News Watch

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

Action Alerts:

Submit your comments by February 26th on proposed changes to the process by which water instream flow rights are managed. Learn more from an earlier Shepherd Alaska blog post here. A copy of the proposed regulation change is available at https://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/news/. To submit comments, contact Brandon McCutcheon at dnr.water.regulation@alaska.gov.

 Submit your comments by March 1st to ask the US Fish and Wildlife Service to restore the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in its entirety. The act was weakened under the prior administration with the removal of enforcement for “incidental takes” due to the unintended but avoidable bird deaths from industrial waste ponds, electrocutions, and the like. Learn more and submit your comments here

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

Seismic surveys on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, planned for later this month, are off the table. The Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation failed to conduct reconnaissance flights to pinpoint polar bear dens in the survey area. The flights were a requirement imposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to building ice roads and bringing in “thumper trucks” and survey equipment. Concern for polar bears, a protected species, led to an unprecedented number of public comments. Read more here and learn more about polar bear populations in an earlier blog post by Shepherd Alaska here

The Climate Crisis:

The combination of warmer air temperatures and increased humidity as ice recedes to expose more ocean surface may triple the number of thunderstorms, and associated wildfires and flash floods in Alaska. According to two related research papers published in the journal Climate Dynamics, rising temperatures lead to rapid updrafts and higher moisture content in the air creating ideal conditions for lightning strikes, with an associated 12% increase for every 1 degree C of atmospheric warming. Read more here

On February 19, 30 days after President Biden assumed office, the U.S. officially rejoined the Paris climate accord. 189 countries have signed onto the accord agreeing to work collectively to prevent run-away climate change and its catastrophic toll on humans and the environment. Biden has pledged two trillion dollars over the next four years to support clean energy infrastructure with the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Read more here

Wondering what caused the devastating freeze up in Texas and other southern states last week? The answer lies far to the north, with changes to the Chukchi Sea. Warmer waters traveling up from the south, through the Bering Sea and into the Chukchi Sea, where ocean temperatures have increased .43° C per decade since 1990. This warming results in delayed ice formation in the winter months by several weeks, driving even more warming as the ocean and atmosphere continue to absorb heat before freeze-up. This, in turn, destabilizes the northern jet stream, sending it southward along with intense cold while allowing warm air to move north. That’s why Dallas hit a record low of -2° F while Fairbanks was a relatively cozy 17° F. Learn more here

Fin, Feather, and Furbearing:

Wolverine, robust and elusive, are the study of this National Geographic research project which hopes to determine how well they can adapt to climate change. 

Native American Policy:

Speaking of National Geographic, they are supporting a new project called “Fish Outlaws” that tells the story of Indigenous people exercising their constitutional right to fish as they always have while facing steep fines and, in some cases, jail time. Read more about inspiring research partnerships that center around the needs and interests of native peopleshere.

Fresh Water:

Ongoing drought conditions in the southwestern states has driven home the need to conserve water and reduce demand on the Colorado River. A study conducted by Utah State University points to a need to cut water use by 40 percent in Arizona, California and Nevada by the year 2050. Read more here and here

Mining, Oil, and Timber: 

Construction at the Willow project – the furthest west oil field on the North Slope, has been halted by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental and Alaska Native groups. The lawsuit was in response to the Trump administrations’ approval of gravel and road building permits, issued on the morning of January 20th, just hours before President Biden was sworn into office. Read more here