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February Advocacy Report: Our work continues

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Department Of Justice (DOJ) filed its opposition to the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment in 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. Friends had intervened along with many conservation organizations and Tribal governments on behalf of the Biden administration. Trustees for Alaska will be filing our reply brief this month in support of the DOJ.

On February 8, 2023, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) filed notice in the Federal Register regarding the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the December 2021 SF 299 application by Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation (KIC) for a winter Right- of-Way (ROW) across the tundra in a wilderness study area ( The draft EA is scheduled for September 2023 followed by a public comment period.  We expect this to be a lengthy process that will require compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act regarding potential impacts on polar bears and a full EIS process. This may result in a requirement for an incidental take permit, which could become a major problem for the ROW application. It should be noted that the request for a winter Right- of-Way across the Refuge may have implications for the Alaska National Interest Lands 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 still 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 December 13, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in its en banc review of the appeal by the DOJ and the State of our second successful lawsuit that had stopped the illegal land transfer for the proposed Izembek road. Their decision to rehear the case en banc nullified the disastrous panel decision and began the road proponents appeal anew. We were extremely fortunate to obtain the pro bono services of San Diego expert appellate attorney Jennifer Bennett, who brilliantly argued our case before the 11-judge panel that unfortunately included a majority of six recent appointees by former President Trump. Assuming the panel decision could come as early as late March, the Izembek coalition is working diligently to convince Secretary Haaland to withdraw the illegal land exchange before the Ninth Circuit issues a decision. That is the only way to immediately put an end to potential threats to Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and more than 100 million acres of federal conservation lands currently protected by ANILCA

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge
We have heard nothing concerning the October 27, 2022, State of Alaska writ of certiorari to the U.S. 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, and we expect the same in this case.

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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Membership Meeting, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, 5pm AKDT

Insight into Izembek:  From Unangax Culture to the Incredible Wildlife of its Magnificent Lagoons    

Tuesday, April 20, 2021, 5-6pm (AKDT) 
Patrick Magrath, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

Recorded Meeting Video

If you love gigantic bears, clouds of migrating birds filling the skies, waves of salmon running up the rivers and truly wild conditions — then you will love Izembek Refuge.   Patrick Magrath will give you a whirlwind tour of the anthropological history, biodiversity, and significance of Izembek’s magnificent lagoons with their extensive eelgrass meadows. In addition, long time Arctic nesting waterfowl researcher, David Ward, will contribute to this presentation. Most of the world’s population of Pacific Black Brant as well as Steller’s Eiders, Emperor Geese and Cackling Geese visit these lagoons during migration.   Located in Southwest Alaska, it is the smallest of the National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska but mighty in terms of sheer numbers of birds and species diversity.  It was the first area in the US to be recognized as a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention and was designated as a Globally Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

Brown Bear at Grant Point, Izembek Refuge, pc Kristine Sowl/USFWS

Patrick Magrath grew up outside the nation’s capital.  He would get in trouble for skipping classes to hike in solitude and visit the National Zoo.  Where traditional studies were lacking, Patrick found his education being supplemented by nature and museums.  He gained a footing in public lands through the conservation corps with the Forest Service in central Idaho in 2013.  Since then, he has worked at: 6 National Parks, 2 National Monuments, and 1 other National Forest, all before arriving at Izembek for the Fish & Wildlife Service.  His esotericism includes art, wilderness, ruins, and international cuisine.  Good wine, good cheese, and a great conversation make for an entertaining night for Patrick and his far better half Kayleigh.   Patrick lives in Cold Bay, Alaska headquarters for the Izembek Refuge.
David Ward recently retired as a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey- Alaska Science Center.  During his 33 year career, he led an international research program on the population ecology of arctic-nesting waterfowl and their use of coastal habitats, principally seagrass ecosystems.  He has authored numerous papers on the waterfowl and eelgrass habitats of Izembek Refuge.  

Pacific Black Brant in Izembek Lagoon, pc Kristine Sowl/USFWS

This meeting and presentation was recorded.