NEWS Watch

Alaska-centric environmental legislation, research, action alerts and opportunities.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

As you’ve no doubt heard, on Day One of his presidency, Biden put a temporary moratorium on all leasing-related activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Couple this with an unprecedented public response against opening the coastal plain to oil drilling during the comment period in December, a commitment by all six major US banks not to fund Refuge drilling, and disinterest by major oil companies during the January lease sale, and it seems clear safeguarding the Refuge from resource development has gained solid footing. Read more here and here.

Arctic Policy:

The Arctic Council, an international organization comprised of the eight countries and six Indigenous groups within the Arctic Circle, lost ground during the Trump years, stalling progress on long-term strategic planning in the region and resulting in mounting friction between the US, China and Russia. Now, under the new administration, climate change language and arctic diplomacy are back on the table.  Read more here.

The Climate Crisis:

Also, on Day One of his presidency, Biden committed the US to rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. Adopted in 2015 and signed by 197 of the world’s countries, the Paris Agreement calls on participants to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5° C (2.7° F) above pre-industrial levels while reducing the economic, social and ecological impacts of climate change caused by the unmitigated burning of fossil fuels. Read more here.

A focus on reducing emissions could not be more urgent, with 2020 global temperatures tied for a record high with 2016. 2020 temperatures averaged 1.25° C (2.7° F) higher than pre-industrial temperatures. As in 2016, when Alaska saw a massive blob of warm water in the Pacific and winter in south-central was a non-event, 2020 ravaged the northernmost regions with 100° F and unprecedented tundra fires in Siberia. For an overview of the year read more here.

If there was any good news coming out of the Covid-19 crisis, it was the decrease in greenhouse gas emissionsin 2020.The slowdown in the transportation sector, as people refrained from driving and flying, resulted in an overall decline of more than 10 percent for the year and, at least temporarily, placing us squarely where we need to be as a country to reduce CO2 emissions by 17 percent as sited in the Paris Climate Agreement. It should be noted that this decline does not factor in emissions from California’s record fire season.  Read more here

In the Bering Sea, ice now forms weeks later in the fall and melts earlier in the spring, making the coastal region and the people who live there vulnerable to winter storm surges. When ice does form, it is often too thin to safely support the hunters who depend on it to harvest walrus and seal for their families. Moreover, loss of ice disrupts the entire marine food web. Photosynthetic algae, which grows on the bottom of ice, feed krill that, in turn, feed arctic cod, which are food for sea birds and the seals hunters depend on. There’s a good overview here.

Rapid warming associated with the loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean appears to be accelerating due to subsurface heat moving northward on ocean currents from the Atlantic in a phenomenon scientists are calling Atlantification. Read more here

Mining and Timber:

A right-of-way agreement signed by the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in early January paved the way for eventual construction of a 211-mile-long road to Ambler. The industry-only road would carve access east to west along the southern foothills of the Brooks Range across the currently roadless western half of the state. The road, intended to connect the Ambler Mining District Industrial Access Project to the Dalton Highway which runs between Fairbanks and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, would bi-sect the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, and include 11 major river and 2,900 stream crossings. As with the Dalton Highway, built as an industry-only road almost 50 years ago in 1974 and now open to road-based hunters and the general public, broad access to now-protected wilderness will undoubtably follow. Read more here

Fin, Feather and Furbearing:

On January 9th of this year, Jet Skis were, once again, free to operate in Kachemak Bay. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, at the urging of Governor Dunleavy, lifted the 19-year-old ban despite public outcry and findings by State biologists that watercraft pose a threat to marine life in the bay including sea otters, whales, and shorebirds. Additional concerns raised include the safety hazard imposed on other recreators, especially kayakers and paddle-boarders. Read more here

Despite the precipitous decline in bird populations across the United States (read our blog post For the Love of Birds) the Trump administration lifted protections for migratory birds on his way out of the Whitehouse with a measure to protect industry from the unintentional killing of birds due to oil spills, toxic waste ponds, electrocutions from power lines, and spraying of pesticides (banned or otherwise) provided birds were not intentionally targeted. Oil companies will no longer face a fine for not implementing safety measures that could prevent or reduce the death of migratory birds. Read more here.

Want to be part of a nationwide citizen science effort to quantify native bees? The U.S. National Native Bee Monitoring Research Coordination Network is looking to train members of the public to look for and record wild bees. Bee populations around the United States are in decline from pesticides and disease. Pollinators of fruits, vegetables and flowers, the decline of both native and the imported honeybee threatens the production of many foods we enjoy and depend upon. If you’d like to learn more, read about the project, or sign up to participate here

Action Alert:

Alaska Governor Michael Dunleavy is proposing new rules that would prevent individual Alaskans from holding the rights to keep water instream to protect salmon habitat. Under the new proposed rule, corporations can continue to hold their right to water withdrawals, but Alaskans who want to keep water in streams to protect vital fish habitat and assure their access to drinking water will lose the ability to lay claim to a natural resource that countless Alaskans depend on for subsistence, recreational and commercial purposes. There is no time to waste, Alaskans need to tell Dunleavy and the corporate lobbyists that oil and gas and mining companies shouldn’t get special treatment under the law at the expense of the Alaskan people. 

The comment deadline on the proposed rule is February 16. For more details on the proposed changes and to submit your comments, click here

Read more about the impacts on fish and wildlife habitat and the rights of Alaskans to protect instream flows, from Cook Inlet Keeper