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Meet the New Refuge Managers!

By:Poppy Benson, Friends Board Vice President

One holds dual citizenship and moved to Fairbanks from Amsterdam; one came to Alaska after googling “Duck Jobs”; the third’s passion is herpetology but his refuge only has one amphibian – the wood frog – and no reptiles.  Arctic, Selawik and the Koyukuk/Nowitna/Innoko complex all have new refuge managers, and their stories are fascinating.

Merben Cebrian has taken what has to be the most unusual and worldly path to Refuge Manager of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Not only does he hold dual US/Dutch citizenship and have a Dutch wife, but he grew up in the Philippines where he spent much of his childhood in nature.  The US Army took him to Africa, the Middle East and Fairbanks where he ended his military career and enrolled in the University of Alaska Fairbanks earning a wildlife biology degree.  Merben spent 20 years in Alaska as a wildlife biologist on the Tetlin Refuge and with the Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Glenallen.  

Merben Cebrian, Arctic Refuge Manager with a tufted puffin chick on the Alaska Maritime Refuge where he took a seasonal job last summer as a “trial run” for a return to Alaska.
He left Alaska to become the Bureau of Indian Affairs Midwest regional biologist and program manager working with 36 federally recognized tribes.  This was challenging with intensive human-nature interactions in a highly political landscape.  The past few years he has lived with his family in the Netherlands working as a free-lance biologist.  But Alaska was on his mind.  So last summer Merben took a seasonal job on the Alaska Maritime Refuge as an opportunity to experience a new ecosystem, check out job possibilities and see how his family would do with him away. Arthur Kettle, his supervisor on that job, called him a “big thinker” and very diplomatic.  That is what Friends noted as well when we met with him in Fairbanks last month. Merben says he hopes his broad background will serve him well in dealing with the challenges and opportunities of the Arctic Refuge.
Yes, googling “Duck Jobs” and a passion for waterfowl hunting got Wil Wiese to Alaska even though neither Alaska or the Fish and Wildlife Service was on his radar.  His background of growing up hunting and fishing in Wisconsin, a biology degree and, most of all, lifelong experience running skiffs and fixing motors won him a volunteer waterfowl survey job in the Arctic.  He was smitten by the Arctic coastal plain, working in remote field camps and the village of Kaktovik and never left.   Wil was hired permanently by the  Arctic Refuge before becomingSelawik Refuge’s Deputy Refuge Manager and now Manager.  Wil switched from biology into management because, “I do like wildlife a lot but I actually like people a lot better.  Working with people and helping them come up with solutions to conflict is what really gets me excited.”
Wil Wiese, Selawik Refuge Manager, said “I love living as a guest of the Kikiktagrukmuit and being surrounded by Iñupiat Ilitqusiat (values). I’m welcomed by the respect, humility, generosity, and humor that abound, and admire the hard work and adaptability required of folks.”

Wil writes that Selawik Refuge in northwest Alaska is a place often overlooked by those seeking scenic vistas but he finds stunning beauty in the snow-covered, seemingly endless tundra, spruce blanketed Waring Mountains, and meandering bends of river and stream.  The best part of the refuge to him is in what it provides for the people who live in it and from it.  You can’t eat scenery, but you can eat from Selawik Refuge because its waters teem with sheefish, whitefish, pike, and salmon; the wetlands are thick with waterfowl, expanses of tundra are blanketed in berries, and caribou migrations flow across the landscape. You can hear more about Wil’s personal journey in a podcast My Life Wildlife.

_______________________________________________________________________________When I asked David Zabriskie, “What is a snake guy doing in Alaska?” he responded “Making money to fund my snake hunting trips!”   David has the most experience of the three with the National Wildlife Refuge System having begun his career as a student trainee at the Wheeler Refuge in Alabama, followed by refuges in Mississippi, on remote Pacific Islands, Tennessee, Alaska, and Arizona before returning to Alaska to work as the Deputy Manager and now Manager of the Koyukuk/Nowitna/Innoko Refuge Complex on the Yukon River.

David Zabriskie, Koyukuk/Nowitna/Innoko Refuge Manager on Johnston Atoll in the North Pacific where he was working at the time.

I also asked David what he liked most about his refuges and he replied, “These three refuges are in the heart of salmon country. These intact ecosystems support an amazing plant and wildlife diversity. The opportunity to work with the indigenous communities along the Yukon River on resource management is fulfilling.”  Managing three refuges, two of which are bigger than any refuge found in the Lower 48, is a daunting task.  Add to that David was the lead on the Alaska Region’s first plan for a Wild and Scenic River, the Comprehensive River Management Plan (CRMP) for the Nowitna River. I asked him what he saw as his biggest challenge and he said, “Besides limited staff and budgets, the biggest management challenges are climate change and food security for the subsistence users in this region.”

Congratulations to our new managers!  Friends look forward to working with you.

Board News! transitions…

By: Friends Board
At our June 6 Friends’ Board meeting, Marilyn Sigman was appointed as President. replacing long time President, David Raskin. Marilyn joined the Board in 2022. She is a retired wildlife biologist and science and environmental educator who has previously chaired the Boards of Alaska Geographic (under its previous name, the Alaska Natural History Association), the Alaska Conservation Foundation, and the Alaska Natural Resources and Outdoor Education Association.

Caroline Brouwer was appointed to a new position of a second Vice-President which we amended our bylaws to include. Caroline has served on the Board since 2020 and has been involved in advocacy for the National Wildlife Refuge System since 2008, lobbying on behalf of funding increases for the Refuge System and policy changes. She spent 14 years working in Washington, DC on behalf of public lands advocacy and national wildlife refuges with Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

 Marilyn Sigman, Board President  Caroline Brouwer, 2nd VIce-President

In other actions, Tara Schmidt was reappointed as Board Secretary, a position she has served in for six years. Since being appointed to the board in 2017, Tara has served as a liaison, first with the Kenai Refuge and is now working with the Innoko, Nowitna, Koyukuk Refuge Complex. She is active with the Outreach and Education Committee and the Shorebird Festival Committee.

Tara, Poppy Benson, and Jason Sodergren were reappointed as Board members, with Poppy continuing in her role as a Vice-President and Jason as Treasurer. Elections for these positions will be held in February next year.

We thank David Raskin for his long and dedicated service as a founding Board member, Board President, and tireless advocate for Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.   

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Founder David Raskin, Retires

By: Friends Board

After nearly two decades of service as a founder, President for 16 years, and Advocacy Chair, David Raskin has retired from the Board of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.  We thank David for his many years of dedicated service, and his passionate advocacy for Alaska’s wildlife refuges. This organization would not be what it is today without his tireless efforts to support and to protect refuges from the coastal plains of the Arctic Refuge to the rich wetlands of the Izembek Refuge and everything in between.  

David was there when Friends was created at a meeting at the Kenai Refuge in 2005.  He volunteered to be the first president and has been the only president for all but two years of our history.  During his tenure, Friends grew from an organization of a few dozen people to the 315 members we have today.  Our volunteer, advocacy and education programs have increased exponentially under his leadership.  

David (on left) at the founding of Friends in 2005 at the Environmental Education Center at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  pc.USFWS    

In his advocacy work, David has attended many meetings with the Alaska Congressional delegation, testified before Congress and at public meetings in Alaska, submitted many beautifully written and persuasive comment letters on refuge planning documents and issues under review  and formed alliances with other conservation partners. He was the author of advocacy column in this newsletter which sought to keep all of us up to date on refuge issues. Principal issues he was engaged in included proposed oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge, the proposed road through Izembek Refuge and a proposed gutting of Kenai Refuge regulations.  He made a point of visiting many of Alaska’s 16 refuges and cultivated relationships with Fish and Wildlife staff in the Anchorage regional office and on individual refuges. David’s first-hand knowledge of refuge lands and the people responsible for managing them, increased our effectiveness in advocacy and support of the Refuges. 

David (on left) receiving the Outstanding Friends Group of the Year Award in 2010 in Washington D.C. from  the National Wildlife Refuge Association.   David’s wife Marga is next to him and founding “mothers” Sharon Baur, Ginny Harris, Betty Siegel and Patricia Wood.  Then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is behind Ginny. pc:USFWS

In recent years, he was honored as the recipient of two prestigious awards in recognition of his work—the 2022 Refuge Advocate of the Year from the National Wildlife Refuge Association and the 2021 Celia Hunter Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions from the Alaska Conservation Foundation. Read more about how David got into conservation work, what drew him to Alaska and why he embraced  the National Wildlife Refuge System HERE.
David came to conservation work through his love of fishing.  Here David  is leading a “fishing meeting” in 2020  on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge where he and Board Vice President Poppy Benson sought to convince Mike Schantz (left) to join our board.  It worked!  pc: Friends

We as a Board will miss the wise counsel and deep knowledge that David has contributed to our work for the last 18 years. His passion for wildlife refuges and the success of the System in Alaska has been an inspiration to us all.

Thank you David!

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Moving forward, slowly. May Advocacy Report

By David Raskin, Friends Board President

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

Sturgeon Decision
The most recent action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019 was the announcement by the State of Alaska concerning federal waters on the Kenai Peninsula, including the Kenai Refuge. Based on this ruling and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska. They can apply for quiet title through the courts or to BLM for a disclaimer of interest. If they succeed, they will be able to manage navigable waterways in refuges and parks that might include many rivers and lakes and wild and scenic rivers. This would require a determination of which are navigable waters, which have never been clearly defined. This creates a frightening potential for access to mining, motorized recreation, and oil and gas development on refuge rivers, lakes, and lands. We need to work with DOI and refuge staff to minimize these potential impacts.

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

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

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

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

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


(pc: Becky Hutchinson)

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Kenai Refuge grooms 10 KM of trails at Headquarters Lake. pc:Leah Esklin.USFWS

Changes! 2021 February 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 Department of the Interior(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 United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).


Kenai Regulations
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 Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign! 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 their claim, the Trump era DOI Solicitor in Washington issued an opinion that Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (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 National Environmental Policy Act (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.

Central Yukon Management Plan
The Bureau of Land Management (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’s 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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Insects Matter: Battered Sallow Moth Outbreak on the Kenai Refuge

By Matt Bowser, Entomologist at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

In early June, I received multiple accounts of abundant black caterpillars stripping foliage along the Marsh Lake Trail on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Dark caterpillars were subsequently reported from Cooper Landing to Sterling to Kasilof. These larvae consumed leaves of aspen, highbush cranberry, birch, willows, roses, soapberry, and almost any other broad-leaved plant.  Steve Swenson of the USDA Forest Service tentatively identified them as caterpillars of the battered sallow moth (Sunira verberata). This identification was confirmed when caterpillars my kids and I raised in canning jars eventually emerged as adults in July.

Battered sallow moth caterpillars finish off a leaf on Marsh Lake Trail on Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Multiple years of defoliation can lead to tree and shrub mortality. Credit: Cynthia Detrow

We periodically see outbreaks of these caterpillars in southern Alaska. The last event was in 2017, when  they were seen in numbers along the Richardson Highway and in the Mat-Su, Anchorage, and Kenai Peninsula.  The largest recorded outbreak of battered sallow moth caterpillars happened during 2003–2006 on the Alaska Peninsula, when up to 20,000 acres of alders and willows were damaged annually.  That outbreak, which may have included speckled green fruitworm moths, killed alders on mountain slopes over large areas. Deciduous trees and shrubs like alders and willows can usually withstand multiple years of their leaves being consumed without suffering lasting damage, so the severity of that event was notable.

Although the battered sallow moth naturally occurs from Alaska to central Canada and south to Colorado, there is no record of outbreaks of this species outside our state.  I wonder why battered sallow moths become so abundant in Alaska but nowhere else.  As with other forest caterpillars with periodic cycles of abundance, declines are likely caused mainly by diseases and parasites that pass through the populations.  At least one other sallow moth species is attacked by short-tailed ichneumon wasps.  The female wasp deposits an egg into a mature caterpillar, and the developing wasp larva will eventually kill its host during the moth’s pupa stage.

A Forest Service report links the 2003–2006 outbreak to higher than normal temperatures, but there’s not enough information yet to explain why higher temperatures might lead to increased populations. In related moths, outbreaks are often terminated by “zombie viruses” that rapidly sweep through dense caterpillar populations. The virus alters the caterpillars’ behavior, causing them to stop feeding and climb to the tops of trees. There the caterpillars die and disintegrate, spreading virus particles over the foliage below, where they can be eaten by other caterpillars. In some species the infected cadavers become attractive to other caterpillars, which cannibalize them and then become “zombie caterpillars” themselves.

An adult battered sallow moth that emerged from caterpillars raised by Matt Bowser (Kenai Refuge entomologist) and his kids this summer.  The caterpillars were provided by Dan Thompson (ADF&G biologist)

Adult battered sallow moths began emerging in late July, continuing into this fall when they presumably lay eggs. The life history of this species has not been worked out, so we do not know when the eggs hatch and larvae begin feeding. The larvae may hatch in the fall, feed and grow some, then overwinter as small caterpillars. Alternatively, the eggs may hatch in early spring. We do know that the caterpillars are out by the beginning of June.

I will pay attention to what happens on the Kenai Refuge this year and next. In general, we would expect trees and shrubs to recover quite well from this year’s damage unless there are high numbers of battered sallow moth caterpillars consuming leaves for multiple years. It’s also possible that other defoliators, like the recently introduced green alder sawfly, may have additive effects on mortality events, an increasing problem as nonnative insects and a warming climate collide.

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See a Refuge Cabin Trip in your Future? Kodiak has a New One

Want to “Live Your Wild” in a refuge cabin?  Kodiak, Kenai and Tetlin all have public use cabins and Kodiak just added a new one.   There are now nine public use cabins scattered across the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.  The most recent addition to the cabin system came “online” in September, and graces a serene site along the Chief Cove shoreline. 

Since all of Kodiak’s cabins are remotely located, the logistics were a bit more involved to get construction crew and materials on-site.  Success was enhanced by all of the pre-planning and preparations that took place prior to leaving the refuge headquarters.  In most years, support could also be provided by refuge pilots, but this year because of COVID-19 concerns, gear and personnel transportation depended entirely on using the refuge vessel Ursa Major II.

We have maintenance workers Danny Hernandez, Darrel Fox, and Kyle Coleman to thank for their efforts and expertise in building the Chief Cove cabin over two weeks in early September.  The construction crew is happy that their work will allow increased access to and appreciation of refuge lands. 

The previously established cabins are in Blue Fox, Deadman, and Viekoda bays, North Frazer, South Frazer, and Uganik lakes, Uganik Island, and Little River.  Each cabin allows visitors to spend extended time exploring the beautiful and breath-taking Kodiak NWR lands and wildlife.  While the cabins are sturdy, nicely appointed, and comfortable, they will, no doubt, also serve as safe shelters from the elements.  All are priced at $45/night, and all have bunk beds to accommodate 4 people (except the Deadman Bay cabin that accommodates 8).

To browse refuge public use cabins and what they have to offer or reserve a cabin follow these links for Kenai and Kodiak on and this link to the refuge website for information on Tetlin’s.  All refuge cabins are very popular so plan ahead.

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Friends Hire New Program Director

We are happy to announce that Melanie Dufour will be starting work for us this month as our part-time Program Director.  Melanie is replacing two part time employees, Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival Coordinator Mallory Primm, who left for a full time job, and media specialist Chessie Sharp who has left the state.  Thank you Mallory and Chessie for your great work for Friends.  We are hoping that by combining the jobs, both Melanie will be better supported with more hours and Friends will have more of her attention.  It is a huge job attempting to manage the largest wildlife festival in the state and support 16 National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska with just a volunteer Board, a few committee members and a part time employee. 

Melanie is a long time Homer resident and well connected in the Homer environmental education community.  She will be able to hit the ground running on the Shorebird Festival.  Melanie has this to say about her new job. “I am so excited to be working with all of the Friends!  Sharing the natural wonders of our Refuges and the incredible birds who make the journey to our shores each year is so important for conservation of the same and the gifts that those give to each person who walks on this land, Alaska.  I look forward to both sharing new ideas and implementing steps that will assure success and sustainability of  Friends of Alaska National WIldlife Refuges.”

Welcome Melanie!

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Advocacy Report September 2020

By David Raskin, Friends President

Kenai Regulations

The proposed Kenai Refuge public use, hunting, and trapping regulations and the environmental assessment were released. We submitted comments for Friends (see link on our website). The extensive efforts of many conservation organizations, including Friends, helped to produce more than 35,000 comments to USFWS. Many of us also requested public hearings to rectify the flawed way in which the USFWS minimized the visibility of the release of this program and failed to schedule public hearings. We have been told that these requests are pending approval of a Federal Register notice drafted by the USFWS Alaska Regional Office that would extend the comment period and schedule public hearings. This is a highly political issue, so the bureaucrats in Washington, DC may not allow these to go forward. We will let everyone know what they decide. The Humane Society scientific poll of Alaska residents shows overwhelming opposition to the proposed regulation. This is a very important issue that not only affects the Kenai Refuge but could set undesirable precedents that would negatively impact other refuges.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Secretary of Interior issued the Record of Decision (ROD) on August 17. The next steps are a call for nominations for a lease sale and an actual lease sale. In their rush to sell leases before the November election, the Administration may shorten the call for nominations from the usual 30 days and proceed quickly to selling leases. The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) is closely monitoring developments.

On August 24, Trustees for Alaska filed suit in Anchorage Federal District Court on behalf of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, Friends, and 11 other conservation organizations that challenge the Administration’s leasing plan. Read the press release here].  This was followed by a similar lawsuit by other conservation organizations that challenged the administration’s application of the 2017 federal tax overhaul that orders oil leasing in the wildlife refuge.

ARDC released the results of a national poll that showed overwhelming national opposition to the Administration’s plan to drill in the Refuge. The ARDC campaign’s highly successful meetings with executives of oil companies, insurance carriers, and financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts. They have 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

Since the June 1, 2020 Federal District Court decision nullified the proposed land exchange with King Cove, road proponents appealed to the Ninth Circuit Federal Court. Trustees for Alaska is handling their appeal, which used similar arguments that were soundly rejected by the district court. We expect the district court decision to be upheld and will be monitoring this closely. If the appeal fails, any new attempt to resurrect the road would require an act of Congress and a signature by the president. Trustees for Alaska and all of our conservation partners remain vigilant for any attempts by the Alaska delegation to have a rider added to other legislation.

Ambler Road

We are following the progress of the federal lawsuit filed by a coalition of conservation groups to stop this damaging road from being built. It would invade the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and have the potential to disrupt wildlife and habitat that could have major negative impacts on the national park and nearby wildlife refuges. We hope that the lawsuit will halt this costly and destructive project.

Pebble Mine

Army Corps of Engineers performed an unusual about-face, issuing a finding that the Pebble Project failed to provide satisfactory mitigation plans for the proposed mine. This unusual flip-flop b the Corps followed public statements by Donald Trump, Jr., Nick Ayers, former chief of staff to Vice president Pence, and other wealthy mine opponents. All are avid fishermen who want the Bristol Bay salmon protected from this destructive 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.

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Tracking Lynx Across Alaska:  What have we learned?

By Mark Bertram, Supervisory Wildlife Biologist, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge


In recent years, you may have seen a Canada lynx, heard of a lynx sighting from a friend or read about one in your local newspaper.  Lynx populations have been high in much of Alaska, so they have been out and about.  That population high is fueled by snowshoe hares, the primary prey for lynx.  Every decade or so, hare populations skyrocket and then crash.  Lynx populations follow the same cycle as hares but lag by one or two years.  Interestingly, this predator-prey cycle occurs in sync across boreal Alaska.

Dr. Knut Kielland, with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, has studied this intimate predator-prey relationship since the 1990s.  In 2014, he teamed up with Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge to examine a long-standing scientific theory that the peak of the 10-year hare cycle acts in a synchronous “traveling wave” across the Alaskan and Canadian boreal forest, similar to a rippling wave in a pond. 

But just what is it that sets the wave in motion and carries it over thousands of miles through the boreal biome?  Weather patterns have been suggested, perhaps related to cyclical sunspot activity, but these patterns are inconsistent.  The most likely explanation is long distance movements by predators.  Both lynx and great horned owls disperse over 700 miles in search of food.  Predators moving great distances from food-poor to food-rich areas could explain these 10-year patterns across the landscape.


Photo by Lisa Hupp, FWS

Kanuti, Koyukuk, and Yukon Flats Refuges and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve have since partnered with Dr. Kielland and Tetlin Refuge to collectively examine lynx movements across the northwestern reaches of North America’s expansive boreal forest.  Our goal is to identify which habitat characteristics are critical as dispersal corridors so land managers can maintain viable lynx populations across Alaska conservation units.  To follow lynx movement, we capture lynx in walk-in live traps and attach a radio collar that records location every 4 hours.  Every few days, the collars upload stored locations to a satellite, from which we can subsequently download data. 

In the past four years, 163 lynx were captured and fitted with radio collars near Tok, Fort Yukon, Bettles, Galena and Wiseman, providing hundreds of thousands of locations.  Some lynx stay close to home while others disperse in all directions over great distances (Figure 1).  For instance, Tetlin Refuge biologists collared an adult male near Tok in 2017 that took a year-long sojourn through the Yukon and Northwest Territories, eventually settling west of Great Slave Lake, 2,100 miles away!  In February 2019, another adult male was collared near Bettles.  That April, he headed northwest 550 miles through the Brooks Range to the Chukchi Sea coast near Icy Cape.  In May, he beachcombed south for 200 miles, double-backed along the North Slope for 500 miles to the Dalton Highway at the Sagavanirktok River, and then meandered southwest through the Brooks Range.  Since October 2019, he has taken a respite in a secluded stretch of the Killik River headwaters.

Movements of 163 telemetered Canada lynx across Alaska and northwestern Canada, 2018-2020

We have recorded long distance dispersals for both young and old, male and female, with daily travel averaging 10 miles and up to 27 miles per day!  There appear to be no natural barriers to movement as lynx have trekked across the Brooks and Alaska ranges, and the Wrangell, Cassier and Mackenzie mountains while crossing the formidable waters of the Yukon, Tanana, Porcupine, Copper, Kuskokwim and Mackenzie rivers.  Collectively, this collared sample of Alaska lynx from four refuges and one park have traveled from the Chukchi Sea to British Columbia to the North Slope to the Yukon Delta, traversing through 20 conservation areas thus far. 

Hare populations are now decreasing across Alaska.  In response, we expect more collared lynx will disperse in search of food across the landscape.  As more than 1,000 lynx locations are downloaded daily, university, refuge and park biologists will look closely at these dispersal movement patterns in search of terrain that dispersing lynx prefer.  Identifying landscape corridors that link conservation units in Alaska and Canada will prove valuable in future land use planning.

Want to learn more and see more stunning lynx photos?  Author Mark Bertram will be our speaker at our October membership meeting, October 20 at 5 p.m. on zoom.  Put it on your calendar and watch next month’s newsletter and our web site meetings page for the zoom link.

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