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From Aahaaliq to Ulu: Culturally relevant environmental education

Presented by Brittany Sweeney, Outreach Specialist, Selawik Refuge

Tuesday,  February 21, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. AKT
Zoom link will be posted here prior to meeting.

What should environmental education be like on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges that are simultaneously public lands and homelands for Indigenous peoples? Iñupiaq residents in northwest Alaska have deep knowledge and longstanding connections to these lands that are now part of Selawik Refuge. In their environmental education program, Selawik Refuge centers cultural relevance, uplifting traditional stewardship, and building community partnerships. The annual Selawik Science-Culture Camp is a key example of this approach, but you can also see it in all of the refuge’s outreach and management approaches.


Brittany Sweeney has lived in Kotzebue, in the homeland of the Iñupiat, since 2010, with her husband and two kids. Brittany grew up in Yupi’k communities around Alaska refuges, first in Stebbins on the Yukon Delta Refuge, then in Dillingham where she started working for Togiak Refuge as a college student in 1998.



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    Few Moose, Few Wolves: What is the Story on the Yukon Flats Refuge? 1/17, 5pm-6pm (AKT)

    Presented by Bryce Lake, Wildlife Biologist, Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge

    Tuesday, January 17, LIVE Option AND Watch Parties!

    This webinar was recorded.  The recording will be posted here.


    Speaker Reception with Bryce and light refreshments: Morris Thompson Cultural Center, 101 Dunkel Street, Fairbanks, or join others at Alaska Maritime Refuge Islands & Ocean Visitor Center, 95 Sterling Hwy or Kenai Refuge Visitor Center, 33398 Ski Hill Road or Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center, 402 Center St.

    Doors open at with light refreshment at 4:30pm, presentation begins at 5pm at all 4 locations!


       

    Bryce Lake with sedated wolf after the radio collar was attached. His red coat was a deliberate choice so the helicopter capture crew could  easily find Bryce in the expansive landscape to deliver a wolf to him for collaring.

    Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is unique because wolves and moose occur there at some of the lowest densities in North America. With moose the only large prey available to wolves on the Yukon Flats, how does the low prey density change the wolves behavior?  Do wolves eat fewer moose when moose are scarce (wolf kill rate)?  How do wolves adapt to few prey (search behavior)?  Join Yukon Flats Wildlife Biologist Bryce Lake to hear his stories about his four years of field work trying to answer these questions.   He will share moose numbers, wolf numbers, and what he has learned about this unusual predator/prey situation.


    Yukon Flats Refuge, a vast complex of wetlands, is the third largest refuge in the country.. pc: USFWS

    Bryce Lake says the most rewarding aspect of his job is the inspiration he draws from interacting with and learning about the hidden ways of nature, some of which he will share in this talk. Bryce has been a wildlife biologist for the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge since 2008.  He has broad experience in Alaska having spent 13 summers from 1998 to 2008 living in a tent and working as a field technician on the Copper River Delta, North Slope, Yukon Delta, and the Interior. He has had prior experience on other Alaska National Wildlife Refuges including Yukon Delta Refuge and as an intern at Kanuti Refuge. Bryce’s job as a wildlife biologist is to conduct biology to inform management decisions. This usually means aerial surveys to count wildlife, capture and radio collar birds and mammals, and band ducks. His latest experiment is using trail cameras to monitor furbearers, particularly lynx. You can read about surprising things that Bryce has discovered with his trail cameras in the Science Corner of our February 2021 issue of our newsletter. 

    Bryce holds a master’s degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His thesis focused on how early environment shapes the growth of goslings. In his spare time, he enjoys all things outdoors, usually fishing, camping, hunting, and hiking with his two dogs. He also enjoys watching a close hockey or football game. Bryce lives in Fairbanks.

     

    Moose and wolf research takes place during the lovely but often brutally cold winter with temperatures frequently below zero. pc: USFWS



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      January Advocacy Report: The current state of Refuge System funding.

      by Caroline Brouwer, Friends Board Member

      We are dedicating this advocacy report to the current state of Refuge System funding.  Refuges across the nation are underfunded to the point of neglect and closure. Here in Alaska, Friends support 16 refuges that make up over 80% of the land acres in the Refuge System. Alaska refuges’ funding needs include climate science research and additional biologists and visitor services staff across all refuges, and additional dollars for maintenance of not just habitat, but infrastructure and roads. But perhaps most importantly, we need staff who can work with our local communities to ensure refuges meet the needs not only of our incredible wildlife, but the people who live near them. 

      First, a few numbers: there are 95 million land acres in the Refuge System, 80 million of which are in Alaska (84% of the land mass of the Refuge System is in Alaska). There are an additional 750 million acres of vast stretches of ocean – both Pacific and Atlantic – in the refuge system, Alaska is the nursery for songbirds and waterfowl which migrate through or winter in the lower 48 and Hawai’i. Refuges provide a network of wildlife habitat that stretches for thousands of miles; these lands and waters are interconnected, and deserve protection and robust funding.

      But there is not enough funding to take care of these lands and waters. Congress just passed a spending bill that increased the refuge system budget from $519 million to $542 million. Although it looks like a decent increase, it will be erased due to inflation and 1-2% staff pay increases. For the last dozen years, refuges have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in capacity, and we can see those losses on the ground. 

      In the Lower 48, these funding decreases have meant closing whole programs like environmental education and visitor services. Most refuge units have no federal wildlife officers to stop poaching. A significant majority of refuges have no staff dedicated solely to that refuge, and are minimally managed. This all results in an erosion of habitat quality due to lack of biological data to inform management decisions, invasive species, wildlife harassment and poaching, the closure of school environmental programs, and on and on. 

      Refuges in all 50 states are threatened by the effects of climate change, from saltwater inundation to melting permafrost to fires and floods, the impacts of invasive species that crowd out native species, and the increased use we have seen in recent years – over 65 million people visit refuges each year.

      In Alaska, these funding decreases right now mean that the regional office is being forced to complex refuges, which means a refuge that formerly had dedicated staff now shares its staff with at least one other refuge. Alaskan refuges are massive – in many cases the size of entire states in the Lower 48. They are complicated to manage, and each one needs its own dedicated staff to manage that complexity. Innoko, Koyukuk, and Nowitna National Wildlife Refuges are already complexed. And now, funding levels are so low that Kanuti and Yukon Flats Refuges are in discussion to be complexed. Kanuti, for example, is the size of the largest of the Lower 48 refuges (Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada at 1.6 million acres). Complexing is only the right answer if we accept that refuges should be underfunded in perpetuity. Instead, we need to focus on addressing the overall funding issue and bring Refuge System funding up to a sustainable level.

      So how much money does the Refuge System really need? Well, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been examining these numbers for the last year, talking to each of the eight regional offices around the country to figure out the true need of the System. The answer? $1.5 billion dollars. That need is nearly three times the current funding levels. 

      Full funding of the Refuge System would mean that not only are wildlife protected, but there is enough funding available for infrastructure repairs, construction, road maintenance, community engagement, environmental education, and support for volunteers. Anyone who has visited a national park has seen educational signage, welcoming staff, well maintained infrastructure, and auto tour routes. The Park Service also has a budget 6 times larger than the Refuge System, and the vast majority of refuges do not receive anywhere near the level of funding as parks do.

      The Refuge System is an American treasure. – the largest system of public lands set aside for wildlife in the world. We owe it to ourselves to maintain it. We all know that Congress is not going to suddenly fund the System at $1.5 billion, but our goal is to increase current funding by $200 million each year until that goal is met. The 118th Congress was just sworn in a few days ago.  We will be in touch with next steps for increasing funding for the Refuge System later in the spring when Congress begins their appropriations process. 




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      December Advocacy Report: the year will end soon but our efforts will continue. Join in!

      by David Raskin, Friends Board President

      Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

      There are no recent developments on the existing leases, but a second lease sale in 2024 is required by the existing legislation. We expect that a second lease sale will be another bust like the first sale. In the meantime, US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)  and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continue the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) required by order of the Secretary. The public release of the SEIS has now been postponed until the second quarter of 2023. 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 FWS is beginning the preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. It should be noted that the request for a winter right-of-way across the Refuge may have implications for the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act (ANILCA) and the Izembek road controversy. A draft report on the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas, is currently under review. Under the solicitor’s opinion in the previous administration, the Refuge is open to motorized vehicles, but there has been little activity to date.

      Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

      On November 10, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted our petition for en banc review of their March 16, 2022, panel decision that overturned our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed Izembek road. That disastrous panel of two Trump appointees rewrote ANILCA to allow land transfers for economic and social purposes as a basis for reinstating the land exchange for the road. The decision to rehear the case en banc nullified the disastrous panel decision, canceled the land exchange, and began the road proponents’ appeal anew.

      Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska manager of Defenders of Wildlife and Deborah Williams, former Special Assistant to the Secretary of Interior, spearheaded the successful efforts to obtain amicus briefs from President Carter, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, former Interior Solicitor John Leshy, and the Native Village of Hooper Bay and the Sea Lion Corporation in the Yukon Delta. The latter brief was shepherded by the tireless work of Myron Naneng of Hooper Bay. We are also extremely fortunate to have obtained the services of expert appellate attorney Jennifer Bennett who will argue our case before the en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit on December 13. Unfortunately, Interior Secretary Haaland has so far failed to withdraw the blatantly illegal land exchange that would end the legal case and protect Izembek and 104 million acres of federal conservation lands from commercial and industrial exploitation. We continue working with our conservation partners to develop other approaches to permanently preserve the Izembek Refuge and all Alaska federal conservation lands.
       
      Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
      On October 27, 2022, the State of Alaska filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court seeking review of the Ninth Circuit’s decision that supported our win in the District Court.  The State claims that the case raises questions of “exceptional importance” to states and the Ninth Circuit decision is “unsustainable on the merits.” It is noteworthy that Safari Clubs International did not join the State in this latest appeal. The Supreme Court rejects most petitions for review.


      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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      Climate Scenarios for Alaska’s Refuges: Projections, potential impacts, and science for adaptation. 11/15, 5pm-6pm (AKT)

      With Dr. Jeremy Littell of the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center

      This presentation was recorded.  View below:
      How might climate change affect Alaska’s national wildlife refuges?  Climate change is already affecting the high latitudes, including Alaska, in profound ways – warming in the Arctic is now three to four times faster than the average for Earth as a whole. How and how fast the climate will change in the future varies considerably across Alaska, and how those changes will affect the ecosystems, habitats, and species are a critical science need for refuges attempting to adapt to and plan for these futures. Littell will discuss what we know about likely future changes, the impacts that are likely to occur, and how those vary among Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges. Along the way, he’ll describe how we develop climate projections for the future and where the uncertainties about those futures come from.

      Jeremy Littell is a climate impacts ecologist at the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center (USGS). He conducts research at the intersection of climate change, ecological responses, and science needs of resource managers and decision makers and works to provide climate information that is relevant to decision makers’ adaptation to climate change. He has 20 years’ experience in climate impacts research. Jeremy grew up in southcentral Alaska, studied and worked outside, and returned in 2012. His doctoral work at the University of Washington focused on ecological and climatic controls on wildfire in the western U.S. and the role of climate in Douglas-fir tree growth across its climatic range. He also worked as a research scientist at the UW Climate Impacts Group, collaborating with resource managers in Federal and state agencies to better understand and use climate information in planning and adaptation.   When he’s not working (and sometimes while working), he can be found trying to find out how much of Alaska can be crossed via human powered locomotion in a day or spending time with his family.



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        Ski and sled track over a frozen lake. Accessing a public use cabin in the winter over a frozen lake can mean hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing while towing a sled of gear. Credit: Lisa Hupp/USFWS.

        November Advocacy Report: We keep on keeping on …

        by David Raskin, Friends Board President

        Since the Department of the Interior announced that a Special Assistant for Alaska will be appointed, there is still no word about who is being considered or any announcement. We are beginning to think that there will be no special assistant appointed and that staff from the previous administration may be assuming more responsibilities.

        Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
        There are no recent developments on the existing leases, but a second lease sale is required by the existing legislation. However, as more major insurers adopt policies that prohibit involvement in arctic oil and gas development, this adds to the already low interest by major oil companies. We expect that a second lease sale will be another bust like the first sale. In the meantime, U.S. Fish & 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.

        We have no update 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. It should be noted that the request for a winter right-of-way across the refuge may have implications for Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and the Izembek road controversy. We expect that an environmental review may begin early next year. A draft report on the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas, is currently under review. Under the solicitor’s opinion in the previous administration, the refuge is open to motorized vehicles, but there has been little activity to date.


        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 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. We await a decision from the Ninth Circuit regarding our petition for en banc review. A decision to rehear the case would nullify the disastrous panel decision and begin the appeal anew. However, denial of our petition would pose great dangers for Izembek, and we will work with our conservation partners to develop other approaches to save the Izembek Refuge and all Alaska federal conservation lands.

         

        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 a new five-year leasing plan that includes a lease sale on December 30 .

        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.

         
        Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
        On October 27, the State of Alaska filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court seeking review of the Ninth Circuit’s decision that supported our win in the District Court.  The State claims that the case raises questions of “exceptional importance” to states and the Ninth Circuit decision is “unsustainable on the merits.” It is noteworthy that Safari Club International did not join the State in this latest appeal. Based on the Court’s schedule and the timelines in the rules, the earliest we might expect a decision is early December. The Supreme Court rejects most petitions for review.


        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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        Tufted puffin bringing a bill load of fish to feed its puffling (chick). Pc Robin Corcoran

        Tracking Puffins in the Kodiak Archipelago. 10/18, 5pm-6pm (AKDT)

        The bobbing orange and yellow bills of Tufted and Horned Puffins are signs of summer off the coast of Alaska. These beloved birds have sometimes been called “clowns of the seas” due to their playful appearance. However, little is known about where these iconic species overwinter when they spend eight to nine months at sea away from breeding colonies. Join Robin Corcoran and Katie Stoner to learn about the ecology of Tufted and Horned puffins. Discover the habitats of Kodiak’s puffins and hear how Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, in cooperation with Oregon State University, is working to better understand and investigate factors that might be impacting populations of these two charismatic seabirds within the Kodiak Archipelago.
        Katie Stoner “grubbing” puffins on Chiniak Island. It takes a long arm to reach into the puffin burrows. pc:Robin Corcoran/USFWS
        • In Kodiak, join us for the presentation at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center with a speaker reception starting at 4:30. 
        • In Soldotna, a watch party at 5 p.m. at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Ski Hill Road followed by volunteer orientation for those interested.
        • In Homer, a watch party at 5 p.m. at the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge’s Islands & Ocean Visitor Center followed by an opportunity to join Friends and learn about volunteer opportunities with the Refuges.

        Robin Corcoran has said that it is a dream come true that part of her duties  as Avian Biologist for Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge are the same things that she would do in her free time – watch and photograph birds.  In spite of  growing up on Long Island outside of New York, she got to play unsupervised in a woods, a marsh and shore where she developed her passion for all wild things.  She particularly likes birds because they are more diverse than mammals.  Since Robin started working at Kodiak Refuge in 2009, she has studied everything from Kittzlitz’s Murrelets nesting on rocky mountain tops, to the rapidly declining Aleutian Tern. Robin oversees an annual songbird mist netting and banding program and spends much of each summer navigating the Kodiak Archipelago coastline by skiff to count nearshore marine birds.   Hear more about Robin’s interesting career on this podcast.  


        Katie Stoner is an Oregon State University PhD student working in collaboration with Kodiak Refuge for her dissertation research assessing the conservation status and threats to Tufted and Horned Puffins breeding in the Kodiak Archipelago within the Gulf of Alaska.  She developed a passion for wildlife and birdwatching while attending summer camps with the Audubon Society of Portland in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology and Natural Resource Ecology from the University of Vermont. During her undergraduate degree, she had the opportunity to volunteer for Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge on the refuge’s Kittlitz’s Murrelet Nesting Ecology Project, and she used data from her fieldwork on this project to complete her undergraduate thesis. 

        After graduating, Katie gained experience studying avian ecology as part of several different research programs. She contributed to the conservation of threatened and endangered petrels and shearwaters in the tropical mountains of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast and monitored tree nests of the Marbled Murrelet in Oregon’s coastal forests. She lived in remote field camps for her work including in the backcountry of the Kodiak Archipelago, on Chowiet Island in the Gulf of Alaska, and on the windy slopes of Cape Crozier on Ross Island, Antarctica studying Adelie Penguins for Point Blue Conservation Science. 

        Katie is thrilled to return to Alaska and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to learn the secrets of Alaska’s “clowns of the seas.”




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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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