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Recording data in a small notebook

September Advocacy Report: Waiting for an Announcement

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Department of the Interior announced that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon. We have not heard who is being considered and await an official announcement.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The bad news is the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act failed to include repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases.  The good news is that Knik Arm Services canceled its lease in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Along with Regenerate Alaska’s recent lease withdrawal, this is another step by oil and gas interests to walk away from drilling on lands sacred to the Gwich’in people. Only the State of Alaska’s Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) retains its leases, but the prospect of an oil company acquiring those leases becomes dimmer each year as the regulatory problems and the costs of development in the arctic make such efforts very unattractive. In the meantime, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study required by order of the Secretary. Many conservation organizations, including Friends have intervened on behalf of the government in the federal lawsuit by the AIDEA and the State.


We have no updates on the threat to the Coastal Plain by the submission of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area and the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The March 16, 2022, panel decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of defendants’ appeal overturned our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. This disastrous decision rewrote Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to reinstate the land exchange for the road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. The far-reaching implications of this decision on 104 million acres of federal conservation units and lands in Alaska are potentially devastating.

As lead plaintiff in this case, Friends worked closely with Deborah Williams (former Alaska Special Assistant to Secretary Babbitt for Alaska), Nicole Whittington-Evans (Alaska Director for Defenders of Wildlife), and others to develop options and strategy to undo this extremely dangerous decision. These efforts resulted in amicus briefs by President Jimmy Carter, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and former Interior Solicitor John Leshy. These developments influenced Trustees for Alaska to petition the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc, (when all the judges of a court hear a case). On May 16, the Court ordered the defendants to file a response to our petition, which has been filed along with their supporting amicus briefs. We are hopeful that these developments will be followed by a majority vote of the full Court that grants the en banc rehearing, which we await. A decision to rehear the case would nullify the disastrous panel decision and begin the appeal anew.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Following the welcome news that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) canceled the proposed lease sale for Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development, the Biden administration announced that there will be a new five-year leasing plan that includes the same lease sale. This resurrects the specter of drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and the high risk of oil spills that could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge


Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
We have heard nothing further on the results of Hilcorp’s shallow exploration on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge.  There is great concern that this may lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact the world-class wildlife and fisheries and subsistence resources in the Refuge.




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Life at the end of the continent: geese of Izembek Refuge. 9/20, 5pm-6pm (AKDT)

Presentation by Alison Williams, Widlife Biologist

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is a remote refuge in southwest Alaska that contains one of the world’s largest eelgrass beds and hosts a huge diversity of wildlife. In particular, the refuge is critical habitat for several iconic Alaskan goose species that rely on the refuge as migratory staging and wintering areas.  So why are these geese at Izembek, and where do they come from? How are geese at Izembek affected by changing environmental conditions? Come learn about the life of Alaska’s geese and how Izembek is a key piece of their life history!

Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, including virtually the entire population of Pacific Black Brant, visit the lagoon to feed on eelgrass and rest during migration. pc: Kristine Sowls/USFWS

Alison Williams is a wildlife biologist at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, stationed in Cold Bay, Alaska. Originally from Colorado, she grew up in the wild foothills of the Rocky Mountains with a love for wildlife, open spaces, and a special interest in birds.  She earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation, before coming to Alaska as a seasonal Biological Science Technician for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Through her work, she spent several remarkable years traveling to various Wildlife Refuges within Alaska, including multiple visits to Izembek, which piqued her interest in seaducks, seabirds, and life on the remote edges of Alaska. She started her current, dream job at Izembek in March 2021, and has enjoyed learning about and seeing the huge diversity of wildlife Izembek has to offer. Alison also recently completed a Master of Science Degree in Avian Sciences from University of California Davis on Common Goldeneye reproductive ecology in interior Alaska




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August Advocacy Report: Fresh from the ocean

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill that included repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases was torpedoed by Senator Manchin. A minimal reconciliation bill is expected to come before the Senate in August without the Arctic Refuge oil and gas repeal. There is a possibility that an amendment to include the repeal might be adopted, but the chances are not good. If Manchin opposes it, the Democrats will need at least one Republican vote to adopt it. However, it appears that the Secretary of Interior has the power to cancel the lease sale, but there is much uncertainty in all of this.  In the meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement required by order of the Secretary.

The contractor hired by the USFWS completed its report about the results of its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas. We expect that the report includes little hard evidence to support the claim of historic use of vehicles. The USFWS is still processing the application to decide the validity of the Kaktovik claim.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The March 16, 2022, panel decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of defendants’ appeal overturned our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. This disastrous decision rewrote Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to reinstate the land exchange for the road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. The far-reaching implications of this decision on 104 million acres of federal conservation units and lands in Alaska are potentially devastating.
 
As lead plaintiff in this case, Friends worked closely with Deborah Williams (former Alaska Special Assistant to Secretary Babbitt for Alaska), Nicole Whittington-Evans (Alaska Director for Defenders of Wildlife), and others to develop options and strategy to undo this extremely dangerous decision. Following Trustees for Alaska petition the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc, extensive efforts spearheaded by Ms. Williams achieved huge support for the petition by amicus briefs by President Jimmy Carter and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and former Interior Solicitor John Leshy. Trustees also obtained amicus support from a group of 25 law professors. The Court ordered the defendants to expeditiously file a response to our petition, which is the first step toward a possible rehearing. This was very encouraging, and the Department of Justice requested a 30-day extension to file their response and then requested another 30-day extension, both of which the Court granted with the admonition that no more extensions will be granted. Their new deadline to file is August 5, and amicus briefs in support of the defendants must be filed within 10 days. A majority vote of the full Court is required to grant the en banc rehearing, which may take several months for a decision. A decision to rehear the case would nullify the disastrous panel decision and begin the appeal anew. However, if our petition is granted, the Secretary of Interior could withdraw the land exchange, which would end the legal process and leave our district court victory intact.
 
The National Wildlife Refuge Association and Defenders of Wildlife drafted and submitted a letter to Secretary Haaland on behalf of 13 CEOs of national conservation organizations and Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges requesting a meeting with the Secretary to discuss the problems created by the land exchange and the Ninth Circuit decision. . We were granted a 30-minute virtual meeting with the secretary and her key staff that occurred on July 14. The agenda and presentations were superbly organized by the Defenders of Wildlife staff in Anchorage and Washington, DC. The meeting went extremely well, and the notes can be found here. We are hopeful that the meeting will produce positive actions by her.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
After the extremely welcome news that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) canceled the proposed lease sale for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale because of lack of interest by the oil and gas industry, we received the disappointing announcement that the Biden administration has again included a lease sale in the new five-year plan.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
On April 18, 2022, the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a sweeping decision that rejected the appeal of the Kenai Refuge wildlife regulations lodged by Safari Clubs International and the State of Alaska. This decision maintained the Kenai regulations that include a ban on baiting of brown bears and other sensible controls on trapping and predator control. Friends was one of many intervenor-defendants in support of the government. Trustees for Alaska Staff Attorneys Katie Strong and Rachel Briggs did an outstanding job to secure this important victory. However, the State has now petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court for an en banc rehearing of the case. Our attorneys have indicated that they do not feel that the State has made a compelling case for a rehearing, very few of which are granted.

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
We have heard nothing further on Hilcorp’s plans to begin seismic exploration next winter on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge.  There is great concern that this will lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact the world-class wildlife and fisheries and subsistence resources in the Refuge. If our appeal of the Izembek decision fails, it may to lead to administrative actions to facilitate possible oil and gas development by means of a land trade or other mechanism.




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A female brown bear pauses on the bank of the Kenai River in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

May Advocacy Report: Seasons Change, We Keep On!

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We are pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service leadership positions have been filled but continue to hope that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon. We have heard rumors but have seen no official announcement.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill that includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases may be headed for a possible reformulation. There are glimmers of hope that Senator Manchin will support a lesser version that will include the Arctic Refuge lease repeal in a revised version of the legislation. This may occur before summer. In the meantime, U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental EIS required by order of the Secretary. Many conservation organizations, including Friends have intervened on behalf of the government in the federal lawsuit by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and the State.


The threat to the Coastal Plain continues after the submission of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The validity of their claim that Kaktovik lands are an inholding without adequate and reasonable access must be decided by the Secretary in consultation with the Solicitor. If KIC prevails, there must be a notice of intent and a NEPA process. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS completed its report about the results of its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas. We expect that the report includes little hard evidence to support the claim of historic use of vehicles. The USFWS is processing the application to decide the validity of the Kaktovik claim.


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The March 16, 2022, panel decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of defendants’ appeal overturned our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. This disastrous decision rewrote Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to reinstate the land exchange for the road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. The far-reaching implications of this decision on 104 million acres of federal conservation units and lands in Alaska are potentially devastating.

As lead plaintiff in this case, Friends worked closely with Deborah Williams (former Alaska Special Assistant to Secretary Babbitt for Alaska), Nicole Whittington-Evans (Alaska Director for Defenders of Wildlife), and others to develop options and strategy to undo this extremely dangerous decision. Trustees for Alaska ultimately decided to petition the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc. Extensive efforts spearheaded by Ms. Williams achieved huge support for the petition by amicus briefs by President Jimmy Carter  and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and former Interior Solicitor John Leshy. Trustees also obtained amicus support from a group of 25 law professors. On May 16, the Court ordered the defendants to file a response to our petition, which is the first step toward a possible rehearing. This is very encouraging, but must be followed by a majority vote of the full Court. We hope that the Ninth Circuit will grant the en banc rehearing, which may take several months for a decision. A decision to rehear the case would nullify the disastrous panel decision and begin the appeal anew. 

Fulfilling her commitment to Senator Murkowski, Secretary of the Interior Haaland visited the Izembek Refuge and King Cove on April 19. She was accompanied by her Special Advisor Raina Thiele, Senator Murkowski, USFWS Director Martha Williams, Regional Director Sara Boario, Regional Chief of Refuges Brian Glaspell, and Izembek Manager Maria Fosado. After a very emotional welcome and ceremonies in King Cove, Secretary Haaland received a guided tour of the Refuge to see the values of wildlife, habitat, and Wilderness that would be severely impacted by the land exchange and the unnecessary and destructive road. The FWS personnel provided her with extensive information and documents about the destructive aspects of the road and more acceptable and positive alternatives to the unnecessary road. We do not expect a decision by the Secretary until the pending appeal is resolved although she may decide at any time.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
We received the extremely welcome news that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) canceled the proposed lease sale for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. This halted any proposed developments that would have created drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and the high risk of oil spills that could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge. Liz Mering of the Cook InletKeeper did an outstanding job of organizing and spearheading this major conservation victory.


Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
On April 18, 2022, the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a sweeping decision that rejected the appeal of the Kenai Refuge wildlife regulations lodged by Safari Clubs International and the State of Alaska, This decision maintained the Kenai regulations that include a ban on baiting of brown bears and other sensible controls on trapping and predator control. Friends was one of many intervenor-defendants in support of the government. Trustees for Alaska Staff Attorneys Katie Strong and Rachel Briggs did an outstanding job to secure this important victory..

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
We have heard nothing further on Hilcorp’s plans to begin seismic exploration next winter on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge.  There is great concern that this will lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact the world-class wildlife and fisheries and subsistence resources in the Refuge.




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April Advocacy Report: New leadership, looking forward!

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Friends welcomed recently appointed Alaska Regional Director Sarah Boario on our April board meeting. We had a wonderful interaction with her and look forward to a productive working relationship on programs and issues facing Alaska’s refuges. Now that the leadership positions have been filled, we hope that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon. We have heard rumors but have seen no official announcement.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill that includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases seems to be headed to a possible reformulation. There are glimmers of hope that Senator Manchin will support a lesser version that will include the Arctic Refuge lease repeal in a revised version of the legislation. This may occur before summer. In the meantime, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required by order of the Secretary. Many conservation organizations, including Friends have intervened on behalf of the government in the federal lawsuit by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and the State.

The threat to the Coastal Plain continues after the submission of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The validity of their claim that Kaktovik lands are an inholding without adequate and reasonable access must be decided by the Secretary in consultation with the Solicitor. If KIC prevails, there must be a notice of intent and a NEPA process. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS has completed its report about the results of its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas. We expect that the report includes little hard evidence to support the claim of historic use of vehicles. The USFWS will proceed with the administrative process to decide the validity of the Kaktovik claim.


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
On March 16, a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. This disastrous decision rewrote  Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) to reinstate the land exchange for the road through the heart of the Izembek Wilderness. The far-reaching implications of this decision on more than 100 million acres of federal conservation units and lands in Alaska are potentially devastating, as described in the summary of the decision. As lead plaintiff in this case, Friends is working with our legal team Trustees for Alaska and the other conservation clients on options and strategy to undo this extremely dangerous decision.

 
Secretary Haaland will be visiting Izembek Refuge and King Cove on April 19. We understand that she will be accompanied by Senator Murkowski, USFWS Director Martha Williams, Regional Director Sara Boario, and Alaska Chief of Refuges Brian Glaspell. Weather permitting, we expect that she will receive a guided tour of the Refuge to see the values of wildlife, habitat, and Wilderness that would be severely impacted by the land exchange and the unnecessary and destructive road.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
We await the Final EIS from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. The proposed developments would create drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and pose a high risk of oil spills that could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Oral arguments on the Federal Ninth Circuit appeal of the Kenai Refuge regulations by Safari Clubs International and the State were held on February 18. The Kenai regulations include a ban on baiting of brown bears and other sensible controls on trapping and predator control. Friends is one of many intervenor-defendants in support of the government. We were represented by Trustees for Alaska Staff Attorney Rachel Briggs who did an outstanding job. Based on the questions by the 3-justice panel, we expect that our victory in the Federal District Court will be upheld..

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Hilcorp announced plans to begin seismic exploration next winter on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge. There is great concern that this will lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact wildlife and fisheries in the Refuge.




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Bird Camp! A Summer Season on Aiktak Island with Sarah and Dan: Tuesday, 4/19, 5–6 pm (AKDT)

Presentation by: Sarah Youngren & Dan Rapp,
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Biological Technicians

Watch Presentation (Youtube)

Post-presentation Q&A:

 

There are islands in Alaska where hundreds of thousands of seabirds gather annually to breed. These islands are critical to the survival of these species. Imagine yourself living on one of these islands with one other person. Sound picturesque? It is, but you won’t be spending your days sipping umbrellaed drinks while lounging on the beach. You’re here to do a job. You’re here to collect long-term monitoring data on the seabirds (and other species) that breed on your island. You’re going to be cold, wet, and generally uncomfortable for most of your stay. It’s not an easy life, but it’s worth it. You’ll see and hear things very few ever will. You’ll get to collect data that monitors the health of Alaskan seabird populations and the ocean they, and mankind, depend on for survival. Join Sarah and Dan for a summer field season on Aiktak Island, in the Eastern Aleutians, as biological technicians for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. They will show you what it takes to work in this rugged and remote refuge.

pc: Grubbing arms.

Sarah Youngren and Dan Rapp are seabird researchers. Most people have no idea what they do, because they work where very few people go and with species that spend most of their lives at sea (or in these places few people get to go). Between Sarah and Dan, they have 28 years of experience working with seabirds on remote islands in Alaska and Hawaii (and a stint in Louisiana). They both started their professional careers working with Alaskan salmon, and dabbled in other fieldwork, but both eventually found their way to a remote seabird colony. All parts of living and working on these islands spoke to them, and their addiction hasn’t let up. They have worked with a plethora of seabird species, ranging in size from the armful Black-footed albatross, to the fit in your palm Leaches storm-petrel. Most of the data they collect contributes to long-term datasets for the purpose of detecting trends / changes within seabird populations. But they also conduct and participate in original research, most recently they helped outfit albatross with tags to track their movements across the North Pacific from their breeding colony at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Both Sarah and Dan earned their Masters degrees in marine science from Hawaii Pacific University in 2015, with theses that addressed patterns and impacts of plastic ingestion in Hawaiian seabirds. After completing their graduate work, they returned to seasonal fieldwork. Since 2015 they have been spending summers working for Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, specifically on Aiktak Island in the Eastern Aleutians.




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Polar Bear Cub on his back with one leg raised

March Advocacy Report: Our nation’s last true wild places.

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The U.S. Senate finally confirmed Martha Williams as Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This welcome action was followed by the appointment of Sarah Boario as Alaska Regional Director. Now that these leadership positions have been filled, we hope that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill that includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases seems to be dead. There are glimmers of hope that Senator Manchin will support a lesser version that will include the Arctic Refuge lease repeal in a revised version of the legislation. This likely will not occur before summer, if at all. In the meantime, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental environment impact statements (EIS) required by order of the Secretary. The federal lawsuit by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and the State to stop the process will likely see many conservation organizations intervening on behalf of the government.


The threat to the Coastal Plain continues after the submission of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The validity of their claim that Kaktovik lands are an inholding without adequate and reasonable access must be decided by the Secretary in consultation with the Solicitor. If KIC prevails, there must be a notice of intent and a NEPA process. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS has composed a draft of the results of its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas. However, they are still waiting to receive additional evidence from the applicant to support their claim.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There is no word from the Court since oral arguments were held before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 4 concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. We also await a final decision by USFWS regarding the State’s appeal of the denial of helicopter use in the designated Wilderness. After an extensive review by Department of the Interior (DOI), the findings have been sent to newly appointed Regional Director Sarah Boario in Anchorage to issue the final decision. We expect that the State’s appeal will be denied, but this may not occur before the Secretary visits King Cove, possibly in the spring.


Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The comment period closed on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Draft EIS for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. The proposed developments would create drilling platforms, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and pose a high risk of oil spills that could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge. We await the issuance of the EIS.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
Oral arguments on the Federal Ninth Circuit appeal of the Kenai Refuge regulations by Safari Club International and the State were held on February 18. The Kenai regulations include a ban on baiting of brown bears and other sensible controls on trapping and predator control. Friends is one of many intervenor-defendants in support of the government. We were represented by Trustees for Alaska Staff Attorney Rachel Briggs who did an outstanding job. Based on the questions by the 3-justice panel, we expect that our victory in the Federal District Court will be upheld.

Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Hilcorp announced plans to begin seismic exploration in March on Doyon Corporation inholdings in the Yukon Flats Refuge.  There is great concern that this will lead to oil and gas development that could negatively impact wildlife and fisheries in the Refuge.

Sturgeon Decision
We are unaware of any action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019. Based on this ruling and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska.


Ambler Road
The Department of Interior announced that it will not allow work to proceed on the proposed road to the Ambler Mining District, reversing a pro-mining ruling from the Trump Administration. DOI wants to review the faulty environmental impact statement process. The Department asked the federal court to remand the right-of-way decision to the agency to correct the significant deficiencies in the underlying analyses. The Department will reconsider the analyses related to the National Environmental Protection Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The DOI will suspend the right-of-way for the road during the review period to ensure that no ground-disturbing activity takes place that could potentially impact the resources in question. This is an important step to prevent this disastrous road from impacting national wildlife refuges and parks.




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Bears, the Emerald Isle and Bear Biology in Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge: Tuesday, 3/15, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKDT)


This meeting’s presentations were recorded.  Watch below:

Arctic Refuge Video




Dr. Joy Erlenbach, Kodiak Refuge Bear Biologist



Have you ever wondered what a bear biologist actually does? Get a tour of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge—see the lush green landscapes, the jagged peaks, the idyllic remote streams, the majestic bears and wildlife…and get to know the bears of Kodiak just a little bit better. Find out what the refuge has to offer, and the ways our biologists work to maintain the land and resources for future generations. Listen as Joy shares with us what it’s like to be a bear biologist at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge— the work she does, the needs of bears, and future directions for bear biology and management in Kodiak.

Protected ocean waters within a fjord, the surface of Three Saints Bay reflects mountains like the surface of a calm lake. pc: Robin Corcoran.

Joy Erlenbach says she became interested in bears because of the adaptability of bears—their ability to adjust to myriad challenges and still succeed—as well as their misunderstood nature.  Joy has studied black, brown, and polar bears but brown bears are her favorite because of their big personalities and grit.

Joy has been Kodiak Refuge’s bear biologist since March 2020. Prior to working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service she was a Postdoc, PhD Student, and Masters student at Washington State University where she studied nutritional ecology of Alaskan brown bears, optimal diets for brown bears in the wild and captivity, and energetics of polar bears on land.  She did extensive field work in Katmai National Park from 2015 to 2018 for her PhD as well as short stints for other projects on the Kenai Peninsula and the Kotzebue area. She has also done field work in Canada, Yellowstone, and California.  She has been involved in 15 scientific papers including her PhD thesis, Nutritional and Landscape Ecology of Brown Bears in Katmai National Park, Alaska.

“One of my favorite memories during some of my work was watching a young wolf and a young brown bear play tag on the intertidal. That and the time the same young bear recognized how bad she was at fishing and gave up and just lazy-river floated down the river instead.”

In addition to job skills such as collaborative research planning, data and statistical analysis, and population monitoring, Joy’s resume includes unusual skills such as capturing large wildlife by helicopter darting, aerial netting and snares, planning remote field research camps and projects, backcountry navigation and radio telemetry.




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February Advocacy Report: Looking forward, working hard

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We continue to wait for the U.S. Senate to confirm Acting Director Martha Williams as the new Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We expect that after her confirmation, the Executive Review Board will act to appoint a successor to Regional Director Greg Siekaniec who retired last August. We also hope that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed soon..


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Budget Reconciliation bill that includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases seems doomed after Senators Manchin and Sinema failed to support the bill passed by the House. We are hopeful that a compromise version will eventually be approved, and the Arctic Refuge lease repeal will remain in a revised version of the legislation. This may not occur before summer, if at all. In the meantime, USFWS and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have begun the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required by order of the Secretary. This is an unfortunate waste of scarce resources if it is ultimately rendered moot by repeal of the leasing program. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) filed suit to stop the process and was joined by the State. We anticipate that many conservation organizations will intervene on behalf of the government.

The threat to the Coastal Plain continues after the completion of the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. The validity of their claim that Kaktovik lands are an inholding without adequate and reasonable access must be decided by the Secretary in consultation with the Solicitor. If KIC prevails, there must be a notice of intent and a NEPA process. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.

The contractor hired by the USFWS composed a draft of the results of its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including Wilderness study areas. However, they are waiting to receive additional evidence from the applicant to support their claim.
Award-winning Arctic Refuge Manager Steve Berendzen transfers on February 11 to manage a refuge complex in the Lower 48. He will be greatly missed for his outstanding work to protect the Arctic Refuge from the continuing threats of development and incursions into its pristine wilderness.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There still is no word from the court since oral arguments were held before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on August 4 concerning the defendants’ appeal of our second successful lawsuit that stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed road. We also await a final decision by USFWS regarding the State’s appeal of the denial of helicopter use in the designated Wilderness. The findings by the Acting Regional Director in Anchorage have been sent to Acting USFWS Director Martha Williams and then to the Assistant Secretary and the Deputy Secretary. A decision probably will not be issued until Martha Williams is confirmed but we expect that the State’s appeal will be denied. Also, we have no word on plans for the Secretary of the Interior’s visit to King Cove.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The comment period closed on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) for the Lower Cook Inlet oil and gas development lease sale of approximately 1.09 million acres of seafloor from Kalgin Island in the north to Augustine Island in the south. The proposed developments would create drilling platforms and underwater pipelines, pose a high risk of oil spills, and greatly increase industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet that could seriously impact lands and wildlife.in the Maritime Refuge. We await the issuance of the EIS.

Other Refuges
We have no significant updates on Kenai Refuge regulations or Yukon Flats Refuge oil exploration in Doyon inholdings.

Sturgeon Decision
We are unaware of further action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019. Based on this ruling and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska.




Open post

An Eye to the Future: Stewarding the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge: Tuesday, 2/15, 5 – 6 p.m. (AKT)

Kris Inman, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Supervisory Wildlife Biologist

This meeting’s presentations were recorded.  Watch below:

Christina Nelson, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge:
Intro to Selawik

Kris Inman, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge:
Stewarding the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

(This recording has been edited to include the wolverine footage that wouldn’t play during Kris’ presentation.)


This is a time of unprecedented, profound, and rapid human-driven environmental change.  In her presentation, Kris will share a few of the Kenai biology team’s many projects that give a big-picture view of how wildlife populations and habitats might be changing or impacted by landscape issues like climate change and human population growth.  Changing water temperatures in salmon streams, increased traffic on the Sterling Highway, more people living and recreating around the refuge and the spread of non-native species are a few of the human caused impacts to the refuge wildlife that Kenai biologists and agency partners are addressing. 

Kris will share new technology like thermal imagery to document and understand the impact of water temperature changes on our world-famous salmon rivers that sustain bears, eagles, and people. She will also share results from the Refuge’s efforts to minimize the impact of increased human presence on the Kenai including the effectiveness of Alaska’s first wildlife road crossing project to provide safe movements for wildlife across the busy Sterling Highway which splits the Refuge.  She will also highlight collaborative efforts to eradicate or control the spread of non-native invasive species like pike, elodea, white sweet clover, bird vetch, and reed canary grass that influences salmon habitat or encroach on native vegetation. In doing so, the biology team, working with refuge staff and many partners, will meet the station’s vision of stewarding the lands and waters with an eye to the future, so the Refuge’s diverse and abundant wildlife remain for the enjoyment and well-being of generations to come. 

Moose using the new Sterling Highway wildlife underpasses.  Fences funnel wildlife to the underpasses of this increasingly busy highway.   Kris will discuss what the refuge has learned about the effectiveness of this project.

Kris Inman recently joined the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge as the Supervisory Wildlife Biologist. Before coming to Alaska, she worked on a wide range of wildlife research and inventory and monitoring projects, from the little-known Tomah mayfly and freshwater mussels to more charismatic species like wolves, bears, and wolverine. Kris received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maine and a Master of Science degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 

She spent the last twenty years living, working, and raising her family in the lands outside of Yellowstone National Park, where she and her husband co-led a collaborative wolverine research study for the Wildlife Conservation Society. This project eventually would contribute the largest body of science on wolverines in the lower 48 and would identify the biggest conservation needs: to restore, connect, and monitor wolverines across their current and historic range.

From there, Kris switched from researcher to implementor. She worked with broad stakeholder groups in SW Montana to apply wolverine science in a region critical to wildlife connectivity for not only wolverines but also migratory ungulates and recovered grizzly bear and wolf populations. As the Coordinator of Strategic Partnerships and Engagement for the Wildlife Conservation Society, she brought stakeholders together to develop tools to reduce negative human-wildlife interactions. She also explored and implemented natural climate adaptation strategies like beaver mimicry to improve private working ranchlands’ economic and ecological sustainability as critical corridors to public lands.

Kris holding a wolverine!

In 2018, the Disney Conservation Fund named Kris a Disney Conservation Hero for her contributions to science and engaging and empowering communities to take science to action. Kris was also selected as an American Association for the Advancement of Science IF/THEN® Ambassador, a network of 125 women STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals from around the country who share their professional stories so young girls see that a career in STEM is possible. 

 Kris sees the Kenai Peninsula as similar to the Greater Yellowstone Area in its global significance as a large, intact, wild landscape, diverse in its wildlife while grappling with the challenges of rapidly growing nearby communities seeking solitude and world-renowned outdoor experiences. 

Kris is glad to be a part of the Kenai Refuge and the larger refuge team in Alaska. She works with colleagues who recognize that conserving these great places will take a new future-oriented approach to conservation, and they are committed to developing solutions to meet the challenges of this century. At the same time, this work recognizes that people are part of nature and not separate from it.  Seeing people in this light, we no longer just identify people as the problem but also the solution.




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