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Add your comments! September Advocacy Report

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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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. February 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.




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Good News First? January Advocacy Report

  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

Mulchatna Caribou

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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A wild month! December Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President


It has been a wild month! The  Department of the Interior (DOI) took major steps toward oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Refuge and pushed the Kenai Refuge to adopt destructive proposed wildlife and management regulations. However, the DOI supported by Friends won a major lawsuit that upheld the 2016 Kenai Refuge wildlife regulations.


Kenai Regulations

There have been two different attacks on wildlife management direction on the Kenai Refuge.  One is a lawsuit by Safari Club and the State of Alaska against the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) seeking to overthrow aspects of the Kenai Regulations on the grounds they were not compatible with state regulations.  The second is the FWS’s own attempt to revise the Kenai Regulations under pressure from the State and DOI.
 
On November 13, 2020, the Federal District Court in Anchorage ruled against the State of Alaska and Safari Clubs International and upheld the long-standing 2016 Kenai Refuge regulations that prohibit the hunting of brown bears over bait and require management of the Skilak Loop Wildlife Recreation Area for wildlife viewing and education see Trustees Press Release HERE. The decision confirms that the Fish and Wildlife Service necessarily has the authority to manage wildlife on lands it oversees and to set management priorities within Refuges even if it conflicts with State priorities. Friends and 15 other conservation organizations intervened on behalf of the DOI to secure this major victory against those who blindly promote trophy hunting and predator control on our refuges and other public lands. Again, we received outstanding legal representation by Trustees for Alaska!
 
Over 45,000 individual comments were submitted to FWS during the two public comment periods on the proposed revisions to the Kenai Refuge regulations, which would allow hunting of brown bears over bait and eliminate federal trapping regulations and management. We understand that Washington officials feverously pushed to complete the required analysis of this massive number of comments in hopes of ramming through the regulations prior to the change in administration. There are numerous problems with the process and the details of the proposed regulations that may require major revisions and a possible EIS. It appears that these issues may not be adequately resolved before the January 20 inauguration and the installation of a conservation friendly DOI and FWS.

You can read more about this issue on our website.
 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officially issued its call for nominations for oil and gas leasing November 17, starting a 30-day comment period (ending Dec. 17th) where groups and individuals can state their opinions about areas/tracts BLM should or should not offer and what the agency needs to consider prior to doing so.  See the Call For Nominations and Comments  here. Friends plans to sign on a group comment to be assembled by Trustees.

We heard that the BLM will announce this week that they will hold a lease sale with bids to be opened on January 6, hoping to issue leases prior to a change in administration. It is an unprecedented maneuver to call for bids in the middle of the period for the public to formally comment on the call for nominations, and it may be a violation of the public process.  They will also be issuing the draft Incidental Harassment Authorization related to polar bears and the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) seismic proposal for public review, as BLM continues to process the permit for seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain that KIC hopes to begin this month. 

We urge all Alaskans to voice their opposition to oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge.  Since BLM is not accepting electronic comments, written comments must be mailed and received by December 17.  Mail to: State Director, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska State Office, 222 West 7th Avenue, Mailstop 13, Anchorage, AK 99513-7504.
 
The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) continued their highly successful meetings with financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts. Bank of America and TD Canada Trust joined more than 24 major financial institutions that will not fund resource development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ARDC has continued their pressure on Chevron Oil and insurance companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic. 

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

We have no specific news on the State of Alaska application to FWS to construct a road through the Refuge under the theory that they are entitled to access to inholdings under ANILCA 1110(b). The State needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps and will seek other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation. There are NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. Trustees for Alaska is closely monitoring this and will develop whatever is needed to respond to this latest insult to Izembek!

Pebble Mine

The Pebble Partnership received a knockout blow when the Army Corps of Engineers denied the mine permit because the Pebble Project failed to provide satisfactory mitigation plans for the proposed mine. We are hopeful that this ill-conceived, destructive project is finally moribund, but such promises of short-term financial riches have a tendency to be rejuvenated and need to be carefully watched.

Mulchatna Caribou

We have no specific update on the declining Mulchatna caribou herd that ranges over a huge area of Western Alaska and encompasses large portions of the Togiak and Yukon Delta Refuges. The State is asking to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to federal lands within the refuges. However, this is not consistent with FWS management practices and is unlikely to achieve the State’s hopes of increasing the caribou population. Since the declines in the caribou numbers are most likely due to human predation and smaller impacts of habitat loss and other factors, FWS may mount a major effort to inform the local subsistence hunters about the problems of overharvest and enlist their support for a moratorium on hunting caribou. Fortunately, there seems to be an overabundant moose population in the vicinity of the Yukon Delta Refuge that could help to alleviate the resulting reduction in food supply that would accompany a hunting moratorium. Unfortunately, there is no such overabundance of moose around the Togiak Refuge.




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And it continues, November Advocacy Update


  by David Raskin, Friends Board President
Kenai Regulations

Over 34,000 public comments were submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) during the initial comment period, in addition to tens of thousands of petitions submitted in opposition to the proposed rule. After overwhelming opposition to the proposed rule and requests by our coalition to reopen the comment period and hold public hearings. FWS added an additional 30 day comment period which ended November 9 and scheduled three virtual hearings on Oct. 26-28. In the first two hearings, 64 people testified against the new rule, including many Alaskans who live near and use Kenai Refuge for recreation. Only four people spoke in support of the proposed rule, which included two Safari Club representatives and a state official. After two days of overwhelming opposition to the proposed rule, officials in Washington, DC ordered the cancelation of the third scheduled hearing, which left many opponents of the proposed regulation unable to testify. We understand that Washington officials are concerned about being able to complete their analysis of this massive number of comments in time to push through the regulations prior to a change in administration. To learn more visit our website.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

We are still waiting to hear about the expected call of nominations for oil leases. The window is narrowing for this process to unfold before a new administration is installed in January. 
 
Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) has applied to conduct seismic exploration on a portion of the Coastal Plain this winter. They are contracting with SAExploration, the same company that was supposed to do the seismic work under KIC and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation’s 2018 seismic application. The original proposal was limited to ~90,000 acres of KIC/ASRC lands, but BLM recently posted the plan of operations and proposal on their website and it includes both the private KIC/ASRC lands and roughly 450,000 acres of federal lands on the Coastal Plain. The agency also announced a 14-day comment period that closed November 6, 2020. 

https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2003258/510
 
It’s important to note that this is just the BLM permit; there is an additional approval required from FWS related to polar bears and the Marine Mammal Protection Act that we have not seen yet.
 
The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign’s, (ARDC) highly successful meetings with financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts reached another milestone with the announcement by the Bank of Montreal, 8th largest bank in North America, that they will not fund drilling in the Arctic Refuge. This is another success that we hope will encourage other Canadian financial institutions to take this step to protect the Arctic and their people who depend on it for subsistence and traditional ways of life. ARDC has continued their pressure on Bank of America and oil and gas development companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic. 
 
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

The State of Alaska has officially applied to FWS to construct a road through the Refuge under the theory that they are entitled to access to inholdings under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) 110(b). Applicants are the State, the Borough, and the City on behalf of the residents of King Cove. According to the application, the State will apply to the Army Corps in roughly 2 weeks for a Clean Water Act 404 permit and will seek other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation. There are NEPA requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. Trustees for Alaska is closely monitoring this and will develop whatever is needed to respond to this latest insult to Izembek!
 

Pebble Mine

The Pebble Partnership took a big hit following the disclosures of their behind-the -scenes antics that provoked the ire of Senator Sullivan and others. We hope that the Army Corps of Engineers will stick to their recent position that the Pebble Project failed to provide satisfactory mitigation plans for the proposed mine. The Corps gave the Pebble project 90 days to propose stream and wetland mitigation plans, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to put together such a plan in the next 60 days because of lack of options. 
 

Mulchatna Caribou

We have no update on the declining Mulchatna caribou herd that ranges over a huge area of Western Alaska and encompasses large portions of the Togiak and Yukon Delta Refuges. The State is asking to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to lands within the refuges. However, this is not consistent with FWS management practices and is unlikely to achieve the State’s hopes of increasing the caribou population. Declines in the caribou numbers are most likely due to human predation and smaller impacts of habitat loss and other factors, and FWS is not likely to allow the State to kill predators on refuge lands.




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Proposed Rule Changes Threaten Kenai Refuge Wildlife and Visitors

There have been two different attacks on wildlife management direction on the Kenai Refuge.  Both aimed at overthrowing parts of the 2016 “Kenai Rule” which formalized many long standing management practices on the Refuge.  One is a lawsuit by Safari Club and the State of Alaska against the Department of the Interior (Fish & Wildlife Service) seeking to overthrow aspects of the Kenai Regulations on the grounds they were not compatible with state regulations.  The second is the Fish and Wildlife Service’s own attempt to revise the Kenai Regulations to conform to state practices under pressure from the State and DOI. 

What’s New?

1.  The lawsuit was settled in Fish & Wildlife’s favor on all counts except shooting within the Kenai River Corridor which was sent back for further documentation.  On November 13, 2020, the Federal District Court in Anchorage ruled against the State of Alaska and Safari Clubs International and upheld the 2016 Kenai Refuge regulations that prohibit the hunting of brown bears over bait and require management of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area for wildlife viewing and education.  See Trustees Press Release HERE. The decision confirms that the Fish and Wildlife Service necessarily has the authority to manage wildlife on lands it oversees and to set management priorities within Refuges even if it conflicts with State priorities. Friends and 15 other conservation organizations intervened on behalf of the DOI to secure this major victory and were represented by Trustees for Alaska. 
 
2.  Overwhelming public comment opposed DOI’s attempt to change the Kenai Refuge Regulations.  Over 45,000 individual comments were submitted to FWS during the two public comment periods on the proposed revisions to the Kenai Refuge regulations.  68 testified verbally at a two night virtual public meeting at the end of October.  Only four testified in favor of the regulation change.  All others were opposed.
 
3.  Since the comment period closed November 9, we have been waiting to hear.  We understand that Washington officials feverously pushed to complete the required analysis of this massive number of comments in hopes of ramming through the regulations prior to the change in administration.


What is the Issue?

The State of Alaska in the past decade has not been happy with some aspects of the Kenai Refuge’s management of game animals.  The State contends that the State should have all authority.  In the lawsuit brought in 2016 by the State with the Safari Club against the Fish & Wildlife Service, the State sought to overturn the refuge regulations banning brown bear hunting over bait, management of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area for wildlife viewing and photography with a prohibition on trapping and general hunting and prohibiting shooting in the Kenai and Russian River Corridor much of the year.  


The proposed regulation changes brought forth by Fish & Wildlife Service under pressure from the State and a sympathetic Department of the Interior sought to accomplish some of those same goals – opening the refuge to brown bear hunting and allowing shooting most of the year in the Kenai River corridor.  In addition, the proposed changes would remove all Refuge control of trapping.  The Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area management was not part of the proposed regulation changes however.


These changes would seriously weaken refuge regulations that were developed through extensive public processes and agreements with the state that cover 40 years.  Brown bears, trapping, visitor access, and public safety on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge would be affected.


The proposed regulations were released in June 2020 with a comment period that closed in August without a public hearing.  Over 34,000 comments were received, in addition to tens of thousands of petition signers. Friends as well as other conservation groups requested a public hearing and that request was granted.
Two nights of hearings were held in October and an additional 30 day comment period ended November 9.


The conflict between State and Refuge wildlife management that led to this stems from the different mandates of the two agencies. Federal laws and regulations require National Wildlife Refuges to be managed for natural biodiversity and a balance of predators and prey. The State mandate of maximum sustained yield of species such as moose and caribou is the justification for their predator control programs, especially killing bears and wolves. In contrast to the State, Refuges must also consider user conflicts, such as trappers vs. hikers with dogs and hunters vs. wildlife viewers and recreationists.


The Proposed Regulations

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Proposed Changes would replace the Refuge trapping regulations with the less restrictive State regulations. The Refuge trapping regulations were developed in the 1980s in response to trapping abuses under State management such as dogs and eagles caught in traps, traps left out after the close of the season, traps along popular trails and roads, no accountability because traps were not marked, traps that were rarely checked leaving animals to suffer, and overharvest of some species. The Refuge would not be allowed to manage trapping on the Refuge. Under State Management these changes to trapping on the Refuge would occur:
  • Eliminate the no-trap buffers around trailheads, campgrounds, refuge roads, and visitor facilities (Ski Hill Road) which protected visitors and dogs

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

  • Eliminate the requirement to hide bait from view which protected eagles and other birds of prey

  • Eliminate the special provisions which prevented overharvest of lynx, fox, marten, and beaver

  • Eliminate prohibition of toothed-leg hold traps which reduced suffering and facilitated release of non-target species

  • Eliminate Trapper Orientation, trap marking and a Refuge trapping permit which ensured accountability and established best practices

All of these safeguards would be eliminated under State management of trapping. The new rule will apply to all of the Refuge, except the Skilak Recreation Area which has its own set of rules.
Proposed Changes include brown bear hunting over bait. Hunters would be allowed to use human food to lure bears to bait stations up the Swanson River Road. This would endanger visitors and oil field workers as only the largest bear to visit the bait station will be killed, leaving other bears to roam with their newly-acquired taste for doughnuts and cooking oil. This would be a trophy hunt only as hunters are not required to utilize the meat of brown bears.  
Other provisions of the Proposed Changes open the Russian and Kenai River corridors to shooting from November 1 to May 1.  This would benefit bear hunters at the expense of late season fishermen and watchable wildlife viewers.  Other provisions of the proposed changes would allow bicycles, game carts, and ATVs on some roads, trails, and lakes.  

Lynx trapped out-of-season, Kenai NWR

Link

Lynx trapped out-of-season, Kenai NWR


How You Can Learn More


How You Can Help

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


Friends Position
You can read our five page letter submitted during the comment period on the proposed regulations which details our positions and reasoning.

We are opposed to hunting brown bear over bait because it is incompatible with the purposes of the refuge, would have significant impacts on a unique brown bear population that is already under threat, and creates human safety issues.

We are opposed to having the State take over trapping management on the refuge. State trapping management is incompatible with the purposes of the Refuge because it does not safeguard species at risk, protect birds of prey, minimize unintended take and animal suffering, protect visitors and their pets, and require accountability from trappers.

We believe the Environmental Assessment is flawed, and does not meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Alaska Lands Act (ANILCA), and the Refuge Improvement Act. The required Compatibility Determinations were not completed for trapping. We believe that preparation of a full Draft Environmental Impact Statement is required for changes of this magnitude.

We joined the lawsuit as intervenors because we are opposed to hunting brown bear over bait as explained above, and we support the Refuge's management of the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area for wildlife viewing and photography.  We are opposed to opening the Skilak area to trapping and general hunting.  



 


 

More questions? Contact us at info@alaskafriends.org

 

Recording of a panel of retired refuge staff discussing this issue at our July 21, 2020 meeting:





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Kenai Public Hearing Scheduled, Comment Period Reopens

Thanks to all of your comments critical of the proposed changes to trapping, bear baiting, and other Kenai Refuge regulations plus letters from Friends and other conservation partners requesting a public meeting, the Department of the Interior granted our request for a hearing and another 30-day comment period.   The comment period is open until November 9, and the virtual public hearing will be October 26 at 4 pm, AKDT. 

Testimony at the virtual meeting is important because our passion on this issue took the other side by surprise and may bring them out in force.  You must pre-register for the meeting at this link.   You can  read the Federal Register Notice here.  Comment electronically here.  Comments you submitted in the first round prior to August 10 will be considered in the final analysis, but we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to raise other issues and describe how these changes will affect your personal enjoyment of the refuge.

Under pressure from the State of Alaska, the Department of the Interior required the Fish & Wildlife Service to propose new rules that would negatively affect brown bears, trapping, visitor access, and public safety on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  These changes would seriously weaken refuge regulations that were developed through extensive public processes and agreements with the state that cover 40 years. The proposed rules were released in June with a comment period that closed in August without a public hearing.  Over 34,000 comments were received, in addition to tens of thousands of petition signers.

Proposed Rules would allow brown bear hunting over bait for the first time.   Hunters could use human food to lure bears to bait stations up the Swanson River Road, jeopardizing the safety of visitors and oil field workers.  This unsporting hunting method is highly effective at killing bears and will have detrimental consequences on the refuge’s brown bear population.

Proposed Rules would open new areas to trapping and eliminate the safeguards in the refuge trapping program.  The Kenai Refuge would no longer be allowed to manage trapping on the refuge and the state, with it lax trapping rules, would take over resulting in these negative impacts:

  • Elimination of the 1 mile no-trap buffer around trailheads, campgrounds and roads
  • Elimination of special provisions to prevent trapping birds of prey
  • Elimination of provisions to prevent overharvest of species of concern
  • Elimination of required refuge permits, trapper orientation, trap marking and trap checking
  • Elimination of the ban on toothed leg-hold traps

Other provisions of the Proposed Rules would allow bicycles, game carts, and ATVs on some roads, frozen lakes, and trails and permit the discharge of firearms along the Kenai and Russian Rivers from November 1 to May 1. This would endanger public safety, increase the killing of watchable wildlife, and seriously degrade visitor experiences. 

Visit the Kenai Regulations page on our website  for a chart comparing existing regulations to these changes, information on how to comment non-electronically, advice on how to submit effective comments and more background information.




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Advocacy Report October 2020

By David Raskin, Friends President


Kenai Regulations

We were successful in forcing the DOI to reopen the comment period for 30 days beginning on October 9 and schedule a virtual hearing on October 26. See the lead article in this newsletter for details. This major effort was led by the Alaska Wilderness Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, and Alaska Friends. 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

We are still waiting to hear about the expected call of nominations for oil leases. The window is narrowing for this process to unfold before a new administration is installed in January.

The village of Kaktovik and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation are exploring ways to drill for oil and gas on the inholdings in the Coastal Plain. They are planning to do seismic exploration this winter on their lands in the eastern area of the Coastal Plain. They will need to get permits from the USFWS, and the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) and Friends will be monitoring any developments and will take action if needed.

The ARDC campaign’s highly successful meetings with financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts reached another milestone with the announcement by the Royal Bank of Canada that they will not fund drilling in the Arctic Refuge. This is a major development that we hope will encourage other Canadian financial institutions to take this step to protect the arctic and their people who depend on it for subsistence and traditional ways of life. ARDC has continued their pressure on Bank of America and oil and gas development companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

The latest development is a refurbished effort by the State of Alaska to obtain a road right-of-way to connect inholdings in King Cove with Cold Bay. This is a new tactic to represent individual landowners in King Cove that is very complicated and hopefully will fail to meet the requirements for standing. The State has been interested in doing this for many years, and Trustees for Alaska had addressed this in our recent lawsuits. We feel that it has little chance of success and  remain vigilant for any attempts by the State and the Alaska delegation to sneak something through.

Pebble Mine

The Pebble Partnership took a big hit following the disclosures of their behind-the-scenes antics that provoked the ire of Senator Sullivan and others. We hope that the Army Corps of Engineers will stick to their recent position that the Pebble Project failed to provide satisfactory mitigation plans for the proposed mine. The Corps gave the Pebble project 90 days to propose stream and wetland mitigation plans, but it seems unlikely that they will be able to put together such a plan because of lack of options.

Mulchatna Caribou

The Mulchatna caribou herd has experienced declining populations for several years. It ranges over a huge area of Western Alaska that encompasses large portions of the Togiak and Yukon Delta Refuges. The State is asking to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to lands within the refuges. However, this is not consistent with FWS management practices and is unlikely to achieve the State’s hopes of increasing the caribou population. Declines in the caribou numbers are most likely due to human predation and smaller impacts of habitat loss and other factors, and FWS is not likely to allow the State to kill predators on refuge lands.




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