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Why Did the Moose Cross the Road?

By: Poppy Benson, Friends Board
Photo by: Mike Criss, National Wildlife Federation

Right through the middle of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge runs the Sterling Highway – lifeline and only road to the communities of the Kenai Peninsula, plus the only access for Anchorites and tourists to the rich fishing streams, beaches, trails and other natural playgrounds of the Kenai Peninsula.  Traffic in summer can be overwhelming with well over a million and a half vehicles a year.  When wildlife crosses highways it is dangerous for people and wildlife – all wildlife.   Moose, the most frequent victims, die in greater numbers by vehicle collisions than by hunting on the Kenai Peninsula.  And moose that die on the roads tend to be cows and calves needed to sustain the populations.  Plus, highways tend to discourage free wildlife movement which can result in genetically distinct populations.  It was time to address this problem.

When the Alaska Department of Transportation began planning  to upgrade the 22 miles of highway through the refuge, refuge staff knew they needed to address wildlife concerns.  This past summer highway construction was completed, including five highway underpasses for wildlife, one large bridge, and fencing in spots. These are the first wildlife highway structures in Alaska outside of Anchorage.   Kenai Refuge Supervisory Biologist John Morton recently gave a talk about these new wildlife improvements and the need.  You can view his powerpoint here. To learn more about this issue check out the Refuge Notebook article Morton wrote about this early this year.


The Kenai Refuge’s vision statement on its website states: “The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge will serve as an anchor for biodiversity on the Kenai Peninsula despite global climate change, increasing development, and competing demands for Refuge resources. Native wildlife and their habitats will find a secure place here.”  The refuge’s work in securing the wildlife underpasses is one example of refuge staff working to ensure that increased development did not take an unsustainable toll on wildlife.  Well done staff! 
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GET TO KNOW YOUR ALASKA REFUGES: YUKON FLATS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Did you know that Yukon Flats is a world-renowned breeding ground for waterfowl, or that it is the third-largest national wildlife refuge in the nation?

The staff focus much of their efforts on monitoring the status of animals and habitat that are important from both a local and national perspective. Through a diverse program of biology, education, outreach, and enforcement, Refuge staff work with partners to conserve these important resources. Here is a brief summary of staff activities and items of interest between October 2018 and September 2019.

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Introducing our New Board Member!

Sandra J Kerns, MEd., MSW, LCSW
Animal Assisted Activities/Therapies & Equine Facilitated Wellness Professional

Volunteering weekly and for special projects and events with the Friends of Alaska (since June 2018) at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center is a significant part of my commitment to support efforts to protect the nature of Alaska. I’m passionate about advocating for our land and marine ecosystems and the mammals, birds, plants and invertebrates that inhabit Alaska. I care about preserving Alaska and our planet for generations to come. As a board member, I strive to work towards increasing public awareness and education on the values and stewardship in caring for public lands and waters.

Backed by solid credentials and 34 years of professional experience, I bring strength and expertise in program, personnel, and system development to The Friends of

Alaska National Wildlife Refuges organization. With my prior business management experience for Providence Alaska Medical Center, National Association of Social Workers, and numerous academic entities, I am well versed in public speaking, team building and leadership, risk management, fiscal planning, and program design.

I am a lifelong learner, educator and career social worker. Through my counseling practice, Winter’s Grace Guidance Center situated on 10 acres of meadow and woodland located in Soldotna, Alaska, I mentor others towards healing experiences. Connecting children and families with nature and animals is a central focus of my work. l love spending time on trails, at the coast and high on alpine meadows. On the home front I enjoy companions Icelandic horse Kisi and mini pony Breezy, canine friends Ruby, Hadley, Daisy and Lily and feline Clementine.

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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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Friends Need Friends

By: Tara Schmidt and Poppy Benson

Friends came to visit, and it was invigorating!  Thirteen Friends Groups from throughout the Pacific plus Fish and Wildlife staff descended on Homer in September for a 4 day “Tanax Agliisada” conference aimed at teaching us all new skills and sharing best practices.  Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges hosted the conference at the Alaska Maritime and Kenai National Wildlife Refuges.  A grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation brought the 60 attendants to Homer from Alaska, Hawaii, coastal Washington and Oregon, Midway Island and the Marianas Trench.

Building stronger boards, board recruitment and retention, improving community relationships, and empowering our organizations to ensure the success of the Refuge system as a whole were some of the topics covered in. Breakout groups allowed for brainstorming, sharing experiences and goal setting. We learned many of the issues we faced were not unique to us.

We all were fascinated although pretty depressed learning about the Washington D.C. scene from Caroline Brouwer of the National Fish & Wildlife Association and Desiree Sorenson-Groves of the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign.  At least I came away convinced we, Alaska Friends, do need to make a trip to DC once a year to keep our concerns in front of our representatives, and we do need to form a stronger alliance with the National Fish & Wildlife Association.

The National Wildlife Refuge chiefs from both the Alaska and Pacific regions, shared insight on national priorities, departmental directives, long term planning goals and ways we can work together on a panel titled “Impacts of National and Regional Priorities”. Understanding Refuge system priorities will help us work together to successfully develop programs and projects, which should in turn build community awareness and support of the refuge system.

In a small group meeting of the 10 Alaska Friends in attendance we hammered out these goals for the board for this year: 1) create a  membership committee and recruit a chair committed to recruiting/following up with members who have indicated an interest in participating at a higher level in our organization; 2) improve our communication efforts to highlight our work, promote our projects within the communities that are benefiting from our financial support of programs tied to the Alaska Refuge system; and, 3) send two from the Board to DC during the budget months of February or March.

Our fellow Friends were very interesting and fun people making for a stimulating four days.  Our hosting role went flawlessly thanks to our extraordinary conference organizer, Friends volunteer Anna Sansom.   Our visitors loved getting to visit two refuges – Alaska Maritime and Kenai, see their first moose, eat smoked salmon and moose we provided and even participate in Homer’s iconic “Burning Basket”.  We hope we have gained new allies in the fights to save Alaska’s Refuges.


Two takeaways from this conference are 1) we are part of a larger organization; and, 2) together we can be a strong coalition for advancing the mission of Wildlife Refuges. This was in line with the goals set for the conference – increase effectiveness and strengthen relationships across refuges. We need to work with other Friends Groups to achieve economies of scale, continue to share know-how and cross sell.

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Call for Artists: 5th Annual Art in the Arctic Show

  Call for Applications:

The 5th Annual Art in the Arctic Art Show

February 27, 2020

Fairbanks, Alaska

Application Deadline: Nov. 15, 2019

Notification Date:  No later than Dec. 6, 2019

THE SHOW: The Art in the Arctic Art Show is held each year in Fairbanks, Alaska. This Art Show celebrates three northern refuges based in Fairbanks, Alaska: Arctic, Kanuti, and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges. The scale, expanse, and wildness of Alaska’s Refuges distinguish them from most other Refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System. These refuges protect habitats for wildlife, fish, and birds.

This year’s show celebrates the marvels of migratory birds. Over 200 bird species have been documented in these northern refuges. Birds migrate from all corners of the Earth to spend the summer and breed where long days produce an abundance of insects and plants, which serve as primary food sources. Birds breeding in these Refuges have ranges that reach all 50 states and 5 other continents. At the end of summer, breeding pairs and their young migrate along all four North American flyways to their wintering habitat. For both experienced and novice bird watchers, national wildlife refuges across the country are wonderful places to observe birds in their natural habitat. Through art, we will highlight the plethora of bird species that utilize Alaska’s northern National Wildlife Refuges.

This event is co-hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. 

THE DETAILS:

Date: February 27, 2020 – 5-8 pm

Location: VENUE, 514 2nd Ave, Fairbanks, AK 99701

Exhibition: Artwork will remain on exhibit at VENUE until March 27, 2020.

Selected artists will attend the February 27 event to share the inspiration behind their artwork. They will also be expected to draft a short narrative (2-4 sentences) to associate their art with the theme of the show. Narratives will remain on display with the art for the duration of the month-long exhibition at VENUE. Artwork will be available for sale to the public. Proceeds of sales will be split with VENUE (60% to artist, 40% to VENUE).

SPACE: Each artist may provide up to 5 pieces of art to be exhibited at VENUE. Original art will be prioritized in the selection process (prints accepted as space allows). Art that does not reflect the theme will not be exhibited.

ELIGIBILITY: The Art in the Arctic Art Show is committed to showcasing artwork that exemplifies the marvels of migratory birds that inhabit National Wildlife Refuges in northern Alaska. All work exhibited at the show must feature compositions or objects that have a nexus to 1) migratory birds documented on Alaska’s northern National Wildlife Refuges; 2) subsistence activities involving migratory birds; 3) migratory birds inhabiting wild landscapes; and/or 4) any activity (i.e.: bird watching, hunting, scientific research) involving migratory birds.

TO APPLY: Applicants must submit 3-5 images and an artist statement. The images must be representative of the work to be exhibited at the Art in the Arctic Art Show. Minimum image resolution should be 300 dpi and 1,400 x 2,000 pixels. The artist statement should be no more than 1,000 characters.

Applicants must describe in detail each piece (up to 5) they plan to exhibit.

In addition to the above application materials, please submit your 1) name; 2) mailing address; 3) phone number; 4) email address; 5) website (if you have one); and 6) a unique identifier for each of your submitted images.

APPLICATION SUBMISSION: Applications must be submitted by November 15, 2019.

Submit electronic applications to: Allyssa_Morris@fws.gov

Mail hard-copy applications to:

Allyssa Morris

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

101 12th Avenue, Room 262

Fairbanks, Alaska 99701

For questions about the application process or the Show, please contact Allyssa Morris at Allyssa_Morris@fws.gov or (907) 456-0224. 

ACCEPTANCE: All applicants will be notified about acceptance by December 6, 2019.

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Extreme Fire Behavior Torches the Kenai Refuge

By Poppy Benson, Outreach Chair

We last reported on the lightning-caused Swan Lake Fire on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in July just as temperatures moderated, humidity increased, and the fire spread came to a crawl.  The Type 2 fire crew was sent elsewhere to battle more active fires and life on the Refuge returned to something near normal.

But then came August’s record heat and record drought.  In two intense days a 35 mile an hour wind gusting to 40 whipped up the fire, sending it racing across the landscape.  At 2 am on the night of August 17th as the winds howled, refuge staff began evacuating sleepy campers from campgrounds and cabins in its path.  Less than 24 hours later the fire jumped the highway and the Kenai River and overran the access roads to those campgrounds.  The Sterling Highway, the only road access to the Kenai Peninsula towns of Sterling, Homer, Soldotna and Kenai, shut down for more than a day.  For the next two weeks, the highway would be periodically closed due to hazardous conditions and pilot cars and long waits were often necessary to travel through the burn area.   Dense smoke invaded the communities even as far as Anchorage, and the towns of Cooper Landing and Sterling were put on notice that evacuation might be imminent.  Initial attack on the rekindling of the Swan Lake Fire was complicated by the other three fires burning in Southcentral all of which had the potential to take out many homes and one – the McKinley fire – did destroy more than 50 homes.  The Type 2 fire team that was in route to Swan Lake was diverted to the McKinley Fire because more lives and homes were at risk there.  A Type One (highest level) firefighting crew was then ordered and began to arrive on August 18.  The Great Basin Incident Management Team arrived to attack the r fire concentrating on protecting the towns and highway.  More bulldozers and aircraft were added to the fight although dense smoke shut down aircraft use on some days.  Refuge fire qualified trail crews worked on hand lines and saving the much-loved Refuge recreational cabins.  The Refuge had previously created defensible space around the cabins and that foresight coupled with the efforts of the crew saved all three cabins at risk.   Since July, acreage burned increased 60% from 100,000 acres to 160,000 acres but by Labor Day, the fire had once again slowed to a crawl and efforts moved from firefighting to mop-up. 

As I write this the rains are falling, temperatures are dropping with the move into fall, and hours of daylight are decreasing by five minutes a day.  It is unlikely that this fire will kick up again this year given this seasonal change, but then again nothing about it has been typical.  From its beginning in June the Swan Lake Fire displayed extreme behavior such as burning in tundra above timberline, burning several feet deep into the duff, and burning over rock piles.  This can best be attributed to the extreme weather of this summer and the flammability of black spruce which has been referred to as “gasoline on a stick”.   According to Leah Eskelin, Kenai Refuge Public Information Officer, even winter won’t completely put out this fire and smoke from hot spots will be visible next summer and maybe even longer.  However, those hot spots will be within the burned area and are not likely to have the fuels available to spread.  She explained that the fire containment lines near the towns are being checked by infrared sensors and human hands to ensure there are no hot spots within 100 feet of the fire’s perimeter.

Thanks to the efforts of the fire crews, there have been no casualties.  However, the fire took an enormous toll on people, particularly those in Cooper Landing and Sterling, who feared for their homes. Smoke and highway shutdowns canceled all kinds of travel plans and events from medical appointments to schools to business meetings to the Friends Kenai River cleanup.  The tourist economy from Homer to Cooper Landing took a hit as visitors did not want to chance driving the highway or breathing smoke.  A big area of the refuge and the adjacent Forest Service lands as well as the famed Kenai River were closed to all recreational use for several weeks.  And, of course, fire suppression costs an incredible amount of public money which is yet to be tallied.  The good news is that no homes or lives were lost and the long-term risk of fire in these communities in greatly reduced now that the mature black spruce trees have been consumed by this fire.   

The refuge is just beginning to get a look at the results of the fire.  The cabins were spared but many popular hiking trails and recreational access roads were burned over resulting in downed and hazardous trees and areas where hidden pits of burning ashes pose risks to the public.  Dozer lines mar the landscape in many areas.  The once beautifully forested Skilak Lake Recreational Area is a little heartbreaking to look at now, but life will return with a new and wildlife-friendly young forest.  Mushroomers and moose hunters are enthusiastic about hunting prospects as a result of the burn and the regrowth to come.  Leah reports that bear and wolf cubs have already been spotted in burned over areas. “And, it is really easy to spot wildlife now,” she added.  “The mix of burned and unburned landscape means many more species are going to find their future homes inside the fire’s perimeter.”

For more information and more photos of this fire go to http://kpboem.blogspot.com

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Izembek Lawsuit Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parties to the lawsuit include Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Watch.
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Friends: Assisting Alaska’s Refuges Via Membership Fees, Donations, and Grants

by Betty Siegel, Volunteer Coordinator

Village kids on the Tetlin Refuge will be peeking under the ice next winter and learning to fish this summer with equipment purchased through a grant Friends secured from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.  Friends were awarded a $6800 grant for a special initiative to enhance fishing and hunting on refuges.  Tetlin Environmental Educator Tim Lorenzini sought the Friends help:
  • to expand his school field trips
  • increase the courses he could offer at Native Culture Camps, and
  • create new Refuge sponsored community events. 
In addition to the fishing equipment, the grant purchased a regulation teaching archery set complete with targets, and the all-important ice fishing tents in a climate where school field trips often take place in below zero temperatures. Competing for grants is one thing Friends can do to help refuges but it takes volunteer grant writers and volunteer refuge liaisons to work closely with “their” refuge to make this happen.  If you have these skills, or would like to learn, contact us at info@alaskarefugefriends.org.

According to Tetlin Refuge Liaison, Poppy Benson, “The grant writing seemed like a huge amount of work but now that it is done, I feel like I really accomplished something. I have great confidence that the Tetlin Refuge will put the equipment to good use to strengthen their relationship with their communities and how can that not be good for wildlife?!”


But grants aren’t the only way Friends helps refuges financially.  With our membership fees and generous individual donations at the $100, $500 and $1000 level, Friends have been able to donate $1000 to help the Kenai Refuge fund school buses to bring kids to the refuge for field trips, fund all the prizes for the Migratory Bird Calendar contest which is so important to rural schools, buy wood chips for a new trail at Tetlin Refuge Headquarters, bring a dozen urban youth to Homer for the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, send volunteers to science camps, and pay for travel for Artist in Residence Lindsay Carron to capture in paintings the Yukon Flats Refuge.

And then there is the cookie money.  What is cookie money you ask?  Well the Fish & Wildlife Service cannot legally buy food for a public event but if a Refuge Manager is flying into a village to have a meeting with the elders, he or she had better be bringing coffee and cookies!  Last year we provided funds for refreshments for six refuge events. Friends is able to do this because of your membership fees and donations. You can be confident we use your money for the refuges wisely and generously. To join, renew, or make a donation, CLICK HERE .Thank you on behalf of Friends and the 16 Alaska Refuges!
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2019 June Advocacy Report

Advocacy Update

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

Izembek NWR

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

(photo by Alaska Wilderness League/ Izebemek NWR)

Arctic NWR

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

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

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

Kenai NWR Predator Control Regulations

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

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