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2019 December Advocacy Report

By: David Raskin, Friends Board President



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

 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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

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

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

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

 

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

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

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge-Regulation Changes

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

 

Kanuti and Selawik National Wildlife Refuges-Ambler Road

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

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2019 November Advocacy Report

By: David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

Arctic NWR

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

Izembek NWR

There is no significant development in the August 7, 2019 suit filed in federal district court that names Friends as the lead plaintiff along with the previous eight conservation partners. King Cove Native Corporation, the Agdaagux Tribe, and the Native Village of Belkofski moved to intervene, and the plaintiffs did not object. We have not received any ruling from the Court, and we will provide updates as this lawsuit works its way through the legal process.

Kenai Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

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

Ambler Road

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

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Advocacy Report October 2019

Advocacy Update by David Raskin, Friends Board President


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

Izembek NWR

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

Arctic NWR

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

Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

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

Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey

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

Ambler Road

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



Donlin Min
e

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

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2019 September Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

Izembek NWR

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

Arctic NWR

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

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

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

Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

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

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

Lower Cook Inlet Seismic Survey

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

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

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

Ambler Road

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

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2019 August Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update


By David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

Izembek NWR

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

Arctic NWR

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

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

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

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

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

Predator Control and Hunting Regulations

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


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

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

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2019 July Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

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

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2019 – May Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

Izembek NWR

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

Arctic NWR

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

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


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

Kenai NWR Predator Control Regulations

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

 

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2019 – April Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

Izembek NWR

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

Arctic NWR

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

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

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

Kenai NWR Predator Control Regulations

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

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Submit Arctic Refuge Public Comments by March 13th!

The Bureau of Land Management’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement is our last chance to directly voice concern over the impacts of oil and gas drilling in the pristine Arctic Refuge. Continue reading to find out how to write a comment and what the major concerns with the DEIS are.  Or download the document here. How to submit public comments
    1. Write your comments (see Template below)
    1. Submit your comments to BLM  
        • Online
        • Attn: Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program EIS
        • 222 West 7th Avenue, Stop #13
      • Anchorage, Alaska 99513 -7504
  1. Send your comment along to your Representatives and Senators to show your concern

Tips for submitting public comments

    1. Use a word processor – Write, compile and edit your comments in a word processor, then cut and paste your comments into the BLM Website to insure your work is not lost in case of a web error, and it allows you to use the letter again to alert your representatives in Congress of your concerns.
    1. Be specific – BLM suggests that “substantive comments should be as specific as possible.”  This public comment period is focused on objections to and inadequacies with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  While you can voice opposition to oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge overall, specific comments on the Draft EIS is most helpful.
  1. Speak from the heart – The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is important.  The Refuge is your public land to celebrate and protect.  Using your own words creates a unique, substantive claim that BLM is required to consider and gives your comments more weight.

Template for Composing Public Comments

**Use/Edit/Cut/Paste the following text to create your own public comments on the DEIS for oil and gas lease sales on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge**

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a unique national treasure and is no place for oil and gas development. The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges stands with Alaskans and Americans in opposing oil and gas lease sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.   The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is  insufficient in its analysis of the effects of oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain and does not fulfill its legal obligation to propose a full range of alternatives to the proposed gas leasing.

The Purpose of the Arctic Refuge

The established purposes of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are “to conserve animals and plants in their natural diversity, ensure a place for hunting and gathering activities, protect water quality and quantity, and fulfill international wildlife treaty obligations.”  The 2017 Tax Act (Law No: 115-97) added a fifth purpose of the Refuge  “to provide for oil and gas program on the Coastal Plain” Oil and gas is entirely inconsistent with the purposes of the Refuge because it will cause lasting damage to the animal and plant diversity, disrupt subsistence activities, upset water quality and quantity, and disregard international wildlife protection obligations.  The DEIS fails to analyze  how the oil and gas development will interfere with the originally stated purposes of the Refuge.    

Rushed and Faulty DEIS Process

BLM’s rush to a hold lease sale this year has resulted in an inadequate Draft EIS and limited public participation.  BLM is legally obligated to thoroughly analyze the effects of oil and gas in the Arctic Refuge.  Instead, the scoping review and DEIS process was compressed to just five months, which prevented a thorough analysis.  Work on the DEIS continued through the recent government shut-down even though the Arctic Refuge staff and other BLM employees were not available for consultation.  Public comment periods and notice of public meetings were abbreviated. For example, the Fairbanks community had only 5 days notice of their local meeting on the DEIS.   The DEIS fails to uphold BLM’s legal obligations to offer an adequate range of alternatives.  The DEIS offers only three alternatives, all of which allow full oil and gas development.  These alternatives fail to adhere to the limits for development and lease sales set by Tax Act.  Additionally, the proposed alternatives fail to protect the stated purposes and biological resources of the Arctic Refuge.  The DEIS does not offer reasonable alternatives to the proposed oil and gas leasing, nor does it sufficiently analyze the impacts of the alternatives.   The DEIS is deficient both legally and substantively.  It  failed to include: the required analyses, the necessary mitigation measures and alternatives necessary to protect the resources mandated by the established purposes of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  BLM must thoroughly and objectively analyze the 680,000 public comments submitted during the scoping process (which ended in June, 2018), carefully consider the concerns expressed by the Gwich’in Nation that will be adversely impacted  by the proposed drilling, and conduct the necessary analyses to understand the impacts of oil and gas leasing in order to comply with federal and international legal obligations.

Harm to Wildlife

Caribou: The Coastal Plain  of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that is proposed for oil and gas leases provides vital calving and post-calving habitat for the 200,000 animals of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.. The Porcupine Caribou Herd depends on  the unique ecological resources of the entire Coastal Plain during its annual migration and calving. BLM acknowledged that oil and gas activities will likely disturb and displace caribou, especially sensitive mothers and their young.  However, BLM failed to adequately address the impacts on caribou and failed to consider the full range of areas and habitats that are vital to caribou during their annual migration. Polar Bears: 77% of The Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain is designated Critical Habitat for Polar Bears, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  The Southern Beaufort Sea population of polar bears, which den on the Coastal Plain of the Refuge, have lost about half their population since 1980.  Nearly one third of these bears depend on the Coastal Plain to den and give birth to their cubs.  This area of the Refuge is one of the world’s largest polar bear denning sites.  The DEIS acknowledged that oil and gas activities could cause injury or death to polar bears and that all alternatives would also affect large areas of Critical Habitat.  However, BLM failed to identify and analyze mitigation measures that are sufficient to protect the bears, and it did not identify how many bears would be impacted or how the impacts to these bears will affect this threatened species. Birds:  The Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain is an essential nesting, foraging, and migratory stopover  for millions of birds each year. Over 200 species of birds from every US state and six continents nest on the Refuge Coastal Plain.  The BLM analysis of effects on birds is inadequate and contains large loopholes that would allow oil and gas activities to move forward regardless of harm to birds.  A thorough analysis of direct and cumulative impacts on world bird populations that spend their summer on the Coastal Plain is necessary to determine the environmental impacts of oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Disregard for Human Rights and the Gwich’in people

The Gwich’in people of Alaska and Canada are culturally and spiritually connected to the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which in turn relies on the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain for calving and post-calving habitat. Because of this connection, the Gwich’in consider the Coastal Plain to be sacred and believe that protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is vital to their human rights and food security. A significant portion of Gwich’in subsistence comes from the Porcupine Caribou Herd, BLM concluded that there will be no impact on the Gwich’in subsistence food source, even while acknowledging oil and gas impacts on caribou.  BLM asserted that the Gwich’in do not qualify for an 810 hearing (necessary under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act), which is required for development that will substantially affect subsistence. The DEIS ignored the traditional knowledge and human rights of the Gwich’in.

Harmful Impacts to Water Resources and Air Quality

Water: One of the specific purposes of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is to “protect water quality and necessary water quantity.” The DEIS acknowledged that drilling an oil well could use 2 million gallons of water and each mile of ice road uses 1 million gallons of water in this Refuge which has] few fresh water sources, especially in winter.  The  DEIS does not clearly depict how much water oil and gas activities could use and how this will affect the Arctic Refuge.  In their comments on the Notice of Intent, Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, stated, “Water withdrawals from the streams, rivers and springs could have significant and detrimental implications to the populations and habitats of fish and wildlife.” The DEIS failed to fully evaluate the impacts of oil and gas development on the already scarce water resources and the effects on  fish, habitat, vegetation, and hydrology. Air: The DEIS failed to meaningfully evaluate potential impacts of oil and gas activities on  air quality in the Arctic Refuge. The BLM concluded i that future projects on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be “unlikely” to exceed important air quality standards, but it failed to support this conclusion with sufficient analysis.  The DEIS did not quantify pollution emissions nor did it assess the air quality impacts of oil and gas development on the environment and on human health.   

False Limit on Developed Acreage

The Tax Act that allowed  oil and gas leasing requires that only 2,000 acres of the Coastal Plain be impacted by oil and gas development and production.  However, BLM interpreted this restriction too narrowly. BLM did not count acreage affected by pipelines, gravel mines, ice roads, or other industry activity (such as seismic exploration) that the agency recognizes will have significant impacts. Areas that supposedly would be “reclaimed” also are not considered in the 2,000-acre limit. Thus, the cumulative footprint of development would be much greater than the 2,000 acre restriction with far more actual development and greater impacts].  The narrow definition of the 2,000 acre limit would permit greater impacts on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge than allowed in the 2017 Tax Act.

Other Areas of Concern:

  • The DEIS failed to consider proposed seismic surveys. SAExploration LLC plans to conduct seismic exploration surveys on the Coastal Plain during the winters of 2019 and 2020, but the DEIS fails to analyze the impacts of their proposed seismic exploration.  The scope of the DEIS is too limited and did not consider the full range of oil and gas activities. BLM is required to consider all of the environmental impacts of the proposed oil and gas program.
  • The DEIS failed to identify the economic value of the Arctic Refuge. The DEIS recognized that the Arctic Refuge has significant ‘ecosystem service values’, that is, the biological resources of this land are highly valuable.  BLM recognized that their value would be harmed by oil and gas leasing, but it did not conduct an economic analysis to quantify or identify these values or impacts.  The DEIS failed to include an economic projection of revenue from lease sales. The DEIS failed to assess the immense value of wilderness and Refuge lands to air and water quality, wildlife, scientific inquiry, human well-being, and America’s natural and cultural  heritage.
  • The DEIS failed to offer effective mitigation.  The DEIS acknowledged that the proposed oil leasing could disrupt 633,000 acres of caribou habitat, 40% of the Coastal Plain, but its proposed mitigation strategy — to continue drilling and suspend “major construction activities” for only a single month of the year — is insufficient.  Likewise, the DEIS acknowledged its own proposed action alternatives could cause injury or death to polar bears and would affect large areas of polar bears’ Critical Habitat. However, BLM failed to identify and analyze sufficient mitigation measures to protect the bears nor did it identify how many bears could be impacted or how impacts would affect this threatened species.  BLM is reliant on lease stipulations and operating procedures to mitigate impacts to the Refuge and the DEIS fairs to show how it can enforce any mitigation requirements.
  • The DEIS failed to address climate impacts. The DEIS fails to provide any analysis of how expanding fossil fuel development in the Arctic Refuge would exacerbate the impacts of climate change already occurring across the Arctic.  The DEIA fails to address how to minimize the impacts on climate. Developing oil and gas in the Arctic Refuge is inconsistent with the urgent need to address climate change.
  • The DEIS lacks scientific integrity. The BLM is required to ensure scientific integrity, acknowledge where it lacks information, and obtain that information. BLM did not acknowledge missing or outdated information in the DEIS and failed to identify the source of the information in analyses. BLM did not conduct any new studies or obtain the missing information.This lack of scientific integrity is evident in its use of outdated studies of polar bears, lack of analysis of caribou calving habitat, and the potential impacts of oil and gas development to birds.   
Download resources to help compose your public comments on the DEIS for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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