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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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Meetings are BACK! Tuesday September 21, 2021, 5pm AKDT

Surveying the Unknown: Invasive Species in the Northern Refuges

 



Tuesday, September 21, 2021, 5-6pm (AKDT) 
Lisa Dlugolecki,
Fish & Wildlife Service Northern Refuges Invasive Species Program

Webinar details

From weed pulls to gelding feral horses, Friends have been concerned and involved in invasive species on Alaska Refuges.  We continue that involvement with Lisa Dlugolecki sharing her results and thoughts from this summer’s field work surveying several northern wildlife Refuges for invasive species. Refuges in northern Alaska have been traditionally spared from invasive species, but the risk of introduction is increasing. This is especially true for Refuges along or downstream from the road systems. Consistent surveying for invasive species has also been challenging in this region because of the large land mass and unavailability of staff resources. From Kanuti Refuge to Tetlin Refuge, Lisa’s team conducted road surveys looking for invasive plants such as white sweet clover. Some findings included finding white sweet clover growing along the Dalton Highway, but finding none growing on the gravel bars in the surrounding waterways.  Friends volunteered for many years eradicating white sweet clover along the Dalton in the hopes of preventing its spread downstream into the refuges.  Join us on Zoom to hear the latest on what else she discovered and what her thoughts are on the future of invasive species management on northern refuges.


(pc: USFWS)

Lisa Dlugolecki is the “North Region Early Detection Rapid Response Project Manager Alaska” for the Fish and Wildlife Service.  She is based out of Fairbanks. Lisa has worked across the country in wildlife and habitat management.  She began working full time for Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015 in invasive species management and habitat restoration. Before moving to Alaska to continue her work in invasive species management, Lisa worked in Idaho on Endangered Species Act consultations.

 

OR:
Join by phone:

Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 669 900 6833 or +1 301 715 8592 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 929 205 6099
Webinar ID: 848 4313 9530
Passcode: 018201
International numbers available: https://zoom.us/u/aBX3IPxrw

Download PowerPoint presentation




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Summer Pause on Meetings & Newsletters

Membership Meetings & Newsletters   
Our monthly meet-ups and newsletters provide unique opportunities for us all to listen, learn, and speak up about important and fun happenings on Alaska’s 16 Wildlife Refuges.

We’ll be taking a pause for the summer, so look forward to a July/August Newsletter and set a reminder for 9/21/2021 when we’ll all meet again for our membership meeting!

pc: After a long winter of feeding on tree bark, the North American porcupine (Iluqtaq) is on the search for nutrient rich food sources. In addition to fresh leaves and buds, you may notice chew marks from porcupines on antlers, bones, glued plywood and even paint.  What summer meal are you looking forward to?   Photo of porcupine eating fresh green leaves by Moosealope FlickrCC/Selawik NWR




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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.

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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.







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Membership Meeting, Tuesday, March 16, 2021, 5pm AKT

Wild, Outstanding, and Remarkable: Meet the Seven Wild and Scenic Rivers Flowing on Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges    

Tuesday, March 16, 2021, 5-6pm (AKDT) 
Jennifer Reed, Arctic Refuge and FWS Wild and Scenic Rivers Program Lead

Recorded meeting below

Jennifer Reed of the Arctic Refuge will bring you on an unforgettable adventure exploring each of these distinct and thriving waterways.  While Alaska’s Refuges TEEM with countless amazing rivers, the rivers Congress deemed superlative and distinct within the Alaska  Refuges include:  Andreafsky (Yukon Delta); Beaver Creek (Yukon Flats); Ivishak, Sheenjek, and Wind (Arctic Refuge); Nowitna (Nowitna Refuge); and Selawik (Selawik Refuge).  Some are great salmon highways; others host more northern species like grayling and sheefish.  Some are corridors for vast caribou migrations and all furnish important riparian habitat and travel routes for waterfowl, songbirds, furbearers and all grazing species.  People have used them as transportation corridors and food sources for millennia,  since they are within the homelands of Alaska’s indigenous peoples. Subsistence users have now been joined by  adventurers and fisherfolk seeking solitude and the joy of rivers.

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Sheenjek Wild and Scenic River, Arctic Refuge (USFWS/A. Bonogofsky)

Jennifer Reed is the national and regional Fish and Wildlife Service lead for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Program.  She has lived between the Alaska Range and the Brooks Range since finishing college and leaving Detroit for her first Alaska job as a Denali Park Ranger.  She taught school for 8 years, part of the time on Nelson Island, before developing a federal career focused on connecting people with their public lands.  Jennifer confessed that she was not initially a rivers person beginning her  love affair with landscape-meets-human as a backpacker. Dog mushing and hiking are more natural to her but she became a boater because of her dedication to relating to the visitors to the Arctic Refuge. Since then she has boated most of the major rivers in the West.  Jennifer lives in Fairbanks. 



View Recorded Meeting:





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Membership Meeting, Tuesday, February 23, 2021, 5pm AKT, 6pm PT

Vets, Kids and Fly Fishing;
Finding Healing and Leadership in Wild Places    

Tuesday, February 23, 2021, 5-6pm (AKDT)
Friends monthly meeting with guest speaker, Chad Brown of Soul River Inc.

Recorded meeting video

Navy Veteran Chad Brown was homeless and medicated for PTSD when he discovered fly fishing and the healing power of rivers.  Brown said that the first tug on his line from his first fish was like a bolt of nature’s electricity bringing him back to life.  He founded Soul River, Inc. to share what rivers and fishing had done for him.  He pairs vets and inner city kids  on “deployments” to wild rivers including several trips to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Amid the grandeur of the Refuge, the vets found purpose as mentors and the youth flourished in this new world of nature, adventure and fishing.  

Brown will share with us his story, the success of Soul River and how his mission has grown into protecting the Arctic Refuge and being of service to Native  communities.  He will tell us about his new non-profit, Love is King, which is dedicated to creating equitable and safe access to the outdoors for people of color.

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Chad Brown grew up in Texas hunting and spending time on his grandparents farm.  He joined the Navy to get the GI Bill and served in Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Restore Hope Somalia.   After the military, he earned a Master of Science in Communications Design and had a successful career as an art director and  photographer before his PTSD caught up with him and brought him down.  After fishing and rivers and the VA healed him he started Soul River as well as serving as creative director of Chado Communication Design and Soul River Studios.  Besides being an avid fly fisherman he is a bow hunter, outdoor adventurer and conservationist. 

Brown is a Board member of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. He has been featured on BBC, CBS, as well as in national publications such as Outside Magazine and The Drake, and in various Pacific Northwest publications. Additionally, Brown was the first recipient of the Breaking Barriers Award Presented by Orvis, as well as the Bending Toward Justice Award from Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley. Chad Brown resides in Portland, Oregon.

Soul River videos



This meeting was recorded; watch below:




Chad Brown pc: Corey Arnold




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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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