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August 2018 Advocacy Update

August 2018 Advocacy Update
by Board President, David Raskin

Oil Drilling in the Arctic Coastal Plain

There has been considerable criticism of the DOI fast-track goal of completing a draft environmental statement (DEIS) in less than six months. We participated in a meeting of conservation organizations with the BLM staff that is implementing orders from DOI.  The scoping process has been completed and comments can be viewed online.

It appears that the independent contractor hired to prepare the Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) will rely mostly on existing data and previous analyses, most of which are either incomplete or out of date. BLM was not forthcoming in response to our questions about the process and timing of actions. The Yukon government is launching its own study of drilling impacts in Alaska’s Arctic refuge. The Canadian territory is particularly concerned with potential impacts to the caribou herds who calve on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain and the Gwich’in people who depend on them for subsistence

In the meantime, BLM has accepted a permit to conduct extensive seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain. The BLM is working on an Environmental Assessment (EA) of the proposed activities, but they provided little information about the timing of its completion, if and when a public comment period will occur, and when a decision will be made on the need for a full environmental analysis. The potential damage from such activities is great, and lasting damage from previous seismic activities is described in this article:

This rushed and potentially flawed process to assess the potential damage from seismic exploration and oil development has raised widespread concerns that legal action by conservation organizations would cause considerable delays in government plans to develop oil in the Arctic Refuge.

Izembek Land Trade and Road

Under orders from DOI, the Fish and Wildlife Service granted a permit for survey work to delineate the boundaries of the lands in the Refuge that would be conveyed to build the road through the Izembek Wilderness. This legally-questionable survey that was hurriedly completed in July impacted wildlife and habitat with 80 helicopter landings and installation of 122 survey monuments. This intensive work with motorized equipment and aircraft was conducted within congressionally-designated wilderness in preparation for trading away vital public lands to a private entity to build the controversial road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness.

The lawsuit challenging the proposed land trade and road through the heart of the Izembek wilderness is working its way through the Anchorage Federal District Court as Trustees for Alaska continues its excellent legal work on behalf of Friends and eight other conservation organizations who filed the lawsuit against the proposed land trade and road.  Our legal brief was filed, and the Department of Justice reply brief is due on August 22. We remain optimistic that we will prevail against this destructive, costly, and unnecessary project.

Sturgeon v. Frost

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rehear the Sturgeon lawsuit against the National Park Service that had prevented his continued operation of a hovercraft in a national park. This suit challenged the authority of the Park Service to regulate activities on navigable waters in the national parks, which has major implications for national wildlife refuges and other national conservation lands. We had previously joined an Amicus Brief submitted by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of 14 conservation organizations in support of the Park Service. We reaffirmed our participation in this new round in the Supreme Court.

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July 2018 Advocacy Update

July 2018 Advocacy Update
by Board President, David Raskin and Board Member, Val Glooschenko

Oil Drilling in the Arctic Coastal Plain

The Department of Interior (DOI) has completed the scoping hearings for the proposed sale of oil leases in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In spite of many formal requests to have additional hearings to allow testimony from those were not allowed time to speak at the hearings, DOI refused to extend the hearings, and the June 19 deadline for comments has passed. Conservation organizations estimated that at least a half-million comments were submitted in opposition to the lease sale and there were organized demonstrations at several hearings. We thank all of our members who submitted comments.  The DOI fast-track goal of completing a draft environmental statement (DEIS) in less than six months seems unrealistic if it is intended to comply with federal law. Conservation organizations are closely monitoring this process and will respond appropriately.

Izembek Land Trade and Road

The lawsuit challenging the proposed land trade and road through the heart of the Izembek wilderness is working its way through the Anchorage Federal District Court as Trustees for Alaska continues its excellent legal work on behalf of Friends and eight other conservation organizations who filed the lawsuit against the proposed land trade and road.  Our legal brief is due on July 11, and the Department of Justice reply brief is due on August 22. We remain optimistic that we will prevail against this destructive, costly, and unnecessary project.

Of interest was a June 26 interchange between President Trump and Senator Murkowski during a meeting with senate Republican appropriators. Ms. Murkowski erroneously stated it is “a non-commercial road that we have been fighting about for 30 years,” although she has previously stated that the road is for economic development, and the language of her own legislation includes authorization for commercial transportation. President Trump replied that in the next couple of months the appropriations “will be complete and they can go ahead and build.” We have very different ideas!

Stop Alaska’s War on Wolves and Bears
by Val Glooschenko

The Department of the Interior has proposed allowing unethical hunting practices on lands managed by the National Park Service?In May 2018, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed the National Park Service to allow extreme hunting methods in Alaska’s national preserves, such as baiting brown bears, killing black bear mothers and cubs in dens, and killing wolves and pups by trapping during denning season.  It is also proposed to allow gunning down migrating caribou while they are swimming and baiting of bears with garbage or donuts.

This unethical attack on bears and wolves on represents a reversal of hunting regulations finalized in 2015 by the Park Service, banning these unsportsmanlike practices. The Park Service implemented its previous 2015 wildlife management regulations after an extensive, multi-year public engagement process in which more than 70,000 Americans spoke out against these shameful hunting methods. However under Ryan Zinke, the National Park Service is being asked to reverse its previous 2015 policy.  Zinke’s reversal, if implemented, would force the Park Service to surrender its authority to protect bears and wolves and return to these shameful and unethical practices

Under leadership of the National Park Conservation Association, a number of conservation organizations are working together to alert the public about this matter.  A strategy is being outlined to generate letters to the editor, opinion pieces, group letters and letters from individual Alaskans opposing the change in park regulations by the National Park Service.  This comment period ends on July 23.

Additional information on this matter is available from the following  websites provided by the National Parks Conservation Association and Defenders of Wildlife: .  

Concerns about the proposed new regulations can be submitted through the NPCA or the Defenders of Wildlife websites or sent directly to the address below: 

Andee Sears, Regional Law Enforcement Specialist, Alaska Regional Office, 240 West 5th Ave., Anchorage, AK 99501. Phone (907) 644-3410. Email: AKR_Regulations@nps.gov

Several sample letters follow:

From Members of the Public :

I am an Alaskan (personalize here if possible). Like so many of us, I came to Alaska partially for the opportunity to live in a place with bears and wolves in the wild. I am very disappointed that Secretary Zinke has proposed allowing the state to use extreme sport hunting methods like brown bear baiting to reduce predator populations on national preserves. Those lands were set aside to protect our resources for future generations, including balanced populations of predators and prey. Alaska will be worse off if our national parklands are treated like glorified game farms.

Hunter Letter:

 I am a hunter. It is an important part of Alaska culture.  And I am glad hunting is allowed on the 20 million acres of national preserves in Alaska.  But I don’t support extreme sport hunting measures like brown bear baiting, and I don’t support the state of Alaska’s efforts to reduce bear and wolf populations on national parklands.  That is not what our country’s national park lands are for. The National Park Service needs to stand strong and protect predators and balanced, healthy ecosystems for us and for our children.

Tourism Talking Points

  • Last year, 2.7 million people visited AK national parks and spent $1.3 billion in the state.
  • Those people come to see wildlife, particularly bears.
  • Seeing bears in the wild is a special experience that is transformative for so many visitors, and for so many Alaskans.
  • We need to make sure the Park Service can protect bears, wolves and balanced ecosystems so that visitors and Alaskans have a chance to experience iconic wildlife and so that our tourism economy continues to bring in money for Alaskans.
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June 2018 Advocacy Update

June 2018 Advocacy Update
by Board President, David Raskin

Oil Drilling in the Arctic Coastal Plain
 The 2017 tax law mandated the sale of oil leases in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The proposed oil development would devastate the biological integrity and wilderness character of the crown jewel of National Wildlife Refuge System. It would violate the 1987 signed agreement between the governments of the United States and Canada to protect the porcupine caribou herd that is critical to the subsistence lifestyle and spiritual well-being of the Gwich’in people of Alaska and Canada.  The Department of Interior has fast-tracked this process with a goal of completing a draft environmental statement (DEIS) in less than six months. They have held scoping meetings in Alaska and Washington, DC to receive public comments on what should be included in the DEIS. Along with many others, I testified at the Anchorage hearing to express our opposition to the proposed drilling and to urge thorough examinations of the many issues and problems posed by oil drilling and production (see above). The deadline to submit comments is June 19. You can email them to: blm_ak_coastalplain_EIS@blm.gov

Click here to sign on to our petition demanding the suspension of this ill-conceived scheme or submit your individual comments regarding drilling in the Arctic Refuge to the BLM by clicking here. (the comment link is on the right hand side of the page under “Submit Scoping Comments” please submit comments on the Notice of Intent)
 
Predator Control
 The National Park Service has proposed amendments to its regulations for sport hunting and trapping in national preserves in Alaska. The proposed rules are published at https://federalregister.gov/d/2018-10735. These new rules would remove a regulatory provision issued by the National Park Service in 2015 that prohibited certain sport hunting practices that are otherwise permitted by the State of Alaska. The proposed rules are consistent with Alaska rules that allow taking any black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites; harvesting brown bears over bait; taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season (between May 1 and August 9); taking swimming caribou; taking caribou from motorboats under power; taking black bears over bait; and using dogs to hunt black bears. These methods are inconsistent with responsible wildlife management and are opposed by many biological experts, including those who formulated the rules previously adopted by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the current rules for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which are also being revised. The deadline to submit comments on the proposed Park Service rules is July 23, 2018.
 
Izembek Land Trade and Road
 Recently, the Alaska Department of Transportation inquired about a permit for additional survey work in the proposed road corridor that would involve drilling into the substrate and construction of facilities. The Fish and Wildlife Service informed them that would not be possible as long as the land remains in federal ownership. The lawsuit challenging the proposed land trade and road through the heart of the Izembek wilderness is pending in the Anchorage Federal District Court as Trustees for Alaska continues its excellent legal work on behalf of Friends and eight other conservation organizations who oppose the proposed land trade and road.  This process is working through the many necessary legal steps, and we remain optimistic that we will prevail against this destructive, costly, and unnecessary project.

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Stop Arctic Refuge Drilling

The Trump administration has launched the process to lease the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. In April, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initiated the first step in that process with an environmental review which is preceded by a public comment period which is open until June 19th

Click here to sign on to our petition demanding the suspension of this ill-conceived scheme or submit your individual comments regarding drilling in the Arctic Refuge to the BLM by clicking here. (the comment link is on the right hand side of the page under “Submit Scoping Comments” please submit comments on the Notice of Intent)

Read the Notice of Intent here.



Suggested Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Talking/Commenting Points from the Wilderness Society

  • The Arctic Refuge is an amazing wilderness area that provides essential resources for the Gwichi’in and other Alaska Natives, and recreation opportunities for the general public.
  • The Arctic Refuge is one of the country’s most treasured and beautiful landscapes which should not be destroyed by oil and gas development.
  • The coastal plain is extremely important and globally significant habitat for caribou, migratory bird breeding, wolves, and denning polar bears, as well as other Arctic and Alaskan species.
  • Oil and gas drilling would have devastating impacts on this fragile coastal ecosystem due to the massive and polluting infrastructure needed to explore, produce and transport the oil. This includes sprawling roads, pipelines, drill pads, worker facilities and other infrastructure.
  • Oil drilling infrastructure likely will sprawl over vast stretches of the narrow coastal plain, adversely impacting wildlife and subsistence. Caribou females with calves often avoid infrastructure, and the narrow coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge may limit their ability to shift away from infrastructure like they can do in wider areas near Prudhoe Bay.
  • Oil production will produce greenhouse gases and black carbon which will further harm the Arctic, an area currently warming at twice the rate of most other parts of the planet.
  • The new oil and gas development purpose of the Arctic Refuge conflicts with the other purposes of the refuge. Oil and gas development will degrade subsistence resources and access to those resources including wildlife, plants, water, and air quality, among others.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015, after an extensive analysis, recommended wilderness protection for the coastal plain to Congress.
  • The U.S. and Canada have a 1987 treaty to protect the Porcupine Caribou Herd and that treaty’s obligations must be honored. The BLM needs to coordinate with the Canadian government and indigenous nations on this treaty’s requirements.
  • The Environmental Impact Statement must not be rushed. Procedural and scientific integrity, not political expediency, should drive the timeline. The EIS must utilize best available scientific information and traditional and local knowledge, and obtain data to fill baseline data gaps.
  • Given the major impacts a lease sale(s) will have on wildlife, the Gwich’in people, and others with connections to the Arctic Refuge – in combination with the lack of public debate on the tax law – we request a 60 day extension to the comment period.
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2018 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival

Over 1,000 participants joined us in Homer for the 26th Annual Festival: Thursday, May 10th- Sunday, May 13th, 2018.

This Festival is co-sponsored by the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and USFWS/ Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.  Alaska’s largest wildlife viewing festival honors the return of spring and it’s breathtaking bird migration. Homer’s  seaside setting is perfect for spotting over 130 migratory bird species, as well as numerous other resident species.  This event takes a village- the Friends and USFWS coordinated over 70 volunteers and had help from several area organizations such as Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, Cook Inletkeeper, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, Pratt Museum, the Homer Chamber of Commerce, Homer News, and many more!

 Our Keynote Speakers included Noah Strycker and Iain Campbell. Our distinguished guests presented a variety of workshops and lectures, including presentations on Strycker’s new books, Birding Without Borders.  Campbell offered daily photography workshops as well.  This year’s very popular artwork was created by Homer’s own Erin Rae D’Eimon.  Junior Birders learned valuable birding skills during a variety of school-aged themed workshops and presentations.  

(photos by Brandon Hill, Robin Edwards, Carla Stanley)

After our Saturday Keynote Address, Friends Member Dave Aplin, along with the help of some of the audience showed support for protecting the Arctic Refuge, holding handmade signs and completing petitions:


#DefendtheSacred

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April 2018 – Advocacy Update


April 2018 – Friends Advocacy Update, by Board President David Raskin

The U.S. Department of Interior decision to fast-track drilling leases for the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge has spurred considerable efforts to counter this disastrous decision. Planning and strategy meetings were hosted by the Alaska Wilderness League in Washington, DC in February, and further meetings were held in Anchorage on March 29. Alaska Friends provided some financial support to this meeting. Major efforts to save the Coastal Plain are being organized across the nation. Social media campaigns are being developed to educate the public and convince the oil industry to refrain from bidding on leases. Also, there have been discussions about litigation to halt this abominable development after 40 years of success in defeating such efforts.

The nine conservation organizations that filed suit in federal court on January 31, 2018 to stop the Department of Interior (DOI) land trade to construct a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness decided not to oppose intervenors who support the DOI in the lawsuit. These include Aleutians East Borough, King Cove Corporation, City of King Cove, Agdaagux Tribe, Native Village of Belkofski and State of Alaska. Our attorneys at Trustees for Alaska continue to monitor developments and represent our interests in the federal court. We are optimistic that we will eventually prevail to stop the dismantling of the Wilderness Act and the desecration of the heart of the Izembek Wilderness.

We have not seen any new action by the State of Alaska to to reduce predators in the refuges. We are working with the conservation coalition to stop any effort to interfere with the natural balance and diversity of wildlife populations on our refuges.

The Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) in cooperation with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF) has prepared the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Final Section 4(f) Evaluation for the Sterling Highway MP 45-60 Project. It included the following statement:

An important issue for this project is the effect to Federal Wilderness land. The process to approve a transportation corridor through designated Wilderness requires Presidential review and recommendation and Congressional approval. However, the Russian River Land Act (Public Law 107-362, signed by the President in 2002) allows CIRI and the KNWR to exchange lands in this area. In 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior informed FHWA that it would undertake a land exchange that would remove KNWR land status and Federally designated Wilderness status in a portion of KNWR if the Juneau Creek Alternative were selected. Such a land trade would reduce refuge impacts and eliminate Wilderness impacts of the Juneau Creek Alternative. FHWA considers the land exchange reasonably foreseeable and has evaluated this scenario in Section 3.27 (Cumulative Impacts). See Section 2.6.5 and Section 3.27.4 of the EIS for additional detail.

We are concerned about the removal of wilderness protection from federally-designated land in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to accommodate this proposed road construction. If you would like to submit comments, the Final EIS can be viewed at www.sterlinghighway.net

View 2015 Comments on the Sterling Highway Milepost 45 to 60 Project Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement


If you would like to help with these efforts,
please contact David Raskin (davidcraskin@gmail.com)
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March 2018 – Advocacy Update


March 2018 – Friends Advocacy Update, by Board President David Raskin

The U.S. Department of Interior has placed drilling in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge on the fast track. Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Assistant Interior Secretary Joe Balash held closed-door meetings in Fairbanks and Anchorage to promote leasing and drilling in the Refuge. They have stated a goal of selling leases by 2019. These moves are strongly opposed by conservation organizations and many Alaska residents.

The Gwich’n people will be severely impacted by proposed industrialization of the Coastal Plain. Many describe this as a moral issue that violates their lifestyle and historical dependence on the caribou herd that uses the Coastal Plain to calve and raise their young. Opponents to the proposed drilling staged public demonstrations to express their concerns. Opposition to the government and the Alaska congressional delegation is spearheaded by a national coalition of conservation organizations. Planning and strategy meetings were hosted by the Alaska Wilderness League in Washington, DC last month, and further meetings will be held in Anchorage on March 28-29. This major effort to save the Coastal Plain is being organized across the nation.

Our lawsuit along with eight other conservation organizations opposing the Department of Interior land trade for construction of a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Refuge Wilderness was filed in federal court on January 31, 2018. It appears that proponents of the land trade and road will enter the lawsuit as intervenors to support the government. The Aleutians East Borough voted to enter the lawsuit on the side of the government. The Borough approved spending $61,875 to hire a law firm to help them join the case. That money will also help four other local entities trying to intervene on behalf of the federal government, the King Cove Corporation, The City of King Cove, the Agdaagux Tribe, and the Native Village of Belkofski. The State of Alaska is also expected to intervene on behalf of the government. These interventions must be approved by the court, and our attorneys at Trustees for Alaska continue to monitor developments and represent our interests in the federal court. We are optimistic that we will eventually prevail to stop the dismantling of the Wilderness Act and the desecration of the heart of the Izembek Wilderness.

We have not seen any new action by the State of Alaska to to reduce predators in the refuges. We are working with the conservation coalition to stop any effort to interfere with the natural balance and diversity of wildlife populations on our refuges.

If you would like to help with these efforts,
please contact David Raskin (davidcraskin@gmail.com)
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Izembek Advocacy Update

Advocacy Update by FANWR President, David Raskin

On January 31, 2018, Trustees for Alaska filed suit in Anchorage Federal District Court on behalf of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and eight national environmental groups. This lawsuit challenges the legality of the land trade that would allow the construction of a road through the biological heart of designated wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaska Peninsula. The complaint alleges that this land trade by the Secretary of the Interior, which would trade up to 500 acres of designated wilderness in the ecologically sensitive Izembek Isthmus for non-refuge lands owned by the King Cove Corporation, violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. It also alleges that Secretary Zinke failed to perform the consultations required by the federal Endangered Species Act. In addition to these violations, this would be the first time that congressionally-designated wilderness lands would be removed from the National Wilderness Preservation System, setting a precedent that would threaten all protected wilderness areas and all federal public lands in our nation.

This lawsuit is the latest episode in a 35-year campaign  to build a road that would connect the fishing village of King Cove to Cold Bay, which has a major airport with direct service to Anchorage. Although road proponents claim that the road is needed for medical evacuations during frequent intense storms, a 30-year paper trail reveals that two Alaska governors, Senators Frank and Lisa Murkowski, and the Aleutians East Borough have promoted the road for commercial purposes to haul fish and workers for the largest cannery in Alaska that is owned by Japanese Peter Pan Seafoods. During this campaign, the 900 residents of King Cove have received at least $50 million federal dollars for upgrades to their health services, 17 miles of road with two hovercraft launch facilities, and the purchase of a $9 million hovercraft that performed flawlessly in 32 medical evacuations. They have since abandoned the hovercraft and refuse to consider other reasonable transportation alternatives evaluated bu the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers. Completion of the proposed road would cost at least another $20 million federal dollars and require extremely expensive annual maintenance that would likely fail to keep the road passable during winter storms. The former local medical director for Indian Health Services has stated that attempting to travel the proposed road during winters storms would jeopardize the lives of patients and emergency personnel.


Beginning in the mid-1980s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed three major scientific evaluations and environmental impact studies, all of which concluded that the proposed road would do irreparable harm to the habitat and wildlife of the internationally-recognized Izembek Refuge. The latest evaluation was the environmental analysis required by the inclusion of the proposed land trade in the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. Following a 4-year, exhaustive scientific study, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the proposed road would cause unacceptable and irreparable damage to habitat and wildlife and was not approved. This decision was upheld by then Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. A federal lawsuit by the State of Alaska and local interests against the Secretary’s wise decision was eventually dismissed by the Court. Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and other environmental organizations had participated as intervenors on behalf of the the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Secretary in this successful effort to prevent this unnecessary and destructive road. Along with other organizations, we have taken the latest step in the decades-old battle to prevent the construction of an unnecessary, costly, and environmentally destructive road that not only threatens the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, but would set a dangerous precedent for all of our precious public lands.


Review Official documents here:
Notice of Violation
Filed Complaint