon. 

The lease holder 88 Energy may be planning to do directional drilling from the adjacent State land on which they hold a lease. The ARDC continues to put pressure on 88 Energy to halt their plans. We will watch for any news on threats to the Refuge.  

The potential damage to the Arctic Refuge by the recent claim by Kaktovik that they have an established right to use off-highway vehicles (OHV) for subsistence hunting in the Refuge is the subject of a year-long study under contract to USFWS to be completed by December 23, 2021. The study is gathering information to determine if there is a factual basis for their claim that there are established traditional uses of OHVs in the Refuge. In the meantime, the solicitor’s opinion issued under the prior administration determined that the Refuge is currently open to OHV uses for subsistence because no formal policy prohibits such uses. We are hopeful that Robert Anderson will be confirmed as DOI Solicitor and will re-examine that decision, which many believe was an incorrect interpretation to allow OHV use in the Refuge.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The Alaska FWS is working on the State of Alaska’s four revised applications to do summer work to support resubmitting their application to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness. There is extreme political pressure to approve these permits for wetland delineations, endangered species, and cultural resources. The State plans to use helicopters to access the designated Wilderness, which could complicate the permit process and possibly result in litigation. If the process does proceed, it will likely take at least a year for the required NEPA process. The State also needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and is seeking other ANILCA temporary permits. There are also National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. We hope that the new administration will ultimately rule that this latest assault on the Izembek Wilderness by the State and King Cove is not allowed under ANILCA. In the meantime, we await the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. We are hopeful that the new administration will abandon the appeal.

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




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The conservation community looks forward. April Advocacy Report

  by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Deborah Haaland was confirmed as the first Indigenous Secretary of the Interior. Both Alaska U.S. senators voted for her confirmation. The conservation community looks forward to working with her and her appointments to DOI and the USFWS. We are particularly concerned about the upcoming choice of her Special Assistant for Alaska. This is the letter that Friends sent to Secretary Haaland and key staff concerning her choice and related Izembek issues.

Sturgeon Decision
There have been serious repercussions from 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. They can apply for quiet title through the courts or to BLM for a disclaimer of interest. If they succeed, they will be able to manage navigable waterways in refuges and parks that might include many rivers and lakes and Wild and Scenic rivers. This would require a determination of which are navigable waters, which have never been clearly defined. This creates a frightening potential for access to mining, motorized recreation, and oil and gas development on refuge rivers, lakes, and lands. We need to work with Department of the Interior (DOI) and refuge staff to minimize these potential impacts.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The moratorium on all oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge continues under President Biden’s executive order that directs the Interior Department to review the oil-leasing program for the Refuge, and “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law,” to do a new analysis of its potential environmental impacts. In the meantime, the lawsuits to nullify the lease sales by the conservation community were stayed for 60 days that likely will be extended another 60 days.
 
The lease holder 88 Energy may be planning to do directional drilling from the adjacent State land on which they hold a lease. The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign is putting pressure on 88 Energy to halt their plans. We will watch for any news on this latest threat to the Refuge.  
 
Meanwhile, the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) application for seismic exploration this winter on their inholding was not granted because it did not meet the February 13 deadline set by USFWS. This resulted from the failure of FWS to act on the required Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) because they ran out of time to analyze the 6 million comments they had received. KIC criticized FWS for delaying the permit process and has reapplied for a permit to conduct seismic exploration next winter. We understand that the IHA is nearly complete and is awaiting guidance from DOI about its issuance. It is related to a possible permit from BLM for seismic exploration next winter.
 
The threat to the Arctic Refuge by the recent claim by Kaktovik that they can use off-highway vehicles (OHV) for subsistence hunting in the Refuge is the subject of a year-long study under contract to USFWS to be completed by December 23, 2021. The study is gathering information to determine if there is a factual basis for their claim that there are established traditional uses of OHVs in the Refuge. In addition, the solicitor’s opinion issued under the prior administration determined that the Refuge is currently open to OHV uses for subsistence because no formal policy prohibits such uses. We are hopeful that recently nominated DOI Solicitor Robert Anderson will re-examine that decision, which many believe was an incorrect interpretation that allows OHV use in the Refuge.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The State of Alaska is working on their revised application to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness. The Biden Administration 60-day pause of all FWS permitting processes expires this month, and we are waiting to see how DOI proceeds under Secretary Haaland. If the permit process does proceed, it will likely take at least a year for the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The State also needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and is seeking other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation, including wetland delineations, endangered species, and cultural resources. There are also NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. We hope that the new administration will ultimately halt this latest assault on the Izembek Wilderness by the State and King Cove. In the meantime, we await the decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. We are hopeful that the new administration will abandon the appeal.

Central Yukon Management Plan
The recently released Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Central Yukon Draft Resource Management Plan and Draft EIS affects 56 million acres of public lands, which include 13.1 million acres of BLM-managed lands along the Dalton Highway and Central Yukon areas. Their proposed plan could open up many areas to mining and other developments that would negatively impact wildlife, habitat, and fisheries of many tributaries that flow into the Yukon River and several refuges. Together with the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Friends submitted comments and worked with other organizations that succeeded in having the comment period extended until June 9, 2021 

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Doyon Corporation is working with Hilcorp to develop a plan for exploration and possible drilling on Doyon’s inholdings in the Refuge. They plan to do exploratory drilling on Doyon inholdings but will not need a permit for these activities that will be conducted using helicopters. As of now, Doyon has not requested permits from FWS for activities on Refuge lands. We will be watching this very closely and will explore options to prevent any proposed activities on Refuge lands




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Conservation Community Makes a Difference. March Advocacy Report

  by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We await the Senate vote on the nomination of Representative Deborah Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior. Senator Murkowski met with her and voted in favor of her nomination being forwarded to the full Senate for confirmation. The conservation community is closely following this as it develops.

Kenai Regulations
As we wrote last month, the Kenai Refuge survived the possible adoption of the revised regulations pushed by outgoing Department of the Interior Secretary Bernhardt. The only remaining issue is the proposed restriction on shooting within the Kenai River corridor that the Court sent back for Fish and WIldlife Service (FWS) to provide a basis for this aspect of the 2016 regulations. That is being prepared for submission to the Court.The State of Alaska and Safari Clubs were unsuccessful in challenging other aspects of the regulations. This leaves the most important provisions of the 2016 Kenai regulations in place.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
There is no news concerning the leasing program as the moratorium on all oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge ends in mid-April. We hope that the Administration is actively exploring avenues to nullify or buy back the leases that were sold to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and two small companies. In the meantime, the lawsuits to nullify the lease sales by the conservation community have been stayed for 60 days.


There is a new threat to the Coastal Plain. The other leaseholder, 88 Energy, may be planning to do directional drilling from the adjacent State land on which they hold a lease. We will watch for any news on this latest threat to the Refuge.  
 
Meanwhile, the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) application for seismic exploration this winter on their inholding was not granted because it did not meet the February 13 deadline set by USFWS. This resulted from the failure of FWS to act on the required Incidental Harassment Application (IHA) because they ran out of time to analyze the 6 million comments they had received. KIC criticized FWS for delaying the permit process and has reapplied for a permit to conduct seismic exploration next winter.
 
We have no update on the threat to the Arctic Refuge by the recent claim by Kaktovik that they can use off-highway vehicles (OHV) for subsistence hunting in the Refuge. They based their assertion on unsupported statements that there is an established traditional use of OHVs in the Refuge. We are monitoring this situation as it develops.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The State of Alaska is working on their revised application to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness. The Biden Administration 60-day pause in all FIsh and Wildlife Service (FWS) permitting processes expires this month, and we are waiting to see how the Department of the Interior (DOI) proceeds after the confirmation of the new Secretary. If the permit process does proceed, it will likely take at least a year for the required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The State also needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and will seek other Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) temporary permits for site investigation. There are also NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. We hope that the new administration will ultimately halt this latest assault by the State and King Cove on the Izembek Wilderness. In the meantime, we await the decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road.

Central Yukon Management Plan
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Central Yukon Draft Resource Management Plan and Draft EIS, linked here, that affects 56 million acres of public lands, which include 13.1 million acres of BLM-managed lands along the Dalton Highway and Central Yukon areas. Their proposed plan could open up many areas to mining and other developments that would negatively impact wildlife, habitat, and fisheries of many tributaries that flow into the Yukon River and several refuges. We are working with the National Wildlife Refuge Association to submit comments that are due by March 11, 2021.

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
We recently learned that Doyon Corporation is working with Hilcorp to develop a plan for exploration and possible drilling on Doyon’s inholdings in the Refuge. They may be developing requests for permits from FWS for these activities on Doyon lands and possible permit applications for drilling on Refuge lands. We will be watching this very closely and will explore options to prevent any such activities on Refuge lands. It never ends!!.

Mulchatna Caribou
The Alaska Board of Game has postponed until 2022 its meeting to consider proposals for the State to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to federal lands within the refuges. We will be watching for any developments.




Open post

February Advocacy Report: Good News First?

  by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The last month has witnessed many developments and actions by the outgoing Trump Administration and the incoming Biden Administration, many good and some bad! The good news includes many replacements at the upper levels of the DOI with the nomination of Representative Deborah Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior and the return of Cynthia Martinez as the Chief of Refuges for the USFWS.

Kenai Regulations

The The Kenai Refuge survived the possible adoption of the revised regulations pushed by the outgoing DOI. The strategic submission by the Refuge of a “skinny version” of the proposed regulations that omitted the baiting of brown bears and the removal of the Refuge trapping regulations delayed the process long enough to prevent their adoption before the inauguration. Friends and other conservation organizations played a major role in helping to slow down and ultimately stop those destructive regulations. The remaining issue is the proposed restriction of firearms on the Kenai River corridor that the Court sent back for FWS to provide a basis for this aspect of the 2016 regulations that were unsuccessfully challenged by the State and Safari Clubs. That is being prepared for submission to the Court. This leaves the most important provisions of the 2016 Kenai regulations in place..

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The great news was the executive order by the Biden administration on his first day in office that declared a moratorium on all oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge along with other areas. It was wonderful to see this as a headline event on Day 1. Kudos to the ARDC! The next step is for the Administration to explore avenues to nullify or buy back the leases that were bought by the Alaska AIDEA and two small companies.. Meanwhile, U.S. Representatives Huffman and Senator Markey on February 4 introduced the Arctic Refuge Protection Act  that would provide Wilderness designation to the Coastal Plain, prevent oil, gas, or other development, and safeguard the subsistence rights of the indigenous people.
 
The latest threat to the Arctic Refuge is the recent claim by people in Kaktovik that they can use off-highway vehicles (OHV) for subsistence hunting in the Refuge. They based their assertion on unsupported statements that there is an established traditional use of OHVs in the Refuge. Without any evidence to support of their claim, the Trump era DOI Solicitor in Washington issued an opinion that ANILCA allows the Refuge to be open for such use in the absence of a contrary regulation or law to prevent it. This appears to be a forced and incorrect interpretation of the law and is being re-evaluated by the new administration. We are monitoring this situation as it develops. 

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

In the final days of the Trump administration, Interior Secretary Bernhardt overturned the FWS determination that the State of Alaska application to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness was incomplete in major respects and could not be considered until they provide considerable information and correct serious deficiencies. Bernhardt arbitrarily overrode the requirements and ordered the FWS to proceed “expeditiously” with the approval process. However, the Biden Administration instituted a 60-day pause in all FWS permitting processes, which  allows a complete re-evaluation of the legal basis for the State’s theory that they are entitled to access to inholdings under ANILCA 1110(b). If the permit process does proceed, it will likely take at least a year for the required NEPA process. The State also needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and will seek other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation. There are also NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. We expect that the new administration will ultimately halt this latest assault by the State and King Cove on the Izembek Wilderness

Yukon Flats Refuge

The BLM has developed a Central Yukon Management plan that includes a vast amount of public land that borders seven Alaska National Wildlife Refuges in the northern and central areas of the state. BLM has released a Central Yukon Draft Resource Management Plan and Draft EIS that affects 56 million acres of public lands, which include 13.1 million acres of BLM-managed lands along the Dalton Highway and Central Yukon areas. Their proposed plan could open up many areas to mining and other developments that would negatively impact wildlife, habitat, and fisheries of many tributaries that flow into the Yukon River and several refuges. Comments are due by March 11, 2021.

Mulchatna Caribou

The latest development is the postponement of the Alaska Board of Game meeting that would consider the State desire to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to federal lands within the refuges. We will be watching for any developments




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