2015 Conservation Victories: The Year in Review

A Great Year for Alaska Conservation!

Dec 23, 2015
Lisa Oakley

Thanks to the ongoing support of our donors, Trustees for Alaska produced major victories for conservation this year. All-in-all we worked with more than 40 conservation and Native clients in 2015. All of those groups and individuals have our donors to thank for Trustees’ ability to help them use the law to protect Alaska’s most valuable resources—its wild lands, healthy wildlife populations, and abundant natural beauty. We couldn’t do it without the support of people like you.

2015 Conservation Victories:

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Protected, Again!
2015 conservation victories include Arctic National Wildlife Refuge protects the Porcupine Caribou Herd's critical habitat. Trustees for Alaska protect the Arctic Refuge. USFWS photo.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge protects the Porcupine Caribou Herd’s critical habitat. Trustees for Alaska protect the Arctic Refuge. USFWS photo.

We successfully defended the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from yet another attempt by the State of Alaska to open the Coastal Plain to oil and gas exploration. The court agreed the time for exploration has passed. Trustees for Alaska, along with co-counsel, represented nine organizations to achieve this win. The State did not appeal the decision, so it stands.

Wilderness Recommended for the Coastal Plain

President Obama recommended Wilderness designation for most of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the Coastal Plain. The recommendation was made after the extensive analysis in the Comprehensive Conservation Plan was finalized, and reverses the Reagan-era recommendation to open the entire Coastal Plain to oil and gas development. A coalition of conservation groups concerned about the Arctic Refuge, including Trustees for Alaska, put many years of work into supporting and lobbying for the Wilderness recommendation.

Cubs or sows with cubs are protected! NPS Photo

Cubs or sows with cubs are protected! NPS Photo

Predators Protected on National Preserves

The National Park Service adopted new sport hunting regulations for national preserves that protect predators from extreme practices allowed by the Alaska State Board of Game. The new rules ban such unbearable methods as bear baiting, snaring, and spotlighting in dens. They also ban killing bear cubs or sows with cubs, wolves or coyotes during denning season, and swimming big game. Trustees for Alaska advocated for the stricter rules on behalf of ten conservation groups.

First Private Water Reservation Awarded

For the first time since statehood, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) granted an instream flow water reservation to private citizens. Trustees for Alaska filed three applications for water on behalf of our client the Chuitna Citizens Coalition in 2009. DNR granted one of the reservations this fall, securing water rights for part of Middle Creek, a tributary of the Chuitna River and an important salmon spawning and rearing habitat under threat ever since the State issued coal leases over 40 years ago. DNR delayed ruling on the applications for six years and did not start processing them until Trustees for Alaska sued and a judge required them to process the applications.

Pebble Permits Ruled Unconstitutional
Salmon is a critical subsistence food in the Bristol Bay region. Photo courtesy of © Carl Johnson.

Salmon is a critical subsistence food in the Bristol Bay region. Photo courtesy of © Carl Johnson.

Alaska’s Supreme Court ruled for citizens’ rights and agreed with Trustees for Alaska that the State of Alaska violated the Alaska Constitution when it issued decades of exploration permits for the proposed Pebble Mine without analysis or public participation in those decisions. Trustees for Alaska prevailed in the case, initiated in 2009 on behalf of clients Nunamta Aulukestai, Ricky Delkittie, Sr., Violet Willson (deceased), Bella Hammond, and Vic Fischer.

Pebble Subpoenas Quashed

A federal judge tossed out several third-party subpoenas served by Pebble Limited Partnership in their Federal Advisory Committee Act suit against the Environmental Protection Agency. The subpoenas were served upon more than 60 individuals, groups, and organizations in an attempt by Pebble to access private communications of mine opponents. The judge ruled the subpoenas were “totally unreasonable,” “needlessly broad,” and violated the First Amendment. Pebble subsequently withdrew many of its remaining subpoenas. Trustees for Alaska represented several of the subpoenaed individuals and groups.

Sea otters live in Resurrection Bay. NPS Photo

Sea otters live in Resurrection Bay. NPS Photo

A Cleaner, Healthier Seward

After over a decade of coal falling unchecked into Resurrection Bay and six years of legal proceedings, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Seward Coal Loading Facility was violating the Clean Water Act. The Facility must now acquire a permit and make necessary changes to its operations to limit the amount of coal falling into the Bay. The settlement requires the companies to fund conservation projects in the Resurrection Bay watershed. Trustees for Alaska represents Alaska Community Action on Toxics and the Sierra Club.

In addition to these victories, we worked on many other issues and cases during the year: from the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, to Cook Inlet oil and gas issues, and to the Matanuska Valley coal fields. We also continued monitoring the Alaska Legislature to quickly act upon bad environmental bills.

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