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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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January Advocacy Report: Wild Places in a Wild Year

by David Raskin, Friends Board President

It was a wild year! The Department of the Interior (DOI) held the oil and gas leasing sale in the Arctic Refuge and pushed the Kenai Refuge to adopt destructive proposed wildlife and management regulations. However, there is hope on the horizon.

Kenai Regulations
The Kenai Refuge submitted to Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) a “skinny version” of the proposed regulations that omitted the baiting of brown bears and the removal of the Refuge trapping regulations. It went up the chain of command in Washington and was signed by the Assistant Secretary. However, pressure from the State of Alaska prevented it from being adopted, and FWS Director Skipwith began a rewrite of the proposal. If such a rewrite were to be published before the inauguration, it would not satisfy legal environmental and management requirements and would be subject to formal challenges. In light of the chaos in Washington and the limited resources at DOI, we are hopeful that there will be no formal action on the proposed regulations and no change to the current Kenai regulations. It is highly unlikely that the Biden administration would disturb the excellent regulations currently in place.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Our motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the lease sale and seismic testing was denied by the Alaska Federal District Court (Read Trustees Press Release Here]. However, the Court issued a very narrow ruling that did not address the merits of our pending lawsuits and does not diminish our chances for ultimate success. The DOI then held the lease sale on January 6, which was a complete bust! No major oil company entered a bid, and only 11 of the 22 tracts received a bid, 9 from the State of Alaska AIDEA and 2 from small bidders. Instead of the $1.8 billion revenue projected in the authorization under the 2017 Tax Act, the sale produced only $14 million, less than 0.1% of the promised windfall. The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign deserves our heartfelt thanks for their marvelous work in bringing about this great result!
 
The Court did not grant the injunction on the seismic testing because it found no imminent harm because the permit has not been finalized.   Bureau of Land Management continues to process the permit for seismic exploration on the Coastal Plain that Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corporation hopes to begin this winter. 
 
The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign (ARDC) continued their highly successful meetings with financial institutions concerning the dangers of Arctic drilling and the financial risks of supporting such efforts. All major US and Canadian banks and dozens of more than 24 major financial institutions will not fund resource development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ARDC has continued their pressure on Chevron Oil and insurance companies to join the major financial institutions in refusing to fund oil development in the arctic. 


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The State of Alaska continued work on its application to FWS to construct a road through the Refuge under the theory that they are entitled to access to inholdings under Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) 1110(b). The State needs a Clean Water Act 404 permit from the Army Corps and will seek other ANILCA temporary permits for site investigation. There are National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and other ANILCA permitting requirements that apply to this process. It is our understanding that their initial applications to FWS have been rejected as incomplete, and they have until January 22 to resubmit. By then, there will be a new administration that we hope will be able to stop this latest assault on the Izembek Wilderness.

Mulchatna Caribou
The latest data indicate a slight improvement in the declining population of Mulchatna caribou herd that ranges over a huge area of Western Alaska including large portions of the Togiak and Yukon Delta Refuges. The State wants to extend its current, unsuccessful predator control activities to federal lands within the refuges. However, this is not consistent with FWS management practices and is unlikely to achieve the State’s hopes of increasing the caribou population. Since the declines in the caribou numbers are most likely due to human predation and smaller impacts of habitat loss and other factors, FWS is working to inform the local subsistence hunters about the problems of overharvest and enlist their support for a moratorium on hunting caribou.