Trump administration to ease rules for hunting bears and their cubs in Alaska

2:02 a.m.

The National Park Service is rolling back Obama-era regulations that banned hunters in Alaska’s national preserves from using food to lure black and brown bears out of their dens.

The new rules will also let hunters use artificial light to attract black bears and their cubs, shoot caribou from motorboats, and hunt wolves and coyotes during the denning season, the Anchorage Daily News reports. The Obama administration enacted the regulations in order to prevent the destabilization of Alaska’s ecosystems.

This change is “amazingly cruel,” Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Center for Western Priorities, told The Guardian, and is “just the latest in a string of efforts to reduce protections for America’s wildlife at the behest of oil companies and trophy hunters.”

Several Native American tribes criticized the original rule, opposing it due to rural Alaskans needing wild food sources. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) cheered the reversal, saying it was necessary “not only as a matter of principle, but as a matter of states’ rights.” Catherine Garcia

Alexander Archipelago Wolves Need Urgent Help Following Record Killings in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/alexander-archipelago-wolves-need-urgent-help-following-record-killings-in-alaskas-tongass-national-forest-2020-04-15/

JUNEAU, Alaska― Conservation groups today called on the U.S. Forest Service to take immediate steps to protect Alexander Archipelago wolves on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest following word that 97 percent of the most recent estimated population was killed this past trapping season.

In their letter the groups also urged the agency to implement other wolf-conservation measures established in a 2017 habitat-management program developed specifically to protect this vulnerable population.

“This is a shocking number of wolves to have been taken, and once again there has to be concern for the viability of wolves on Prince of Wales Island,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “The U.S. Forest Service must engage with the state on wolf management decisions to ensure that this imperiled wolf population and its forest habitat will remain healthy for future generations,”

Today’s letter follows a March 5 announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that 165 wolves out of an estimated population of 170 (as of fall 2018) were legally trapped during the 2019-2020 season in the game management unit that includes Prince of Wales and surrounding islands. This record number of killings is in addition to any illegal killing, which is known to have been significant in the past.

“While wolf management has always been a controversial issue in Southeast Alaska, it simply belies common sense for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to allow legal trapping of 97% of any game population,” said Meredith Trainor, executive director for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. “With this letter we’re calling on the U.S. Forest Service to take a larger role in, at a minimum, ensuring sustainably managed wolf populations on Prince of Wales Island by partnering with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to immediately return to the quota system.

The department lifted the wolf-trapping quota for this past season despite the fact that the population had only recently rebounded after falling to a historic low in 2014. Had the quota been in place, the legal trapping limit would have been 34 wolves.

“The unprecedented killing of these imperiled wolves is an appalling and completely predictable result of reckless mismanagement,” said Shaye Wolf, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s difficult to see how state and federal officials can allow hunting and trapping next season without completely wiping out these wolves. They have a duty to protect these beautiful animals from extinction.”

In previous years the quota had been set at about 20% of the population estimate, and sometimes significantly lower than that due to conservation concern for the population. The Tongass Land Management Plan directs the U.S. Forest Service to “assist in managing legal and illegal wolf mortality rates to within sustainable levels” and to “develop and implement a wolf habitat management program in conjunction with” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Forest Service finalized that plan in 2017.

Background
Alexander Archipelago wolves and their rainforest home are under continued threats from industrial logging, road building, unsustainable trapping and hunting and large-scale habitat loss.

The population of wolves in the management unit decreased from an estimated mean of 336 animals in 1994 to just 89 animals in 2014.

Concern about the animal’s survival led the Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to develop a Wolf Habitat Management Program. The program identified the key components of wolf management on Prince of Wales and surrounding islands as deer habitat, roads, mortality, den management and human dimensions. The program provided key recommendations in each category.

This interagency group considered quotas to be an important management tool in regulating mortality, reflected in these management recommendations:

● Maintain flexibility in quota management to alter quotas on a yearly basis to ensure wolf population and harvest sustainability;

● Continue to incorporate unreported human-caused mortality rates in developing wolf-harvest quotas using best available data;

● Monitor the wolf population to help evaluate program effectiveness;

● Prioritize and increase enforcement in pre-season and beginning of season, increase enforcement capabilities, and prioritize wolf-trapping season patrols in the game management unit.

Following implementation of the wolf-management program, the population recovered from a low mean estimate of 89 wolves in fall 2014 to 231 animals in fall 2016 and 225 wolves in fall 2017 before dropping to a mean estimate of 170 animals in fall 2018. The population estimates take several months to develop, so the fall 2019 estimate will not be available until August or September.

In addition to eliminating the wolf quota, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game also removed in-season monitoring of wolf mortality in the management unit. The department gave trappers more time to bring killed wolves to state officials for tagging and counting. The new deadline is up to 30 days after the trapping season ends, instead of 14 days after the animals are killed.

Alexander Archipelago wolf
Alexander Archipelago wolf. Photo credit: ©Robin Silver / Center for Biological Diversity Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Defenders.org/newsroom

Due to COVID-19, spring bear hunting isn’t happening for non-residents

Due to COVID-19, spring bear hunting isn’t happening for non-residents

brown bear on shoreline in Katmai area
A brown bear in the Katmai area of the Alaska Peninsula, Nov. 18, 2010. (Creative Commons photo by Mandy Lindeberg/NOAA)

After announcing there would be no spring bear hunting in the state, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has partially changed its mind. All non-resident brown and black bear hunts will remain closed through May 31. Spring bear hunting for Alaska residents remains open during that time.

“You know this was all about people moving around the state, specifically about hunters coming up from the lower 48, but also about people going from different communities in Alaska,” said Ryan Scott, assistant director of ADFG’s division of wildlife conservation.

“Right now we don’t have any concerns about bear populations. It remains to be seen how many people will take advantage of it, but it’s really good that resident hunters can get out there and take advantage of the bear opportunities.”

A Thursday letter from Fish and Game commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang reminds resident hunters to abide by health mandates, including social distancing and intrastate travel. That in-state travel between communities is prohibited except for supporting critical infrastructure or for critical personal needs.

Originally the Department closed non-resident and resident bear hunts until the end of May, via emergency order, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Alaska. Even though Commissioner Vincent-Lang rescinded a portion of this closure, he emphasizes that general hunting has not been identified as a critical personal need, as defined by Governor Mike Dunleavy’s health mandates.

Scott said the department plans to work with the state’s Board of Game to accommodate hunters who’ve lost the opportunity.

“We recognize that there are lots of non-resident hunters planning to come to Alaska right now both for black bear hunts and brown bear hunts,” Scott said.

“We’re going to be looking for opportunities to move those permits around if we can to give those hunters the chance to come and do it again. We don’t know what it’s going to look like yet and it’s going to take some time to sort all that out. It’s important to recognize that we’ve issued drawing permits for next year already. So it’s going to take some finessing to distribute hunters across the landscape.”

Companies that accommodate out-of-state hunters can charge anywhere from a couple thousand dollars for a week-long self-guided black bear hunt to tens of thousands of dollars for a fully guided hunt from a wilderness lodge or tour boat. Brown bear hunts for non-residents are only allowed with a licensed guide or close relative who is a resident.

Eli Lucas owns Alaska Coastal Hunting, a guiding business based in Petersburg. He said the spring bear season is about half of his income for the year, but he understands the closure had to happen.

“We’ve offered refunds or switching dates but we really don’t know where to put people,” Lucas said. “We actually need more season if we’re going to put somebody to a full calendar because we don’t have room for the next years. And so, the other guides are in the same position. It’s a pretty complicated issue really.”

Outfitters, lodges, boat rentals and float plane companies will also lose business with the closure.

Fish and Game said they will announce further details in the coming days on how these spring bear hunts should be conducted by residents while complying with the Governor’s COVID-19 mandates.

Meanwhile, no closures are anticipated for other spring hunting seasons. And sport fishing remains open in Alaska with no current plans for closure.

Washington State has a temporary closure for its sport fishing along with the Columbia River in Oregon.

Cruise Ships Dumped Over 3 Million Pounds of Trash in Alaska Last Year

MARCH 28, 2020 AT 1:32 AM

Cruise Ships Dumped Over 3 Million Pounds of Trash in Alaska Last Year

 

Records show cruise ships left behind more than 3 million pounds of trash in Alaska’s capital city in 2019.

Local government officials have reached out to both the Juneau landfill and the cruise ship industry to stop the dumping, but they aren’t having much luck.

Because both industries are private, and because there aren’t any laws on the books for cruise lines, there’s not much the city can do about it.

“We don’t regulate waste, garbage and hauling of garbage. So anything that we’re able to do will be by negotiation with the cruise lines,” Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt told the local news station.

Waste Management Inc. – which operates Juneau’s landfill – says it accepted 1,534 tons, or 3.3 million pounds, of cruise ship garbage in 2019.

That’s almost double what it was in 2018, which was  830 tons or 1.8 million pounds.

Tourist trash makes up a full 5 percent of the total garbage dumped in Juneau’s landfill in 2018 and 2019.

With the landfill projected to be full in 20 years, any amount of reduction helps.

And, with the climate fluctuating, the normally frozen ground has thawed, causing waste to seep into the ground.

Along with groundwater pollution, trash finds its way into Alaskan rivers and back out into the ocean as well.

Cruise Lines International Association Alaska became aware of the dumping last year.

Mike Tibbles, of CLIAA, said most the trash created on cruise ships is dumped at the initial port the cruise ship starts off at.

So, to figure out which cruise line is dumping what amount and where is challenging, especially with the cruise season starting soon.

“Right now we’re researching the issue a little bit more amongst our member lines to see which vessels are offloading and how much,” Tibbles said. “We definitely have a goal of trying to reduce that amount as much as we can going forward.

 

Native groups object to prison sentence of Kaktovik man who shot and wasted polar bear

Chris Gordon, center, sits during a meeting about polar bear management in Kaktovik in June. He agreed to plead guilty Friday to a single count of shooting and killing a polar bear in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska’s Energy Desk)

After a Kaktovik man was found guilty of killing and wasting a polar bear in a small North Slope village, several prominent Alaska Native organizations are calling the sentence “inappropriate.”

Kaktovik resident Chris Gordon shot and killed a polar bear outside his home in December 2018. The bear was drawn by whale meat that Gordon left out in his yard.

A Facebook post by Kaktovik resident Chris Gordon showing the dead polar bear that he shot outside his house, where it was trying to eat frozen bowhead whale meat. (Courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Related: Kaktovik is crawling with polar bears. Now a man is going to prison for wasting one.

As an Alaska Native from the region, the Marine Mammal Protection Act allows Gordon to kill polar bears as long as he harvests them. However, Gordon left the bear carcass untouched months until he eventually had it burned it at a village dump.

Late last month, Gordon was sentenced to three months in prison, and a $4,500 fine, for wasting the bear.

Now, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, as well as the Native Village of Kaktovik, are criticizing the sentencing. In a statement, the commission wrote that because Gordon is a hunter, sending him to prison and limiting his hunting is also “a punishment of his children, Elders, and other community members who rely on him for food.”

The commission says a punishment should’ve been handed down by “civil, locally-driven penalties within a cultural and traditional context.”

This isn’t the first time the commission has weighed in on the case against Gordon, a whaling captain who is a member of the commission, according to federal court documents. Those same documents say that when a Kaktovik local, identified as T.S., posted a video of the dead bear on Facebook and expressed concern, the AEWC attempted to “pressure” the woman to remove her post, saying it could do harm to whaling and subsistence rights.

Belugas Are Dying off in Alaska and Oil and Gas Operations Are to Blame, Says Lawsuit

ANIMALS

Two environmental groups made a formal announcement that they will file a lawsuit to protect endangered beluga whales whose numbers have plummeted recently, as the AP reported.

The suit aims to void permits allowed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that opened up oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet in southern Alaska. The suit alleges that NOAA violated the Endangered Species Act by issuing the permits without protecting Cook Island belugas. The law requires the formal 60-day notice before the agency can be sued, according to The Associated Press.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Cook Inletkeeper teamed up to send notice that they will sue NOAA.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a disturbing new population estimate last week that showed whale numbers are far lower than previous estimates and their numbers are dropping rapidly, as Reuters reported.

The NMFS report estimated that only 279 beluga whales remain in Cook Inlet, a steep decline from the nearly 1,300 that lived there in 1979. The population decline has accelerated to an annual rate of 2.3 percent over the last decade, which is four times faster than previous estimates, according to NMFS, as Reuters reported.

Cook Inlet runs almost 200 miles from Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska. It supplies energy for the south-central part of the state. The industrial activities there threaten beluga whales, which swim there and feast on salmon and other fish, according to The Independent.

The plaintiffs are demanding a new assessment of oil and gas exploration since the Trump administration used higher, inaccurate beluga whale numbers when it gave a permit to Hillcorp Alaska. The permit allows the petroleum company to “take” beluga whales as part of its operations. “Take” is a nebulous term that allows the company to harass and harm whales. The environmental groups want a guarantee that Cook Inlet belugas can recover from any of Hillcorp Alaska’s operations, according to The Associated Press.

“Since we pressed for listing the Cook Inlet Beluga whale as endangered in 2008, the drive for corporate profits and complacent government bureaucrats have conspired to stifle progress for this dwindling stock,” said Bob Shavelson, advocacy director for Cook Inletkeeper, in a statement. “Hilcorp should do the right thing and abandon its plans for new drilling in Cook Inlet.”

Last summer, the Trump administration loosened environmental regulations that allowed for new mining, oil and gas drilling where protected species live, according to The Independent.

“The tragic decline of these lovely little whales spotlights the risk of allowing oil exploration in their habitat,” said Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “If we’re going to save these belugas, the Trump administration must cancel permission for the oil industry to use seismic blasting and pile driving in Cook Inlet. These animals are hanging on by a thread, and we can’t let them be hurt even more.”

The groups said that seismic blasting used in exploration and deep-sea mining causes blasts heard miles away. The blasts can register up to 250 decibels. For reference, standing next to a jackhammer is 100 decibels. Those underwater blasts can cause hearing loss in marine mammals, severely disrupt communication between pods, disturb feeding and breeding grounds, and reduce their ability to catch fish, according to the environmental groups, as The Associated Press reported.

The largest bears in the world use small streams to fatten up on salmon

NEWS RELEASE 19-DEC-2019

OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

CORVALLIS, Ore. – It’s a familiar scene to anyone who’s watched footage of brown bears catching sockeye salmon in Alaska: They’re standing knee-deep in a rushing river, usually near a waterfall, and grabbing passing fish with their paws or jaws.

But a new study published in the journal Conservation Letters reveals a different picture of how and when bears eat salmon. Most of these bears, also known as grizzlies, are dipping into small streams to capture their iconic prey.

Using a foraging model based on the Wood River basin in southwest Alaska, a study team led by Oregon State University determined that while small-stream habitats have only about 20% of the available salmon in the watershed, they provide 50% of bear consumption of salmon.

“This tells us that populations of sockeye salmon that spawn in little streams are disproportionately important to bears,” said study lead author Jonny Armstrong, an ecologist at Oregon State University. “Bears profit from these small streams because they offer salmon at unique times of the season. To capitalize on plentiful salmon runs, bears need them to be spread across time.”

Small streams typically have cold water, which leads to populations of salmon that spawn much earlier in the season when no other populations are available to predators such as bears.

These results have potential consequences for how environmental impact assessments are conducted and evaluated for large projects such as the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

These reports typically focus on how the project will affect the abundance of salmon in lakes and rivers, but they usually overlook smaller habitats, Armstrong said.

“When people want to build a large mine, they think these streams don’t matter because they represent a small fraction a watershed, in terms of area or salmon abundance. In conservation and management, we generally place value on the largest runs of salmon at the expense of the smallest ones,” Armstrong said. “If we pose a different question and ask which habitats are important for the ecosystem, then small streams become particularly relevant.”

The researchers developed a mathematical model that explores how watershed development and commercial fisheries affect how many sockeye salmon are available to grizzlies. The model simulated different patterns of development and explored how they affected the number of salmon bears consumed.

Protecting large salmon runs at the expense of smaller ones turned out to be bad for bears.

“This causes the bears’ total salmon consumption to drop off faster compared to strategies that protected small salmon runs and the early feeding opportunities they offer to bears,” Armstrong said. “If you impair these areas, you may only reduce the total number of salmon by a little, but the number of salmon that end up in bear’s stomachs – you could reduce that a lot.”

According to the study authors, there are two significant reasons why the largest bears in the world are drawn to small streams to eat salmon.

First, the fish in these streams are easy to catch for adult and juvenile grizzlies. And second, because the water is colder than in lakes and rivers, salmon spawn in them earlier – probably to give their eggs more time to incubate, the authors said. So, the fish are plentiful by the first week of July – making them the first places bears fish after they emerge from hibernation.

“When they come out of hibernation, the bears are just scraping by and barely making it,” Armstrong said. “Having these streams means they can start eating salmon in early July, which is about six weeks before the river- and lake-salmon populations start spawning and become available to bears. It’s an incredible foraging opportunity for bears.”

Armstrong added, “I’m sure that native Alaskans who subsisted on salmon were keenly aware of this, too.”

###

Armstrong is an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Collaborators on the study included Daniel Schindler, professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington; Curry Cunningham, research fisheries biologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks; Will Deacy, a former postdoctoral researcher at OSU now at the U.S. National Park Service; and Patrick Walsh, supervisory fish and wildlife biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Funding for the study was provided by the David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellowship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and funds from the Alaska salmon processing industry that support the University of Washington’s Alaska Salmon Program.

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IPCC
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changein all aspects of society.”
First sentence of IPPC Special Report on 1.5C Summary for Policy Makers.
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Greta Thunberg
“So if we are to stay below the 1.5 degrees of warming limits …, we need to change almost everything.”
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Forbes

“It’s time that everyone, from the humble homeowner to the highest levels of business and government, rethink their relationship with energy and take action. Relying on renewables alone won’t be enough.”
<<https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikehughes1/2019/08/02/climate-change-18-months-to-save-the-world/#166763c749bd>>

Denali wolf sightings hit record low

Denali wolf (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

https://www.alaskapublic.org/2019/10/25/denali-wolf-sightings-hit-record-low/

Wolf sightings hit a record low along the road into Denali National Park this summer, and that’s driving wildlife advocates to push for a halt of wolf hunting and trapping on state lands along Denali’s northeastern boundary, where park road area wolves often roam, and are sometimes killed.

A report recently issued by the National Park Service, shows only 1 percent of agency wildlife survey trips along the road into Denali National Park this summer recorded wolf sightings.

Park biologist Bridget Borg says that’s the worst number since trained park observers began officially tracking wildlife sightings along the road into Denali in the mid-1990s. Viewing percentages previously ranged from as low as 3 percent and as high as 45 percent. Borg says the currently poor wolf sighting percentage is likely primarily representative of natural factors.

“Just there being a lot of variability in where wolves den, and the size of packs over the years,” she said. “Not to say there aren’t the potential for other things to influence that outside of the park.”

Biologist and wildlife advocate Rick Steiner has been trying unsuccessfully for years to get the state to close wolf hunting and trapping on state lands along Denali’s northeastern boundary. Steiner points to the damaging impact loss of an alpha wolf can have on a pack, and makes an economic argument for why the state should care, correlating recent poor wolf viewing opportunity with dips in Denali visitor numbers and spending.

“This is kind of the goose that laid the golden egg for Alaska — if we protect it and help restore it,” he said.

Half a million people visit Denali annually, but there’s state resistance to curtailing boundary area wolf harvest by a few hunters and trappers. Closure requests from Steiner and other Alaskans have been regularly turned down. Commissioner of Fish and Game Doug Vincent Lang recently rejected the second of 2 such petitions submitted since July. Commissioner’s spokesperson Rick Green explains why.

“Data from the Parks Service isn’t a very specified area, and when we manage we manage more of a habitat area — much larger scale — and haven’t seen the evidence to constitute an emergency on the wolf population,” he said.

Green says that means it’s an allocation issue and up to the game board, which has consistently failed to grant requests to re-establish a no wolf kill area, scrapped by the board in 2010. In a July interview, game board chair Ted Spraker pointed to wolves’ resilience, and the potential for wolf viewing to rebound.

“It could all change next year if one of these eastern packs dens close to the road,” he said.

But halting wolf hunting and trapping in the nearby northeast boundary area could also help, according to the Park Service’s Borg. She points to better wolf viewing during a decade long span when boundary area wolf harvest was closed.

“When the area adjacent to the park was closed to hunting and trapping, it was correlated with higher sightings, so we think that bears replication to see if there’s a similar effect,” she said.

The park service and wildlife advocates have submitted separate northeast park boundary no wolf kill buffer proposals to the game board for consideration at a March 2020 meeting, but any change would take place after the wolf trapping season.  Steiner is pushing for an emergency game board meeting prior to the November first start of trapping season.

Final Plan for Arctic Refuge Drilling Could Cause Extinctions, Admits Government

The decision to open the refuge’s entire coastal plain to development, combined with climate change, ‘may result in extinction’ for some birds.

 

By Andy McGlashenAssociate Editor, Audubon Magazine

September 17, 2019

Birds in This Story

 

Gyrfalcon

Falco rusticolus

 

Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus

 

Spectacled Eider

Somateria fischeri

Permanently Protect the Arctic Refuge

A new bill in Congress would permanently protect the Refuge from drilling.

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The U.S. Department of the Interior last week took a major step toward the first-ever oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In a decision that outraged but did not surprise environmentalists, the agency announced its final plan to develop one of the world’s last great wildernesses, acknowledging that its chosen course might wipe out some bird species and harm other animals that make their home on the pristine reserve.

The Trump administration had multiple options when planning to open the 19.3 million-acre sanctuary to drillers. After Republicans in Congress and President Trump directed Interior in 2017 to create a leasing plan for the refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, the department laid out three possible scenarios for energy development there. But on Thursday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced that the department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had chosen the most extreme plan, one that makes the entire coastal plain eligible for leasing and comes with the fewest restrictions on industry’s footprint.

Such an aggressive approach, the BLM acknowledged in its final environmental impact statement, combined with the effects of climate change, could drive birds to extinction, as E&E News first reported. Species that nest in the refuge “already are experiencing decreasing populations, and many could suffer catastrophic consequences from the effects of global climate change in one or more of their seasonal continental or even global habitats,” the document says. “These effects combined with development-related impacts across the ranges of many bird species may result in extinction during the 85-year scope of this analysis.”

Some 200 bird species rely on the refuge, including hardy year-round residents like American Dipper, Gyrfalcon, and Rock and Willow Ptarmigan. The area fills with birdlife each summer, including migrants from every U.S. state and six continents, such as Red-throated Loon, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and Whimbrel.

According to the BLM report, development could require energy companies to pump out large volumes from the coastal plain’s limited water bodies, resulting in food and habitat loss for loons and other waterbirds. Additional species could lose nesting habitat to roads and other infrastructure, and a variety of birds will likely be injured or killed in collisions with drilling rigs, communications towers, and vehicles.

Birds are far from the only wildlife with habitat at stake on the coastal plain, a strip of tundra, rivers, and wetlands wedged between the Brooks Range foothills and the Beaufort Sea. Federally threatened polar bears, which nurture their cubs in dens along its rivers and shoreline, will likely be killed as interactions with humans become more common, the impact statement says. Caribou migrate roughly 1,500 miles each spring to give birth on the plain, where there’s plenty to eat, sea winds to keep mosquitoes at bay, and few predators to threaten their calves. With new development, the biggest threat to caribou is displacement through oil and gas activities.

While the impact statement mentions some potential threats to wildlife, many experts believe it is not explicit enough when addressing the potential risks and even likelihood of extinction for a variety of species. “Oil and gas infrastructure in the Arctic Refuge, when considered in conjunction with climate change, poses an existential risk to several Arctic bird species,” said Audubon Alaska in a press release. Moreover, choosing such an aggressive development plan despite the toll it will take on wildlife “just goes to show how far this administration is willing to go to extract oil and gas, even in what should be a protected area,” says Susan Culliney, the group’s policy director.

The Arctic Refuge provides potential breeding habitat for Spectacled Eiders and hundreds of other species of birds. Photo: Danita Delimont/Alamy

In several high-stakes fights over the past 50 years, advocates for preserving this rare expanse of untouched wild have prevailed over the oil companies, Alaskan politicians, and native corporations that have pursued drilling. Political headwinds—produced in part by the public outrage after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska—have blocked past attempts to open the refuge. A bill to do so made it through Congress in 1995, but President Bill Clinton vetoed it. Democrats and some Republicans have voted to stop other such efforts. A 2017 Yale University poll found that 70 percent of Americans oppose drilling in the refuge.

But that dynamic shifted in December of 2017, when Republicans in Congress, backed by the administration’s call for “energy dominance,” tucked into a tax bill a provision to establish a fossil-fuel leasing program on the refuge’s coastal plain. Sometimes referred to as the 1002 Area, the coastal plain is considered the ecological heart of the refuge, but federal scientists estimate that it also sits atop 7.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The bill gave Interior until 2021 to conduct the first of at least two lease sales, each offering 400,000 or more acres. Department officials have pledged to hold that initial sale this year.

One reason for the aggressive timeline is to give industry a foot in the refuge’s door during President Trump’s first term, since having leases in place would complicate a future administration’s efforts to block drilling there, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said last year.

As a result, the regulatory process—typically measured and deliberate—has been rushed, confusing, and even misleading, according to reports from federal agency employees. A comprehensive review for any leasing program over such a large area would typically take two or three years. But the administration compressed that timeline: The draft environmental impact statement was published last December, only eight months after the review began. Investigations have found that, in its hurry, Interior omitted relevant information, and even altered reports from career scientists to downplay potential environmental impacts. And the rush for leasing this year didn’t leave time for seismic testing to give energy companies an idea of where oil deposits most likely exist, which can only happen when the tundra is frozen.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt called the final environmental impact statement “a big step to carry out the clear mandate we received from Congress to develop and implement a leasing program for the Coastal Plain, a program the people of Alaska have been seeking for over 40 years.”

Energy development in the Arctic Refuge will likely harm polar bears and other wildlife. Photo: Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy

Many Alaskans support drilling in the refuge—perhaps not surprising in a place where, over the past four decades, oil revenue has averaged about 85 percent of the state budget—but questions linger around the purported economic benefits of doing so. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that lease sales would generate only half of the $1.8 trillion in revenues claimed by the Trump administration. More recently, a New York Times analysis found that sales may generate just $45 million across the entire coastal plain.

Although some Alaska Natives advocate tapping into the oil reserves, the Gwich’in people have been outspoken opponents. They live outside the refuge but hold sacred the Porcupine caribou herd that migrates there each spring, and subsist by hunting the animals. The plan announced last week “demonstrates that this administration and the Alaska delegation will disregard our way of life, our food, and our relationship with the land, the caribou, and future generations to pander to industry greed,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in a statement.

Even before the administration’s plan was announced, there was pushback on Capitol Hill. Hours earlier, the House of Representatives passed a bill to prohibit energy development in the refuge. A companion bill was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, but it stands little chance of passing the Republican-majority chamber where pro-drilling Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski holds the powerful chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m hopeful we can now move to a lease sale in the very near future, just as Congress intended,” Murkowski said in a statement, “so that we can continue to strengthen our economy, our energy security, and our long-term prosperity.”

Environmental groups, meanwhile, are gearing up to fight the plan in the courts. While the plan is final, Interior still needs to issue a formal record of decision, expected in about a month. Once it does so, lawsuits will certainly follow, as they did when the Trump administration lifted protections from national monuments and gutted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other environmental laws and regulations.

The plan is “categorically illegal,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, in a press release. “We will not tolerate the administration’s brazen attempt to paper over the impacts of this disastrous proposal, and we will see them in court for this reckless effort to turn this iconic American landscape into an industrial oilfield.”

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Alaska national park wolf hunting boundary dispute continues

(Source: Gary Kramer / USFWS / CC BY 2.0).

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) – A group of Alaska advocates is petitioning for an end to wolf hunting in a national park boundary area.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Monday that the group is concerned about a decrease in the number of wolf sightings in part of Denali National Park.

The group sent petitions about the Denali Park Road area to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner and the state Board of Game.

Members say hunting is impacting the number of wolves in packs that roam near the road corridor.

The National Park Service has submitted its own proposal to the game board requesting a partial closure to wolf hunting.

Wolf hunting in the area is scheduled to begin Aug. 10 while trapping season is scheduled to open Nov. 1.