For the last few months, we’ve outlined the funding challenges facing wildlife refuges in Alaska. Congress is now four full months into the new fiscal year (FY2024 runs October 1, 2023-September 30, 2024) and has yet to pass a full-year funding bill. The chaos caused by a failure to ensure adequate and timely funding to government agencies means that refuges and regional offices don’t know if they will be able to afford to fill vacant positions or complete refuge projects.
Some deputy positions at refuges across the state have been filled recently, including deputy managers at Koyukuk, Alaska Peninsula, Arctic, and Selawik National Wildlife Refuges, but many biology, visitor services, and other positions remain vacant. Congress needs to act soon to avoid a government shutdown in March.
On a local refuge front, news is quiet. Refuge staff are working through a supplemental environmental impact statement at Izembek Refuge, and we don’t expect to see anything from that plan until the end of the year. We are watching a lawsuit filed by the Alaska Industrial and Development Export Authority (AIDEA) to challenge the dismissal of their leases in the Arctic Refuge. We will be in touch with Friends members in the next month or two when that suit starts moving through the courts.
And finally, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has hired Karlin Itchoak, formerly with The Wilderness Society, as the new Chief of Refuges in Alaska. This position supervises all the refuge managers in Alaska. We look forward to working with Karlin as he gets settled into his new role this week!
Thank you for your advocacy and your support for all of Alaska’s wildlife refuges!
With the holidays wrapped up, and Congress back in session, talk has returned to the budget and potential budget cuts. We as Friends can’t do much about whether or not Congress argues itself into a government shutdown, but we DO have the ability to advocate and lobby– yes, lobby– on behalf of wildlife refuges.
Two budget deadlines are upcoming. The first is January 19, includes four of the twelve appropriations subcommittees, but it does not include wildlife refuges. The second deadline is February 2, and includes the remaining eight subcommittees, such as the Interior Department and refuges. House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed this week to a top-line budget number, or basically a cap of what can be spent government-wide this year. We have not seen an Interior-specific number yet. This top-line agreement is a good first step towards preventing a government shutdown, but it is no guarantee.
The biggest concern Friends have regarding the budget for the rest of this fiscal year (FY2024, which ends September 30) is that the House is determined to cut funding. Refuges are already badly understaffed and desperately in need of additional funding. The only way we can get more is to lobby for it. The House included a 10% cut to refuges in their FY2024 budget bill, which would hollow out the System and close dozens of refuges. The Refuge System did an examination of their 568 refuge units several years ago, and determined the true need of the Refuge System (nationwide, not just in Alaska) at $1.5 billion. Current funding is ⅓ of that– $541 million.
The best way you can help Alaska’s 16 national wildlife refuges in the next few weeks is to ask Senator Murkowski , Senator Sullivan , and Representative Peltola to keep refuge funding strong. Tell them a personal story about how important these refuges are to you and ask them to keep funding strong, at least equal to the current funding levels of $541 million. The links attached to each of their names will take you to the email form on their websites.
Thank you for your advocacy and your support for all of Alaska’s wildlife refuges!
This year, Friends gave $1000 to help Innoko Refuge bring “boneman” Lee Post to McGrath to articulate a moose skeleton with the local school. Lee is well known for his work and has articulated a grey whale skeleton for the Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center and has done numerous other projects with parks, colleges, museums and schools.
As a boneman, my fantasy was to fly to the interior village of McGrath and jump into working with local students walking them through the construction of a moose skeleton. Not a free-standing skeleton, due to time constraints, and missing bones, but a “Moose on a Half-Shell”. This is half a moose taking one side of the skeleton and fastening the bones to a plywood panel cut in the correct anatomical shape of a moose. In this way, students get to do an art and science installation and learn where and how all the bones fit. The finished skeleton could be outlined, mounted to a wall, and finished in a couple of days.
The reality of this morphed into, let’s have the bones fastened to three panels on a wheeled stand such that each panel can come off and be transported. This way the finished moose could be moved to various places around town. When I got there late on a Wednesday afternoon, the students had yet to see the bones, the stand was still being constructed, and there was only a day and a half before the weekend. The next day students came in waves. Group after group. I tried to give them a quick introduction to bones and got them sorting the bone puzzle and drilling holes in the vertebrae. But no sooner did I get them really started when they had to leave and another group came in. I had hoped the oldest students would get enthused and come in for the weekend. They didn’t, and suddenly it was the weekend and we had two days to get the moose walking as I was scheduled to fly out on Monday.
Two super students, Eva Welch and Kierra Egrass, did the touch up painting of the repaired and the replacement bones of the “Moose on the Half-Shell”. pc: Lee Post
Over two long days, the village came together to get the project done. John Gray, the local fix it guy, brought tools and parts and fancy fasteners and stayed to make jigs and slice the bones to fit flat on the panels. Tim Yoder, carpenter and Fish and Game employee, finished construction of a wonderful three panel stand. The upper half of the moose was cut out of the plywood in silhouette. The skeleton got articulated in sections that fit onto the panels without overlapping such that the panels could be removed with the bones. We learned a few things such as: a moose is a big animal, and old buried moose bones can be surprisingly delicate. We repaired many of the broken and chipped bones and broke a few more ourselves. The skull came broken in half and was coming apart. Clarence, a teacher, brought in a skull with antlers, but it was too big and heavy to use for this. John brought in another, younger skull that was a better fit. Kellie Peirce from the Innoko refuge, had saved replacement bones from a moose she harvested. We all met and heard from Ephrem and Angela Andrews how they found and collected the bones five years ago over a couple of rainy days from under the silt and sand of the river. It is still not clear to me what motivated them to work so hard in the river in the rain probing for bones under the water.
The whole school and some community members turned out to celebrate the completion of the moose articulation. Bone finders Ephrem and Angela Andrews are in the back row under the moose ribs. Boneman Lee Post is under the American flag and Innoko Visitor Services Manager, Kellie Peirce, is on the far left.
The project got finished, thanks to all. It did take a village, starting with the collection of the bones by the Andrews and one person, Francis, from the Sally Jo Collins Museum in McGrath with a dream to do something with them. Kellie Peirce, Innoko Refuge Visitor Services Manager, applied for the funding, created partnerships and became the mother of the project from there to completion. WELL DONE!
About 30 miles offshore from where the Kuskokwim River meets the Bering Sea, nestled in Shoal Bay, there is a small island village called Mekoryuk, home to around 200 mostly Yup’ik and Cup’ik people. In this place, the mayor is the same person who takes the trash trolley to the transfer station, the city office workers are the same people who teach kindergarten, the reindeer caretaker is the same person who jump started your ATV, and the elders stop by the roadside to share wisdom of their years growing up and to welcome you to their community on Nunivak Island.Data gap plot on the western side of Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea.
Nunivak Island is also home to 700 muskox and 3,000 reindeer. Grazing has occurred on Nunivak Island for hundreds of years, first by caribou until they were extirpated in the late 1800s and then by introduced reindeer and muskox in the last century. The condition of their range was evaluated intensively in 1989 with 10 trend plots involving 40 quadrats and two transects for each location. Kyra Neal pulling fall dandelion near the Mekoryuk sewage lagoon road.
Since 1989, Nunivak Island has become increasingly connected to mainland Alaska with more flights, boating, muskox hunting, and tourism. Consequently, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 2022 and 2023 to reevaluate the range condition and survey the island and village of Mekoryuk for invasive species at two different spatial scales. One is a fine-tooth comb and the other is more of a broad-stroke brush.
Reindeer at the facility in Mekoryuk Let’s start with combing the luxurious locks of the tundra. Arriving at each plot via an R-44 helicopter, we applied the same methodology to evaluate range that was used in 1989. Within these 40 20×50 cm quadrats, we estimated ground cover for each species including lichen, shrubs, forbs, grasses, bare ground, rocks, and even scat. In 10 of these quadrats, we measured production by a double sampling clip and weigh method. Changes in ground cover and productivity will tell us how grazing has affected the range. Certain lichens are favorites of reindeer and can be depleted to bare ground exposure when overgrazing occurs. For invasives, we scouted disturbed areas in Mekoryuk by foot and in our monitoring areas, combing the tundra for anything out of place. Roads, barge ports, ATV trails, airstrips were all observed by foot in search of non-native species and plots with a high percentage of bare soil.
Pulling out our broad-stoke brush, range was surveyed between the established transects. Using NRCS reconnaissance methods, we scored range conditions based on evaluating the amounts of lichen, bare soil, presence of grazing and scat on two acres between transects. For our invasive species broad brush, we evaluated bare soil vectors for invasive species to get to the interior of the island. We used aerial imagery of ATV trails and disturbed areas to help us identify potential hot spots for introduction of non-native plants to the ecosystem.
One of our 20×50 cm quadrats used for sampling ground cover to assess the condition of the range.
What did we uncover? Well, good news and bad news. The good news is there are no invasive species on the Yukon Delta Refuge. The bad news is we did find some fall dandelion on the road leading to the airport and up to the sewage lagoon in Mekoryuk. We removed as much of the fall dandelions as could be done by hand and notified the village council president of our finding. Our range evaluation showed that the western side of Nunivak was heavily grazed, but the rest of the island has high quality grazing range for reindeer to enjoy!
Plot transects laid out by Karin Sonnen and Katie Schmidt (L) while Blaine Spellman collects data (R) on an established transect. All three work for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Happy Holidays! With Congress scheduled to go into recess at the end of this week (December 15th), we are looking at a slow pace on Capitol Hill for the next month.
On November 30th, a hearing was held in the House of Representatives on a bill introduced by Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) and supported by both Senators Murkowski and Sullivan that would reinstate the oil development leases in the Arctic Refuge which the Biden Administration recently canceled. Members from the environmental community testified against such a bill, and while it is likely to pass the House, it will probably not be brought up in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The more critical issue happening right now for wildlife refuges is the defunding of the entire National Wildlife Refuge System. The System has lost nearly $200 million in capacity over the last twelve years, and this loss of funding is eating away at the ability of refuge managers in Alaska to keep and hire staff. Most Alaska refuges have half the number of staff they had a decade ago, and when folks retire or change jobs, their positions are not filled. And without adequate staffing levels, it is extremely difficult to maintain the programs that benefit the communities in and around refuges.
For example, Yukon Flats and Kanuti Refuges are likely going to be complexed under one management team. As staff retire or move to different jobs, their positions remain vacant or are being taken off the books. These remote refuges, 12.7 million acres total (larger than the state of Maryland), will only have a few staff members. Other refuges are losing biologists, there are not enough pilots, and visitor services staff are in short supply. These Refuge staff members bring environmental education programs to schools and the community and biological expertise and research ability. The loss of pilots and budget for flights means that remaining staff are unable to access the vast majority of their off-road refuges and wildlife surveys become impossible.
Congress is in a budget-slashing mood, but we can’t let them eliminate all management on refuges. Staffing levels are so low right now that Alaska’s refuges are functioning at a bare minimum, with visitor centers only open for a few hours per day and programs are getting canceled all the time. Any more cuts are going to close visitor centers and eliminate wildlife surveys that are, in some cases, decades old. The situation is dire.
Senator Murkowski is the Ranking Republican on the Senate subcommittee that determines funding for the Refuge System. She can change this, if she wanted to. She responds to her constituents. Can you take a few minutes to write to her to ask her to increase funding for the National Wildlife Refuge System to add at least $100 million to current budget levels? Her office address in Anchorage is 510 L Street, Suite 600, Anchorage, AK 99501.
First, public hearings are underway on the SEIS regarding oil leases in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.
Virtual public meetings – October 11th at 5pm and October 17th at 1pm.
Anchorage – October 16 at 5 pm at the Loussac Library
Fairbanks rescheduled to October 23 at 5 pm at a location TBD.
The comment deadline is October 23. Please attend virtually or in person if you would like to learn more or comment on the alternatives that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management are looking at. The schedule and more information can be found here.
For more background on this issue, see the companion article. Need help preparing comments? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you.
Please note that comments don’t have to be technical or detailed. You can simply express your preference for no leasing or drilling in the refuge, and state why you feel that way.
Second, funding for wildlife refuges is up in the air again. This next federal fiscal year runs October 1, 2023-September 30, 2024, and while refuges (and the rest of the federal government) are being funded by a bill that just extended last year’s funding by 45 days, this is not a permanent fix. All 16 national wildlife refuges in Alaska are underfunded to the point that many staffing positions are not being filled, and biological, management and visitor services work across Alaska is not being completed.
It’s not just the current year’s funding issues that are a problem. Funding for refuges has been extremely low for more than a decade. In the past, refuges had enough staff to actually run programs. Each refuge had a biology team doing waterfowl, moose, or bear surveys. They had a visitor services team doing community outreach and education at the refuge and at community events and in schools. They had full maintenance teams to regrade dirt and gravel roads and maintain facilities and vehicles, or the R/V Tiglax. Today, refuges are facing losing their staff by combining with other refuges, known as “complexing”, and in most cases, they are already down to bare-bones teams of biologists and other staff members. Funding has been on the decline since FY2010, and the gap is only growing wider with the conflict on Capitol Hill this month.
Alaska’s very own Senator Lisa Murkowski is the lead Republican on the Senate subcommittee that determines funding for Alaskan wildlife refuges. She needs to hear from her constituents that the current $541 million for wildlife refuges across the country is completely insufficient, and the true need for annual funding sits at $1.5 billion. We ask that you go to Senator Murkowski’s website and send her a message that refuges need an increase in funding. You can email her here.
Thank you for continuing to be great advocates for Alaska’s wildlife refuges.
How did we get to oil leasing in the Arctic Refuge and what can you do about it? Testify!
By Marilyn Sigman, Board President
Oil and gas development has been threatening the Arctic Refuge since 1980, when Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Act (ANILCA) which protected much of the refuge but in Section 1002 opened up the possibility of oil development in the refuge’s coastal plain. In ANILCA, Congress also reserved the power to decide later whether to open it to drilling, a choice which was rejected for decades, until 2017. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 requires the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to hold two lease sales no later than December 22, 2024, and added “provision of an oil and gas program” to the purposes of the refuge. A Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was completed in September, 2019.
At the first lease sale, held on January 6, 2021, only 11 of the 22 tracts offered were sold. After the sale, two of the bidders relinquished their leases, leaving the State of Alaska’s Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, as the sole lease owner.
Friends had joined a coalition that unsuccessfully sued the federal government to stop this first lease sale. We then intervened successfully in a lawsuit to defend the authority of the Secretary of Interior to suspend the leases in June 2021. Friends also signed on to a letter with other organizations urging the Biden Administration to: 1) cancel the 2021 leases; 2) prioritize completing a robust SEIS that will assess the climate impacts and compatibility with U.S. climate goals; and 3) recognize the human rights issues for the Alaska Native communities that rely on Arctic Refuge resources.
Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland initially suspended the leases after a determination of an inadequate NEPA review and an illegal sale, and then canceled them outright on September 6, 2023. She said at the time: “With today’s action, no one will have rights to drill in one of the most sensitive landscapes on Earth. Climate change is the crisis of our lifetime. And we cannot ignore the disproportionate impacts being felt in the Arctic. We must do everything within our control to meet the highest standards of care to protect this fragile ecosystem.”
The second lease sale is now proceeding as required by the 2017 Tax Act. The Supplementary EIS (SEIS) is the Department of Interior’s attempt to remedy the inadequacies of the first EIS which led to the cancellation of the first leases.
What’s Being Considered in the SEIS and how should we comment? The BLM has listed out 4 Alternatives. Alternatives B, C, and D propose leasing over a range of acreage from 49 to 100 percent of the 1.56 million-acre Coastal Plain. According to the SEIS, each of these three alternatives balances the five statutory purposes of the Arctic Refuge, the oil and gas leasing program and the four original purposes of conserving animals and plants in their natural diversity, ensuring subsistence hunting and gathering activities, protecting water quality and quantity, and fulfilling international wildlife treaty obligations.
Alternative A is the No-Action or no leasing Alternative, and would be our choice. The BLM, however, has determined that Alternative A does not meet the ‘purpose and need’ of the SEIS because it does not meet the requirements of the 2017 Tax Act to hold a lease sale, and is therefore not considering it. Friends have long opposed leasing of the Arctic Refuge, and will submit comments supporting action with the least impacts to the purposes for which Arctic Refuge was established. A robust showing of support from Alaskans for the strongest possible environmental protection of the Coastal Plain in your SEIS comments could discourage future investments in oil and gas leases in the Refuge and hopefully encourage BLM to reconsider their approach to Alternative A.
The Record of Decision that will follow the SEIS review will not authorize exploration and development but will determine which lands will be offered for lease and under what terms. Please see our advocacy column above for the schedule of public meetings on the SEIS and ways to submit comments by the deadline of October 23, 2023.
Photo: The Porcupine caribou herd travels ancient trails and fords many rivers to get to and from their calving grounds on the Arctic coastal plain and their wintering area in the mountains of Alaska and Canada. It is the largest land migration in the world. The calving grounds are under threat of oil and gas development in spite of the recent lease sale cancellations because of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which requires lease sales and made an oil and gas program a purpose. pc: Marilyn SIgman
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge By far the most significant advocacy update this month was the cancellation of the oil and gas leases sold to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) back in January 2021. These leases were sold in an illegal lease sale during which no major oil companies bid. Two other smaller companies bid but later backed out of their leases, leaving AIDEA as the sole lease owner. Fortunately, the Biden Administration took action on September 6th to protect the coastal plain and canceled the leases. The State of Alaska has challenged this cancellation, but Friends, along with many conservation organizations and Tribal governments, have applauded this step.
Friends issued the following statement regarding the cancellation of the lease sale: We are thrilled that the Biden Administration has canceled these illegal leases. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to a rich biodiversity of wildlife that depend on the large stretches of intact habitat found in the coastal plain and beyond. We thank the President and Secretary Haaland for their support for protecting this jewel of the Refuge System.
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Since the March 14, 2023, decision by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to withdraw the proposed Trump administration land exchange that authorized a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Wilderness and the subsequent dismissal of the court case, we have continued to watch the next steps at Izembek.
A Notice of Intent to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) was issued in May 2023, and Friends submitted comments to the Administration. As of the first week of September, the Department of the Interior (DOI) is still reviewing those comments and preparing their team to move forward on the SEIS, which is tentatively due in the summer of 2024.
Friends remain concerned that Secretary Haaland could propose an alternative land exchange now that the previous case has been dismissed. One of the major deficiencies cited by the Secretary in her March withdrawal was an absence of impact on subsidence resources associated with the proposed land exchange. The implication being that a land exchange may still be on the table, rather than a focus on non-road alternatives.
Friends and the entire Izembek coalition firmly believe that any manner of land exchange outside of a Congressional or Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) framework is illegal as it threatens both critical habitat on the refuge as well as the nearly 150 million acres of federally protected conservation lands in Alaska protected by ANILCA. Accordingly, we are asking that non-road alternatives to address the needs of King Cove be strongly considered just as they were in the original Environmental Site Assessment. We continue to speak with USFWS in Alaska and at Headquarters in DC regarding the SEIS.
One holds dual citizenship and moved to Fairbanks from Amsterdam; one came to Alaska after googling “Duck Jobs”; the third’s passion is herpetology but his refuge only has one amphibian – the wood frog – and no reptiles. Arctic, Selawik and the Koyukuk/Nowitna/Innoko complex all have new refuge managers, and their stories are fascinating.
Merben Cebrian has taken what has to be the most unusual and worldly path to Refuge Manager of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Not only does he hold dual US/Dutch citizenship and have a Dutch wife, but he grew up in the Philippines where he spent much of his childhood in nature. The US Army took him to Africa, the Middle East and Fairbanks where he ended his military career and enrolled in the University of Alaska Fairbanks earning a wildlife biology degree. Merben spent 20 years in Alaska as a wildlife biologist on the Tetlin Refuge and with the Bureau of Land Management in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Glenallen.
Merben Cebrian, Arctic Refuge Manager with a tufted puffin chick on the Alaska Maritime Refuge where he took a seasonal job last summer as a “trial run” for a return to Alaska.
He left Alaska to become the Bureau of Indian Affairs Midwest regional biologist and program manager working with 36 federally recognized tribes. This was challenging with intensive human-nature interactions in a highly political landscape. The past few years he has lived with his family in the Netherlands working as a free-lance biologist. But Alaska was on his mind. So last summer Merben took a seasonal job on the Alaska Maritime Refuge as an opportunity to experience a new ecosystem, check out job possibilities and see how his family would do with him away. Arthur Kettle, his supervisor on that job, called him a “big thinker” and very diplomatic. That is what Friends noted as well when we met with him in Fairbanks last month. Merben says he hopes his broad background will serve him well in dealing with the challenges and opportunities of the Arctic Refuge. ____________________________________________________________________________________________ Yes, googling “Duck Jobs” and a passion for waterfowl hunting got Wil Wiese to Alaska even though neither Alaska or the Fish and Wildlife Service was on his radar. His background of growing up hunting and fishing in Wisconsin, a biology degree and, most of all, lifelong experience running skiffs and fixing motors won him a volunteer waterfowl survey job in the Arctic. He was smitten by the Arctic coastal plain, working in remote field camps and the village of Kaktovik and never left. Wil was hired permanently by the Arctic Refuge before becomingSelawik Refuge’s Deputy Refuge Manager and now Manager. Wil switched from biology into management because, “I do like wildlife a lot but I actually like people a lot better. Working with people and helping them come up with solutions to conflict is what really gets me excited.”
Wil Wiese, Selawik Refuge Manager, said “I love living as a guest of the Kikiktagrukmuit and being surrounded by Iñupiat Ilitqusiat (values). I’m welcomed by the respect, humility, generosity, and humor that abound, and admire the hard work and adaptability required of folks.”
Wil writes that Selawik Refuge in northwest Alaska is a place often overlooked by those seeking scenic vistas but he finds stunning beauty in the snow-covered, seemingly endless tundra, spruce blanketed Waring Mountains, and meandering bends of river and stream. The best part of the refuge to him is in what it provides for the people who live in it and from it. You can’t eat scenery, but you can eat from Selawik Refuge because its waters teem with sheefish, whitefish, pike, and salmon; the wetlands are thick with waterfowl, expanses of tundra are blanketed in berries, and caribou migrations flow across the landscape. You can hear more about Wil’s personal journey in a podcast My Life Wildlife.
_______________________________________________________________________________When I asked David Zabriskie, “What is a snake guy doing in Alaska?” he responded “Making money to fund my snake hunting trips!” David has the most experience of the three with the National Wildlife Refuge System having begun his career as a student trainee at the Wheeler Refuge in Alabama, followed by refuges in Mississippi, on remote Pacific Islands, Tennessee, Alaska, and Arizona before returning to Alaska to work as the Deputy Manager and now Manager of the Koyukuk/Nowitna/Innoko Refuge Complex on the Yukon River.
David Zabriskie, Koyukuk/Nowitna/Innoko Refuge Manager on Johnston Atoll in the North Pacific where he was working at the time.
I also asked David what he liked most about his refuges and he replied, “These three refuges are in the heart of salmon country. These intact ecosystems support an amazing plant and wildlife diversity. The opportunity to work with the indigenous communities along the Yukon River on resource management is fulfilling.” Managing three refuges, two of which are bigger than any refuge found in the Lower 48, is a daunting task. Add to that David was the lead on the Alaska Region’s first plan for a Wild and Scenic River, the Comprehensive River Management Plan (CRMP) for the Nowitna River. I asked him what he saw as his biggest challenge and he said, “Besides limited staff and budgets, the biggest management challenges are climate change and food security for the subsistence users in this region.”
Congratulations to our new managers! Friends look forward to working with you.
At our June 6 Friends’ Board meeting, Marilyn Sigman was appointed as President. replacing long time President, David Raskin. Marilyn joined the Board in 2022. She is a retired wildlife biologist and science and environmental educator who has previously chaired the Boards of Alaska Geographic (under its previous name, the Alaska Natural History Association), the Alaska Conservation Foundation, and the Alaska Natural Resources and Outdoor Education Association.
Caroline Brouwer was appointed to a new position of a second Vice-President which we amended our bylaws to include. Caroline has served on the Board since 2020 and has been involved in advocacy for the National Wildlife Refuge System since 2008, lobbying on behalf of funding increases for the Refuge System and policy changes. She spent 14 years working in Washington, DC on behalf of public lands advocacy and national wildlife refuges with Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
Marilyn Sigman, Board President Caroline Brouwer, 2nd VIce-President
In other actions, Tara Schmidt was reappointed as Board Secretary, a position she has served in for six years. Since being appointed to the board in 2017, Tara has served as a liaison, first with the Kenai Refuge and is now working with the Innoko, Nowitna, Koyukuk Refuge Complex. She is active with the Outreach and Education Committee and the Shorebird Festival Committee.
Tara, Poppy Benson, and Jason Sodergren were reappointed as Board members, with Poppy continuing in her role as a Vice-President and Jason as Treasurer. Elections for these positions will be held in February next year.
We thank David Raskin for his long and dedicated service as a founding Board member, Board President, and tireless advocate for Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges.
Arctic Refuge The federal lawsuit by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and the State that challenged the moratorium on oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain continues. Friends, along with many conservation organizations and Tribal governments, have intervened on behalf of the Biden administration in this matter. AIDEA and the State filed their reply brief, and AIDEA requested oral argument, which is now scheduled for June 20, 2023.
Izembek Refuge On March 14, 2023, Secretary of the Interior Haaland withdrew the proposed Trump administration land exchange that authorized a road through the biological heart of the Izembek Wilderness. This resulted in a motion to dismiss the appeal effort that resulted in the En Banc rehearing of the land exchange.
Subsequently on April 26, 2023, King Cove filed a motion in the Ninth Circuit Appeals contending the withdrawal of the land exchange was illegal and opposing the dismissal. This motion to dismiss was granted on June 15, 2023, with the Ninth Circuit saying that since the Secretary’s withdrawal of the land exchange, there is no action for the court to rule on. This ends just the latest chapter in our goal to protect the Izembek Refuge.
Going forward, our concern is that Secretary Haaland may propose an alternative land exchange now that the previous case has been dismissed. This concern is validated by the fact that a Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to correct deficiencies in the 2019 land exchange process has been issued. One of the major deficiencies cited by the Secretary in the withdrawal was absence of impact on subsidence resources associated to the proposed land exchange.
Friends and the entire Izembek coalition firmly believe that any manner of land exchange outside of a Congressional or Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) framework is illegal as it threatens both critical habitat on the refuge as well as the nearly 150 million acres of federally protected conservation lands in Alaska protected by ANILCA. Accordingly, we are asking that non-road alternatives to address the needs of King Cove be strongly considere
The Governmental Services Agency (GSA) conducted a scoping process this spring for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluating alternatives for a new Alcan Port of Entry facility on the Canadian Border adjacent to Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. One of the prelimanary alternatives would remove 10 acres from the refuge eliminating a popular trailhead. Another alternative would move the border station four miles up the Alcan Highway from the actual US border putting the popular refuge recreation, subsistence and historical areas of Scottie and Desper creeks on the “wrong” side of the port of entry. This would no doubt impact staff, visitors and subsistence hunters’ use of refuge resources. Friends provided comments on significant issues related to refuge impacts that must be addressed in the draft Environmental Impact Statement. Progress of this project will be monitored carefully for impacts on the refuge.
Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
Over the past few years, Doyon Limited Corporation has performed shallow stratigraphic tests on Doyon and native owned land inholdings of the Yukon Flats Refuge. The bulk of this testing activity occurred around the village of Birch Creek. No results have been made public to date. In the event Doyon advances oil and gas extraction activity in this area, we are concerned about impacts to the world-class wildlife and fisheries and subsistence resources in the refuge. We will continue to monitor this situation.