Democrats say Interior botched polar bear study in pursuit to drill ANWR

https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/507852-dems-say-interior-botched-study-of-polar-bears-in-pursuit-to-drill

BY REBECCA BEITSCH – 07/17/20 03:07 PM EDT 6144,433

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Democrats say Interior botched polar bear study in pursuit to drill ANWR

© Getty Images

Democratic lawmakers are pushing back against Department of the Interior plans to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR,) arguing the agency wasn’t thorough before concluding that drilling activity wouldn’t harm local polar bears.

A review of the environmental impacts of drilling in the area “makes the unsupportable conclusion that industrializing the entire Coastal Plain—including the most important terrestrial denning habitat for among the most imperiled polar bear population on the planet—will not jeopardize the survival and recovery of the species,” Democratic lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee wrote to Interior in a letter spearheaded by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

“This fundamentally flawed analysis ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence that identifies devastating impacts to polar bears from oil and gas activities,” they added.https://b28bdec9e40d5dff0a2190c2694e4e23.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

The so-called biological opinion produced on the topic came after the department in February made the unusual decision to open its research to public comment. The already peer-reviewed research looked at how seismic activity from the oil and gas industry affects polar bear “denning” as they raise their young cubs.

Environmentalists and scientists raised the alarm, calling it an attempt by the Trump administration to discredit its own government scientists.

“What it looks like to me is they’re giving industry the opportunity to negate the study,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The 2017 tax bill opened the door to drilling in the arctic, something Interior noted in its response.

“Representative Huffman and the other Democrat members who signed this erroneous letter apparently don’t understand that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in 2017 requires an oil and gas leasing program in the Coastal Plain. It would serve them well to have a better, basic understanding of the laws under the jurisdiction of the Committee,” the department said in an email.

A number of major banks, including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, have already pledged not to finance any drilling in ANWR.

The department recently finalized another rule that would allow hunting tactics that make it easier to kill bear cubs and wolf pups in Alaska.

The rule, finalized in June, ends a five-year ban on baiting hibernating bears from their dens, shining a flashlight into wolf dens to cause them to scurry, targeting animals from airplanes or snowmobiles and shooting swimming caribou from boats.

Barbarism on the Rise: Hunting Mama Wolves and Bears and Their Cubs in Alask

Barbarism on the Rise: Hunting Mama Wolves and Bears and Their Cubs in Alaska

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Arctic wolf. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

When I was in elementary school, I had a slingshot for hunting birds. To this day, I find it impossible to explain why I indulged in such unsavory behavior.

However, since those youthful days, I never hunted again with either a slingshot or a gun.

I abhor the killing of wild and domesticated animals. They have as much right as we do to exist without fearing hunters may kill them.

I know humans have hunted and killed animals for food. Such open season lasted for millennia. Hunting of wildlife for food is probably still alive in some form or another in most countries of the world.

Hunting for sport is another, even more vicious, kind of killing of wild animals. Affluent European hunters decimated Africa’s wildlife in the nineteenth century.

Hunting for sport is probably just as ancient as killing wild animals for food. Members of the ruling classes in the past and now convince themselves they have divine rights to target wildlife at their convenience and pleasure.

This cruel and perverse habit is especially strong in affluent societies, where people with money and guns give license to their pathological instincts in killing wolves, bears, lions, tigers and other wild animals.

Human footprints

This killing, especially of important large carnivorous animals, adds more unnecessary instability in an already destabilized natural world.

Humans have been leaving their bloody and destructive footprints everywhere in the planet for a very long time.

Their industrialized farming has been producing unhealthy food while generating climate change. The effects are thoroughly unpleasant: insects, birds and small animals are steadily being driven towards extinction.

The logging of the world’s forests, no less than factory farming, disrupts and breaks down ecosystems, all but eliminating biological diversity and degrading land and life.

The damming of wild rivers unsettles water life and pushes countless species over the cliff.

As if these terrible practices, which “civilized” people do routinely, did not produce enough disruption and violence in the natural world, humans have been ravaging the land for petroleum, natural gas, coal, gold, silver, and other minerals.

War against the natural world in Alaska

It’s this political madness and ecological tsunami, the horror humans have been sowing in every wild land of the world, including the forests, rivers, and lands of the United States, that sets the stage for an additional and unusually horrific practice about to start in the parks of Alaska.

The Secretary of the US Department of the Interior, a Trump appointee by the name of David Bernhardt, signed a final rule June 11, 2020, that allows a dark age killing of bears, wolves and their cubs.

This is barbarism triumphant under the guise of restoring the authority of Alaska to do as it pleases with our national treasure of wildlife.

Hunters will be filling buckets with bait to attract bears in order to shoot them.

This reminds me of a story a friend told me of a similar barbaric practice in Michigan. Owners of gasoline stations attract deer with large carrots. Drivers buying gasoline shoot the deer from the comfort of their cars.

Listening to this story I thought he was making things up. But, no, he assured me, he witnessed such shameful affair. This put me in a bad mood.

How could these people be so cruel, so stone-dead in their feelings and emotions? Where did they grow up?

The evolving cruelty in Alaska confirms my friend’s story. The roots of violence against wildlife are deep and widespread.

Local and tourist hunters will soon be killing bears, wolves and their offspring in the vast national parks of Alaska.

This is a gift of the Trump administration, which made it legal to hunt these persecuted animals during the denning season.

Imagine TV-like explorers-hunters loaded with war pistols and guns and high tech flashlights entering holes in the ground or caves to shoot mama wolves and bears and their cubs.

What a tragedy, a charade, and paradigmatic act of utter stupidity. Could we say this is hidden hatred of compromised armed people for the animal emblems of wild freedom? Are these hunters hunting their nightmares or civilization itself?

Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, criticized the Trump administration, but she failed to express the anger of a person dedicated to protecting the threated animals. She was too diplomatic in describing the extraordinary vicious turn of policy:

“Amid the global pandemic, the Trump administration is declaring open season on bears and wolves, through their sport hunting rule on national parklands in Alaska….

“National preserve lands at Denali, Katmai, Gates of the Arctic… [in Alaska] are the very places where people travel from around the world, in hopes of seeing these iconic animals, alive in their natural habitat. Through this administration’s rule, [officials of] such treasured lands will now allow sport hunters to lure bears with greased donut bait piles to kill them, or crawl into hibernating bear dens to shoot bears and cubs.”

Trump above all  

This shameful and uncivilized behavior does fit the pattern of Trump, his administration, and his Republican Party and evangelical supporters. They are operating as if in a conquered territory.

Like the French monarch Louis XIV, Trump said I am the state. I can do anything I want. There’s no climate change. Corporations are right about the environment and pollution. I will follow their guidance.

In about 3.5 years, he reversed the modicum of theoretical and real environmental and public health protection Americans enjoyed.

He put this national dangerous policy into effect in the glare of television and lots of additional publicity. Most large media gloated over the tragic spectacle of a president ordering the demise of America. Yet, for the most part, these national televisions and newspapers have been treating him like a king.

I did not see demonstrations by either environmentalists or public health experts or citizens concerned with the rising pandemics of cancer, neurological disease, and the extinction of species. Climate change, the giant among environmental threats, did bring thousands in the streets of Europe and fewer in America.

This means TV advertisements, business practices and propaganda, and poisons in the food, drinking water, and air have diminished the intelligence of Americans – and people throughout the world. Otherwise, it’s impossible to explain these suicidal tendencies.

I consider the threats to our health and the health of the natural world the highest priorities of any civilized society. And yet, in the US House of Representatives “impeachment” of Trump, these existential threats directly linked to the Trump administration were ignored.

This undemocratic politics explains why Trump feels at home with both the virus pandemic and, potentially, ordering the military to take over the country. Like any other billionaire, Trump feels contempt for democracy.

As long as soldiers are in their barracks, Trump wants to be reelected. He is pleasing trophy hunters and Alaska elites that aspire to the total control of public wealth.

It is possible, though hard to document, that the projected visit of the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., to Alaska for hunting mother grizzly bears and wolves and their cubs had something to do with the demolition of the slight protection these vulnerable animals enjoyed under previous administrations.

Trump’s son goes out of his way to kill wild animals. He even went to Mongolia where he hunted an endangered sheep.

The meaning of vicious hunting

The spectacle of the US government encouraging outrageous attacks on wildlife in Alaska tells us much more than the perverted habits of trophy hunters and the myopic and self-destructive politics of Alaska.

Killing animal mothers and cubs is an act of desperation. The killers have lost their humanity and a sense of living among other citizens under the rule of law. They have become what the Greeks defined as barbarians: people of incomprehensible speech and alien to civilization.

I like to think that Americans will have at least the sense of electing Joe Biden as our next president. His work will be much more difficult than I ever thought. He will be governing a country nearly unhinged by the Republicans, evangelicals, and their commander-in-chief, Trump.

Biden will have to tone down the Wall Street ideology of “me” for “us,” and, no less significant, embrace the environment and wildlife as foundations of our civilization.

Fight climate change and ban killings of mama wolves, grizzly bears and their cubs.

Letters: Allowing animal cruelty in hunting is a new low

Peter Kuper, PoliticalCartoons.com

Allowing animal cruelty in hunting is a new low

Re: “Banned hunting techniques revived,” June 10 news story

One may question how much lower can this present government stoop? The small article in Wednesday’s Denver Post may give many people yet another glimpse into the inhumane and deplorable policy change regarding hunting on federal land, primarily at this point in Alaska.

According to the article’s information, the president, Donald Trump Jr., the Safari Club International, Alaskan state leaders, and hunting advocates have succeeded in reversing the Obama-era restrictions on barbaric hunting methods. Two of the many cruel methods listed in the article are “using spotlights to blind and shoot hibernating black bears and their cubs in dens, and gunning down swimming caribou from motorboats.” Maybe we don’t need to question how much lower some human beings can go.

Linnea Wilkinson, Aurora

Trump administration opens Alaska’s national preserves to cruel practices like trophy-hunting denning bears and wolves and their cubs; proposes disbanding protections on Kenai Wildlife Refuge

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

June 10, 2020 0 Comments

The Trump administration has given trophy hunters the green light to commit some of the worst sort of carnage on 20 million acres of Alaska’s pristinely beautiful national preserves.

Under a new rule finalized this week, trophy hunters can, starting next month, kill hibernating mother black bears and their cubs in their dens with the aid of artificial lights, shoot wolf and coyote pups and mothers at their dens, use bait like donuts and meat scraps to attract brown and black bears, shoot vulnerable caribou while they are swimming (including with the aid of motorboats), and use dogs to hunt black bears.

This is yet another dastardly move from an administration that, from the start, has carried out a no-holds-barred assault on America’s—and the world’s—most precious wildlife. From weakening protections for native American wildlife covered by the Endangered Species Act to allowing trophy hunters to import the trophies of endangered animals likerhinos and lions, the Department of the Interior, under Trump, has consistently played into the hands of trophy hunters and other corporate interests to dismantle the progress we’ve made for wildlife over decades.

A lot of this, including the National Park Service rule finalized this week, has involved reversing protections for wildlife put in place by the Obama administration.

And they’re not done. Just today, the Department of the Interior proposed another rule, again to overturn the prior administration’s rule that barred baiting of brown bears on two million acres of public lands in the state’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Hunting of brown bears over bait is an extreme practice and biologists have been raising alarms about the loss of brown bear populations in Alaska.

We already know what the carnage sanctioned by these rule changes will look like. Before the 2015 rule, thousands of bears and wolves were shot from the air, killed over bait barrels, clubbed or shot in their dens and hunted down with lights at night. Many of these cruel practices professed to reduce numbers of iconic predators in order to boost prey species for hunters, but science has shown that nature cannot be manipulated this way without terrible results.

We have seen brown bear numbers across Alaska dwindle because of intensive management. State lands, where the egregious practices now permitted by the NPS rule are already allowed by the Alaska Board of Game, have seen sharp drops in wildlife populations. Alaska state officials should prefer their wildlife alive rather than dead because the tens of thousands of wildlife watchers who trek into the state each year put far more money into the state’s coffers than a handful of trophy hunters seeking to kill the animals do.

The Humane Society of the United States, along with a coalition of organizations, is currently in federal court defending the Obama-era NPS and Kenai rules. These changes are unlawful because Congress requires that the Department of the Interior conserve and protect wildlife in national preserves and national wildlife refuges. By opening season on the animals it’s supposed to protect just to appease a few trophy hunters, the agency—and this administration—have not only shown themselves to be extremely poor stewards of our public lands, they have let down a majority of Americans who would never sanction such cruelty against our native wildlife.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

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.