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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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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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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.




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January Advocacy Report: Changes that may make a difference

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

We hope that the U.S. Senate will vote this month to confirm Acting Director Martha Williams as the new Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We expect that the Executive Review Board will act soon to appoint a successor to retired Regional Director Greg Siekaniec. During a productive meeting in Anchorage between representatives of national conservation organizations and Undersecretary Beaudreau, we expect 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 stalled after being passed by the House. This was caused by Senator Manchin’s refusal to support the House version. 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. In the meantime, USFWS and BLM must begin the lengthy and expensive process of developing the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required by order of the Secretary. This will be an unfortunate waste of scarce resources if it is ultimately rendered moot by repeal of the leasing program.


There has been no development concerning the threat to the Coastal Plain posed by the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. 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 continues its evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas.

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. None of the parties asked for a stay, so we await further word from the Court. We also await a final decision by USFWS Acting Regional Director in Anchorage regarding the State’s appeal of the denial of helicopter use in the designated Wilderness, but we expect that the appeal will be denied.

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, 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.

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.




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December Advocacy Report: Wildlife refuges are places where a majority of our nation’s animals find the habitat they need to survive.

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The U.S. Senate held a confirmation hearing for Acting Director Martha Williams to become Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We expect that she will be confirmed soon and will be a strong supporter of the Refuges. We still have no word on the possible successor to Regional Director Greg Siekaniec.  The Acting Regional Director is Karen Clark Cogswell, Brian Glaspell will become the Deputy Acting Regional Director, and Socheata Lor will become the Acting Regional Chief of Refuges 


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill was passed by the House and includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases: Section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 is repealed, and any leases issued pursuant to section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 are hereby canceled, and all payments related to the leases shall be returned to the lessee(s) within 30 days of enactment of this section. The legislation is now in the lengthy Senate process and may receive a final vote this year or possibly in January. We expect that the Arctic Refuge lease repeal will remain in the final version of the legislation. In the meantime, the BLM issued the scoping report for the Supplemental EIS on the leasing program. Significantly, the USFWS was elevated to co-manage the Supplemental EIS with BLM. This was a very positive development due to successful efforts by USFWS to play a major role regarding this proposed development on a national wildlife refuge managed by the USFWS! Hopefully, this process will be rendered moot after the Budget Reconciliation becomes law.

The threat to the Coastal Plain concerning the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area continues. The USFWS is waiting for KIC to provide additional information to complete their application. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. Both claims of a surrounded inholding without access ignore the facts that Kaktovik and King Cove have marine access and other options. 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 continues its evaluation of Kaktovik’s claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas. Since in-person interviews in Kaktovik must be held as part of the process, it is doubtful that the final report will be completed before next year.

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. None of the parties asked for a stay, so we await further word from the Court. 
 
The State had appealed the decision by USFWS that denied the use of helicopters for the Special Use Permits for activities in designated Wilderness. No final decision has been announced by the USFWS Acting Regional Director in Anchorage, but we expect that the appeal will be denied. 

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued the 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, underwater pipelines, and greatly increased industrial transportation in Lower Cook Inlet and pose a high risk of oil spills which could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge. You can provide written comments at: boem.gov/ak258. Click HERE  for more information. The public comment period closes December 13.

Other Refuges
We have no significant updates on Kenai Refuge regulations or Yukon Flats Refuge oil exploration in Doyon inholdings.  The Yukon Delta Refuge closed hunting on the Mulchatna caribou herd, but there are abundant moose to support subsistence hunting. The State continues to monitor predation of the herd with regard to possible predator control in the Yukon Delta and Togiak Refuges. However, existing evidence indicates that predation is not the primary cause of recent declines in the caribou population.




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November Advocacy Report: Some changes are coming

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

The Secretary of Interior nominated Acting Director Martha Williams to be Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). We expect that she will be a strong supporter of the Refuges. We have no word on the possible successor to Regional Director Greg Siekaniec. Acting Regional Director is Karen Clark Cogswell. 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases. The text of the current House bill: Section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 is repealed, and any leases issued pursuant to section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 are hereby cancelled, and all payments related to the leases shall be returned to the lessee(s) within 30 days of enactment of this section. 

The reconciliation bill has been repeatedly delayed due to negotiations with conservative senators and representatives over their objections about its size and timing and is expected to be taken up by the full House early this month. 

The threat to the Coastal Plain concerning the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area continues. The USFWS review of their application determined that KIC must provide additional information to complete their application. There was a 30-day period for review of an updated application, but we have not heard anything from USFWS. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. Both claims of a surrounded inholding without access ignore the facts that Kaktovik and King Cove have marine access and other options. 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 report from the contractor hired to evaluate Kaktovik’s claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including wilderness study areas, is scheduled to be completed in December.

Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There has been 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. Since Secretary Haaland postponed her trip due to concerns about the high level of Covid-19 infections in Alaska, we have not heard how this might influence the Court’s decision regarding a possible stay of the proceedings. None of the parties asked for a stay, so we await further word from the Court. The State appealed the decision by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) that denied the use of helicopters for the Special Use Permits for activities in designated Wilderness. No final decision has been announced by the USFWS Acting Regional Director in Anchorage, but we expect that the appeal will be denied. 

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a Draft Environmental Statement (DEIS) for a 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 which could seriously impact lands and wildlife in the Maritime Refuge. BOEM will hold virtual public hearings November 16, 17, and 18 and a public comment period which closes December 13. You can register to testify and provide written comments at: boem.gov/ak258. Click HERE  for more information.

Other Refuges

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

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.




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October Advocacy Report: when we know, we can act.

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Budget Reconciliation bill includes repeal of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas program and a buy-back of all existing leases. However, the reconciliation bill has been delayed due to negotiations with conservative senators and representatives over their objections about its size and timing and is expected to be taken up by the full House later this month. 
 
Extensive comments on the Notice of Intent of scoping for the Supplemental EIS (SEIS) were prepared by many organizations and experts and were organized and submitted by Trustees for Alaska. Friends and more than 20 other organizations signed on to the comments. The scoping report by the BLM is expected by the end of the year.
 
The threat to the Coastal Plain concerning the SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area continues. The USFWS reviewed their application and determined that KIC will need to provide additional information to complete their application. There will be a 30-day review period of an updated application. The significance of this effort by KIC is related to the Izembek application for a similar inholding right-of-way. Both claims of a surrounded inholding without access ignore the facts that Kaktovik and King Cove have marine access and other options. If these questionable gambits succeed, it will make that process available for similar claims in other refuges and possibly in national parks and all federal conservation units. That would be a disaster for all national conservation lands.
 
The contractor’s evaluation of the Kaktovik claim of historical vehicle use for subsistence activities in the Arctic Refuge tundra, including Wilderness study areas, is progressing and should be completed sometime in December. The decision will be made by the Arctic Refuge Manager.


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
There has been 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. However, on September 6, Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that Secretary of the Interior Haaland postponed her trip due to concerns about the high level of COVID-19 infections in Alaska, but we have not heard how this latest development might influence the Court’s decision regarding a possible stay of the proceedings. In the meantime, the State has appealed the decision by USFWS that denied the use of helicopters for the Special Use Permits for activities in designated Wilderness. The final decision will be made by the USFWS Acting Regional Director in Anchorage. We expect that the appeal will be denied. 

Other Refuges
We have no significant updates on Kenai refuge regulations, Yukon Flats refuge oil exploration in Doyon inholdings, the Mulchatna caribou herd and possible predator control in Yukon Delta and Togiak refuges, and the BLM Central Yukon Plan

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.




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September Advocacy Report: Add your comments!

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The House Natural Resources Committee marked up their portion of 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. The language will now be merged into the full reconciliation bill and taken up by the full House. This successful effort was led by the excellent lobbying work by Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ARDC). 
 
The comment period for the Notice of Intent of scoping for the Supplemental EIS (SEIS) is open until October 4
, 2021. BLM is holding six virtual scoping meetings for the SEIS that will take place September 14, 15, and 16. If the reconciliation bill is enacted with the House language that terminates the Arctic drilling leases, this exercise will become moot. 
 
A new threat to the Coastal Plain emerged with an SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter right-of-way across the tundra in a wilderness study area. KIC claims to be an inholding according to provisions of ANILCA, like the claim made by King Cove for a road through the Izembek Wilderness. KIC had previously been granted an emergency permit to move school modules across the ice in winter, but this request is for an annual permit to move goods and supplies across land each year. Like King Cove, Kaktovik seems not to qualify as an inholding since it has marine access and other alternatives for the proposed uses. The Fish and WIldlife Service (FWS) review of their application must be completed by October 5 to determine the additional information that KIC will need to include to complete the application. 


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

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. Trustees for Alaska did an outstanding job of arguing our position. During this session, the Court suggested a possible stay of the proceedings until after Secretary of the Interior Haaland’s scheduled September 17 visit to King Cove. The Court was concerned that after her visit, the Secretary might take actions that would effectively resolve the lawsuit and waste the resources of the Court if the proceedings were not stayed. The plaintiffs indicated that we would not oppose a stay of the proceedings, but the Government and the State opposed a stay. However, on September 6, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that Secretary Haaland postponed her trip due to concerns about the high level of Covid-19 infections in Alaska. We have not heard how this latest development might influence the Court’s decision regarding a possible stay of the proceedings.

The Fish and Wildlife Servic (FWS) denied the use of helicopters to access the Izembek Wilderness in special use permits requested by the State Department of Transportation to inventory cultural resources and wetlands for the proposed Isthmus Road. The FWS issued permits that required access by foot, but the State has refused to sign the permits without helicopter access. We are very pleased that there will be no on-the-ground-activity this summer.

Sturgeon Decision
There has been no further action following the Supreme Court decision in Sturgeon v. Frost, 139 S. Ct. (1066) 2019. Based on this ruling and ANILCA Sec. 103, the State of Alaska asserted primary jurisdiction over navigable waters on federal lands in Alaska.

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




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Membership Meeting, January 19, 2021, 5 pm AKT


Arctic Refuge, A Symbol for a Time of Global Change   Please join us online or by phone Tuesday, January 19, 2021, 5-6pm (AKT), for our Friends monthly meeting with guest speaker, Roger Kaye of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  

Webinar Recording


Roger Kaye has done it all – worked the Slope, spent a winter on a trapline, flew his own float and ski planes, hunted, hiked, explored all over Alaska, wrote a book on the Arctic and earned a PhD at University of Alaska Fairbanks.  He has spent much of his 41-year career with the Fish & Wildlife Service experiencing, thinking about and advocating for true wilderness, particularly of the Arctic Refuge.  On this 60th Anniversary of the Refuge, Roger Kaye will share some of his vast knowledge and take us back to the seven-year struggle to establish the Arctic Refuge.   He will explore the similarities with the struggle to defend the Refuge today.  

Olaus and Marti Murie, two giants of Alaska conservation and science,
were instrumental in protection of the Arctic through the designation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Arctic Refuge establishment was among the first, unprecedented American conservation initiatives of the 1960s that came about in response to concern over the worsening environmental degradations accompanying the prosperous postwar march of progress.  The campaign to establish the Refuge became emblematic of the larger contest between competing views of the appropriate relationship between postwar American society and its rapidly changing environment. Which notion of progress should this landscape represent—that underlying the prevailing rush toward attaining an ever-higher material standard of living, or that underpinning the emerging ecology-based perspective that emphasized sustainability and called for restraint? The question of whether or not to preserve this preeminent wilderness symbolized “the real problem,” as campaign leader Olaus Murie characterized it, “of what the human species is to do with this earth.”

Now again we face a new order of environmental threat, a convergence of global energy and resource scarcity, climate change, and widespread biospheric alterations. And now the Arctic Refuge is at the center of one of the nation’s longest and most contentious environmental debates. The question of oil development verses wilderness preservation here transcends the issue of potential resource impacts within the Refuge’s boundaries and has become symbolically intertwined with these larger, global issues. Again, the Arctic Refuge stands as a national symbol of pivotal questions and decisions Americans face: How does our consumption and material standard of living affect the national and global environments, and what quality of them are we to leave to future generations?

Roger Kaye skipped his college graduation ceremony in 1974 to come to Alaska and  work at Camp Denali for famed Alaskan conservationists Cecelia Hunter and Ginny Woods.  He started grad school but dropped out to earn enough money working on the Slope to buy his first airplane.  Once he met that goal, he took off on a series of Alaska adventures until the money ran out.   Then, he started his wildlife career first with ADFG and for 41 years the Fish & Wildlife Service.  He has been a planner, refuge pilot, Native liaison and in recent years, the agency’s Alaska wilderness coordinator. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Alaska where he has taught courses on wilderness, environmental psychology, and the Anthropocene. He is the author of Last Great Wilderness: The Campaign to Establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and numerous journal and popular articles related to wilderness. Currently, he is working on a book considering the future of the wildness of Wilderness in the Anthropocene. Roger lives in Fairbanks and works for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


This webinar was recorded.  Watch below:



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