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.
***********************************************
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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Audubon magazine is a nonprofit that depends on the generosity of our readers. You can support stories like this by making a donation today. 

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.

‘Unprecedented’ wildfires ravage the Arctic

Wildfire smoke is spreading from Alaska across parts of Canada.

Story highlights

  • The wildfires come as the planet is on track to experience the hottest July on record
  • Wildfires contribute to global warming by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere

(CNN)More than 100 intense wildfires have ravaged the Arctic since June, with scientists describing the blazes as “unprecedented.”

New satellite images show huge clouds of smoke billowing across uninhabited land in Greenland, Siberia and parts of Alaska.
The wildfires come after the planet experienced the hottest June on record and is on track to experience the hottest July on record, as heatwaves sweep across Europe and the United States.
Since the start of June, Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), which provides data about atmospheric composition and emissions, has tracked more than 100 intense wildfires in the Arctic Circle.
Pierre Markuse, a satellite photography expert, said the region has experienced fires in the past, but never this many.
Satellite images show smoke billowing across Greenland and Alaska as wildfires ravage the region.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at a faster rate than the global average, providing the right conditions for wildfires to spread, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at CAMS.
“The number and intensity of wildfires in the Arctic Circle is unusual and unprecedented,” Parrington told CNN.
“They are concerning as they are occurring in a very remote part of the world, and in an environment that many people would consider to be pristine,” he said.
See how Europe is dealing with an extreme heatwave

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See how Europe is dealing with an extreme heatwave 01:34
The average June temperature in Siberia, where the fires are raging, was almost 10 degrees higher than the long-term average between 1981–2010, Dr Claudia Volosciuk, a scientist with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) told CNN.
Parrington said there seemed to be more wildfires due to local heatwaves in Siberia, Canada and Alaska.
The fires themselves contribute to the climate crisis by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
They emitted an estimated 100 megatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere between 1 June and 21 July, almost the equivalent of Belgium’s carbon output in 2017, according to CAMS.
Volosciuk said wildfires are also exacerbating global warming by releasing pollutants into the atmosphere.
“When particles of smoke land on snow and ice, [they] cause the ice to absorb sunlight that it would otherwise reflect, and thereby accelerate the warming in the Arctic,” she said.

60 dead seals found along warming Alaska coast

Scientists are trying to figure out whether the deaths are due to loss of sea ice or something else

A dead seal was found on a beach near Kotzebue, Alaska, in May. Federal biologists are investigating the deaths of at least 60 ice seals along Alaska’s west coast. (Raime Fronstin/National Park Service/Associated Press)

At least 60 dead seals have been discovered along beaches of the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea in northwestern Alaska, and scientists are trying to determine what caused their deaths, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Wednesday.

The bearded, spotted and ringed seals have been found at sites ranging from southern edge of the Bering Strait region to the Chukchi coastline above the Arctic Circle, NOAA’s Fisheries said.

Ice in the Bering and Chukchi seas has been far scarcer than normal, and sea-surface temperatures have been far higher than usual, according to scientists and agency reports. But the cause of the seal die-off is as yet unknown, said Julie Speegle, an Alaska spokesperson for NOAA Fisheries.

“We are mobilizing to get our marine mammal experts and our partners there to get some samples,” she said. “It could be a harmful algal bloom. It could be a number of things.”

There is almost no ice left in the Bering Sea. The summer melt has been at least three weeks ahead of normal, while melt in the Chukchi Sea is about a month ahead of normal, according to Brian Brettschneider, a climatologist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Sea-surface temperatures along the coastlines of the Bering Sea and the southern Chukchi Sea were as much as 4.5 degrees Celsius above normal last month and remained well above normal as of this week, according to NOAA data.

Bearded, spotted and ringed seals use sea ice as platforms for food foraging, for resting and for raising their young. Alaska’s bearded and ringed seals are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

A dead grey whale that washed up on a beach is shown in this handout photo. The American federal agency dedicated to ocean science declared an ‘unusual mortality event’ as the bodies of dozens of grey whales washed up on West Coast beaches in Canada and the U.S. this spring. (HO-Cascadia Research/Canadian Press)

The reports of dead seals, which started in May and come from village residents and a National Park Service biologist, coincide with mounting discoveries of dead grey whales along the West Coast from California to Alaska.

The whale die-off has been designated as an “unusual mortality event,” a classification that authorizes a special investigation.

Speegle said it is unclear whether the seal and whale die-offs are connected.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/dead-seals-alaska-whales-warming-1.5173237?fbclid=IwAR0cGBm2Rj-awstWSLNA7Kaxwlo2tXUbirWDfOwH3WyKjkMnULq0kBFTG-U

ON THE COAST OF ALASKA SET IN THE MYSTERIOUS DEATHS OF DOZENS OF SEALS

https://galpost.com/on-the-coast-of-alaska-set-in-the-mysterious-deaths-of-dozens-of-seals-photo/13922/

Along the coast of the Bering and Chukchi seas in the American state of Alaska discovered a large number of dead seals. Killing at least 60 animals of the three species – ringed seals, the spotted and sea hares. While the cause of death of these marine mammals is not established, according to the National oceanic and atmospheric administration (NOAA).

Carcasses of seals were found in cities Kotlik, Kotzebue, Kivalina, and the Islands of Stuart and the St. Lawrence. While scientists analyze samples.

Some of the dead animal was without hair. Experts are trying to figure out whether it happened in the decomposition of, or was caused by an abnormal shedding that was observed during another mass death of seals in the 2011-2016 years. Then failed to install by the deaths of 657 individuals.

The problem is serious for the region, as the seals are an important food resource for Alaska natives. Some people believe that it could happen because of pollution. Others reported that this year the seal is unusually thin, which tells about the availability of their prey.

Mass deaths of seals in recent years were also found in other regions of the world. So, in 2014, victims of a bird flu outbreak became 4.5 thousand animals in Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Then it was noted that the real tragedy is impossible to know. In reality, could have been dead tens of thousands of seals.

And in 2017, was killed 132 ringed seals in lake Baikal. Then dozens of carcasses were found on three sites of Baikal coast near the village of Novyy enkheluk in Buryatia, near the village of Murino of the Irkutsk region and along the Circum-Baikal railway, between the villages of Port Baikal and Kultuk in the Irkutsk region. The cause of death of animals at the deepest freshwater lake in the world was hunger. As explained by the then experts, the lack of fodder could be caused by the fact that the population of Baikal seals in recent years has increased significantly.

As Polar Ice Cap Recedes, The U.S. Navy Looks North

An F/A-18 Super Hornet gets ready to fly off the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Gulf of Alaska.

Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media

The U.S. Navy is looking north.

As climate change melts ice that has long blocked the region off from transit and industry, the military is figuring out how to expand its presence in the waters of the high north, primarily off the coast of Alaska.

Driving the push is that much of the commercial activity and development interest in the region is coming from nations that the Pentagon considers rivals, such as Russia and China.

The Navy’s presence in Alaska has waxed and waned over the years. The state has abundant Army and Air Force assets, with the Coast Guard spread throughout. The Navy runs submarine exercises beneath the sea ice off Alaska’s northern coast.

But until last year, no U.S. aircraft carrier had ventured above the Arctic Circle in almost three decades. The USS Harry S. Truman took part in naval exercises in the Norwegian Sea last October, the first such vessel to sail that far north since 1991.

And for the first time in a decade, this May, an aircraft carrier strike group — led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt — sailed to Alaska as part of Northern Edge, a biennial large-scale military exercise that brings together personnel from all the military branches — airmen, Marines, soldiers, seamen and Coast Guardsman. The Navy always participates, but this year, it was out in force.

Lt. Cmdr. Alex Diaz oversees traffic on the USS Theodore Roosevelt flight deck.

Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media

Rear Adm. Daniel Dwyer commands the nine ships in the Roosevelt strike group. Speaking on an observation deck several stories above the flight deck, he said climate change is adding a new urgency to training like this one as marine activity increases in Arctic waters.

“You see the shrinking of the polar ice cap, opening of sea lanes, more traffic through those areas,” Dwyer said. “It’s the Navy’s responsibility to protect America through those approaches.”

The Defense Department views the threat of military conflict in the Arctic as low, but it is alarmed by increasing activity in the region from Russia and China. A 2018 reportby the Government Accountability Office on the Navy’s role in the Arctic notes that abundant natural resources like gas, minerals and fish stocks are becoming more accessible as the polar ice cap melts, bringing “competing sovereignty claims.”

Defending U.S. interests in the Arctic

As the Roosevelt cruised through the Gulf of Alaska, F/A-18 Super Hornets took off and landed at a brisk clip. Each takeoff is a full-body experience for those on deck, shaking everything from one’s shoes to teeth. Planes are launched by a steam catapult system powered by the ship’s nuclear reactors.

Some of the jets flew more than 100 miles toward mainland Alaska and continued on past mountain ranges to sync up with Air Force and Marine Corps counterparts operating in the airspace around Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks. Then they returned to the Roosevelt. The whole trip lasts about four hours.

For the first time in a decade, an aircraft carrier strike group — led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt — sailed to Alaska as part of Northern Edge, a biennial large-scale military exercise.

Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media

To land, the Super Hornets suddenly dropped out of the sky dangling a hook that snagged at wires bringing them from full speed to full stop in 183 feet. It looked less like a car braking and more like a roller coaster slamming still to give riders one last jolt.

“We are catching anywhere from six to 25 aircraft on this recovery,” crackled a voice over a loudspeaker on the deck. “I’m not sure yet [how many]. If they show up on the ball, we’re gonna catch ’em.”

The deck was coordinated chaos, with crew members and aircraft rotating through intricate maneuvers like a baroque ballet, billows of steam from the launch equipment periodically billowing past.

The deck crews are referred to as “skittles” because they wear uniforms that are color-coordinated to match their jobs. Much like the candy, most of the rainbow is represented. Greens take care of takeoffs and landings. Reds handle ordnance. Purples deal with fuel and are referred to as “grapes.”

The Navy says that given what is expected of it in the region, crews are trained and equipped to carry out their missions as well as any other nation’s navy.

“Regardless of the conditions: day, night, good weather, bad weather, flat seas, heavy seas, it’s the same procedure every time,” Dwyer said of the jets taking off below just as a helicopter set down on the flight deck.

A shifting focus to the “high north”

Speaking at this year’s Coast Guard Academy commencement, national security adviser John Bolton said the military will play a part “reasserting” American influence over the Arctic.

“We want the high north to be a region of low tension, where no country seeks to coerce others through military buildup or economic exploitation,” Bolton told graduates.

The Trump administration is expected to unveil a new Arctic strategy sometime this month.

Forecasters anticipate diminishing ice will reliably open up northern sea lanes, thus cutting down the time and cost moving freight from Asia to Europe but causing a rise in vessel traffic.

The military is candid that the warming climate is opening up transit routes that sea ice has long locked in. Right now, though, the U.S. naval presence is minimal.

F/A-18 Super Hornet is launched by a steam-powered catapult off the USS Theodore Roosevelt during naval exercises in the Gulf of Alaska.

Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media

“If you’re gonna be a neighbor, you have to be in the neighborhood,” said Vice Adm. John Alexander, commander of the Navy’s 3rd Fleet, which is responsible for the Northern Pacific, including the Bering Sea and Alaskan Arctic.

“We’re going to have to ensure that there’s free and open transit of those waters,” Alexander said.

But the Navy faces major impediments to expanding its presence in a maritime environment as harsh as the Arctic. According to the GAO report, most of the Navy’s surface ships aren’t “designed to operate in icy water.”

The authors note that Navy officials have stated that “contractor construction yards currently lack expertise in the design for construction of winterized, ice-capable surface combatant and amphibious warfare ships.”

After years of study, the Defense Department has yet to pick a location and design for a strategic port in the vicinity of the Arctic that can permanently accommodate a strong Navy presence.

And even if the military can operate in the Arctic, it still has to get there. For now, the region’s waters are solidly frozen over for much of the year. According to the Coast Guard, Russia has more than 40 icebreakers, including three new gargantuan nuclear-powered vessels designed to ply sea lanes along the northern sea route. The U.S. military, by contrast, has just two working icebreakers.

This story comes from American Homefront, a military and veterans reporting project from NPR and member stations.

Trump Wants to Make Alaska’s Protected Wilderness a Hunting Ground

A video featuring a father and son slaughtering a mother black bear and then her two screaming newborn cubs in their den has ricocheted around the world, drawing obvious comparisons to the killing of Cecil, the African lion, by a Minnesota dentist several years ago.

Sadly, the shocking brutality the two men displayed for the world to see could soon be sanctioned by this administration. The Department of the Interior proposes to make legal these and other venal trophy-hunting practices on more federal public lands in Alaska. In 2017, Congress and the president overturned a 2016 rule governing 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge System lands, and effectively prohibited the trophy hunting of hibernating black bears.

This administration has shown a penchant for supplicating itself to trophy hunters and trappers. At a time when most Americans regard trophy hunting with revulsion, the Trump administration plans to overturn two federal rules prohibiting the most deplorable trophy hunting and trapping practices ever carried out on federal lands in Alaska.

Also at risk is a 2016 rule concerning the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge that prohibited the hunting of brown bears over bait and the discharge of weapons within one-quarter mile of heavily used recreational areas, including campgrounds, trailheads and rivers. This rule also prohibited trophy hunting and trapping in high-use public zones in the Kenai refuge.

A wildlife camera captures Andrew Renner and his son, Owen, illegally killing a mother bear and her cubs in Alaska. The camera, originally set up as part of a wildlife study, also documents them tampering with evidence two days later.
A wildlife camera captures Andrew Renner and his son, Owen, illegally killing a mother bear and her cubs in Alaska. The camera, originally set up as part of a wildlife study, also documents them tampering with evidence two days later.
USFS AND ALASKA DEPT. OF FISH & GAME

Another element of the mess at issue is that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game works under the auspices of Intensive Management, a paradigm that privileges hunting interests over wildlife conservation. Intensive Management permits the wholesale slaughter of wolves and bears in the mistaken belief that killing lots of these native carnivores will increase game herds for humans. That approach has utterly failed, however, most importantly because the Arctic’s fragile ecosystems cannot support unlimited numbers of herbivores. The result is a management strategy that has decimated Alaska’s native carnivore communities and encouraged an increase in the animal species most likely to cause harm to the landscape and environment.

When will it all end? Trophy hunters and trappers have killed wolves in Denali National Park and Preserve and along its boundaries in such numbers that tourists have all but lost their chance to witness wolves, including the famous and storied East Fork (Toklat) Pack, studied and admired since the 1930s.

The same is true for grizzly bears. Because of Intensive Management, Alaska’s great bears are now in great jeopardy. The state’s sanction of extreme hunting practices threatens to shrink native carnivore populations, to the dismay of biologists who study these majestic animals and to the great loss of all Americans who care about them. Such trophy hunting and predator-control practices should not be allowed on federal lands anywhere, and especially not in our national preserves and refuges in Alaska.

As of the previous census, wildlife-watching is a $2 billion-a-yearindustry in Alaska that contributes far more to local economies than trophy hunting and trapping ever could. Alaska’s wildlife-watching tourism outperforms the funds generated in the state from all hunting activities (and the extreme methods at issue here account for only a tiny fraction of that amount).

Wolves, black bears and grizzly bears represent an extraordinary lure for tourists, and they will continue to compel the interest of all Americans for decades. If their populations are hindered on these public lands, local economies could falter. But more importantly, we will all suffer the loss that their death and disappearance from our wild spaces entails.

Our national parks, preserves and wildlife refuges were founded “to conserve species and habitats in their natural diversity … for the benefit of present and future generations.” Overturning these rules and catering to trophy hunters moves us backward. That’s the wrong direction, and we shouldn’t let it happen.

Sign a petition urging Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to oppose the rule that would overturn the 2015 National Park Service rule currently protecting iconic wildlife from trophy hunters and trappers on federal U.S. lands.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.