The Extinction Chronicles

An impartial record of articles and events leading up to the end…

The Extinction Chronicles

Alaska experiences record-high temperature for December, freezing rain

Kodiak soared to 67 degrees on Sunday, while other towns experienced record rain

Ice melts on tundra and thawing permafrost in Newtok, Alaska, this fall. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

By Matthew Cappucci and Emily Schwing Yesterday at 12:47 p.m. EST|Updated yesterday at 4:17 p.m. EST

Imagine running a 5K and winning the race by 10 minutes. That’s analogous to what is transpiring in Alaska at the moment. An exceptional slew of records has tumbled in the wake of extreme warmth, with highs up to 45 degrees above average.

The anomalous warmth has also brought record moisture, with top-tier rainfall totals thanks to the air’s capacity to transport more humidity.

The ongoing spate of warmth is tied to a sprawling dome of stagnant high pressure banked southeast of the Aleutians in the northeastern Pacific. Reinforced by unusually warm ocean waters north of Hawaii, that high-pressure “heat dome” is inducing sinking air. That brings about additional warming.

Historic U.S. weather events in 2021, by the numbers

This latest bout of record-shattering warmth caps off a year that has brought a number of high-end climate extremes to North America, including a withering late June heat wave that heated Seattle up to 108 degrees.

Record warmth

On Sunday, the Kodiak tide gauge station hit 67 degrees at 2:17 p.m. In addition to being a local record, it set a monthly record for the entire state for December.

Nearby, Kodiak Airport recorded 65 degrees and beat its previous daily record by 20 degrees, surpassing the 45-degree record reading last set on Dec. 26, 1984, by leaps and bounds.

Even more remarkable is that the same 65-degree reading would have set a record for November, January, February and March, too; those months haven’t seen readings above 59, 54, 56 and 57 degrees, respectively. The previous December record was 56 degrees, set on Dec. 22, 1984.

Sunday also brought records in Cold Bay, Alaska, where the community hit a high of 62 degrees. The previous record, set in 1990, was 44. St. Paul tied its record at 42 degrees.

Unalaska, Alaska, spiked to 57.3 degrees by noon Monday after bottoming out at 50 degrees overnight. According to Rick Thoman, an Alaska-based climatologist, that morning low was warmer than the average low at any point in the year — even the heart of summer.

Record rain

For every degree the air warms, it can hold about 4 percent more water. That is also lending to high-end rainfall extremes.

In Fairbanks, north of the heat dome but still affected by moisture slung north along its periphery, Sunday delivered 1.93 inches of liquid-equivalent precipitation. That was the city’s wettest December day ever observed, and it marked the third-wettest day on record year round. Records in Fairbanks date to 1929.

Fairbanks saw its wettest December on record, too. The city, which has seen a substantial uptick in development and boom in population, has experienced about nine degrees of warming during December since record-keeping began.

The Arctic could become dominated by rain rather than snow

Winter rain in the Interior region of Alaska is becoming increasingly commonplace, but that doesn’t mean it’s welcome.

The unusually warm temperatures and rainfall wrought havoc on roadways in Alaska. The mild weather melted snow and ice, which then quickly refroze upon roads thanks to surface temperatures well below freezing. The Alaska Department of Transportation described the ice as “cement atop pavement.”

“I’d rather have coal,” Brue Miller wrote on social media, a day after Christmas.

He’d spent the morning scraping at least an inch of ice from his deck in Fairbanks. Miller, 54, was born and raised in Fairbanks. He said by Monday, the local cross-country ski trails had been crusted over with ice. Photos posted online show the trails at the popular Birch Hill ski area looking less like snow and more like a thick layer of hardened meringue.

Ice and snow cover Birch Hill, Alaska (John Estle)

Some 95 miles southeast of Fairbanks, the community of Delta Junction has found itself in dire straits. The only local grocery store there is closed indefinitely, after a partial collapse of the building’s roof from the weight of snow and ice. Hours later, one of the town’s two gas stations also saw its roof collapse under the weight of snow and ice. While gas pumps remain open, the convenience store is closed.

The largest electric utility in the Interior region, Golden Valley Electric Association, reported widespread outages affecting more than 13,000 homes in the Fairbanks area on Sunday. By Tuesday, roughly 2,000 customers were still without power.

Winter is the fastest warming season in the United States

With temperatures forecast to dip to 30 degrees below zero by the end of the week, the race is on for the utility to restore power so that residents can reheat their homes and keep their pipes from freezing.

Nome, on the Seward Peninsula, picked up 0.43 inches of rain on Sunday, which was also a daily record.

In Nome, where people aren’t shy about winter storms that include blowing snow, fierce winds and white-out conditions, residents woke up to photos over the weekend of a police vehicle in a ditch. It had apparently slid off an icy road in the coastal community at the edge of the Bering Sea.

“That was weird,” said Kristine McRae. She said things have been strange all month. “We’ve been having this freezing rain on and off for a couple of weeks and then we get these blizzards, back to back, followed by [more] freezing rain.”

Ice formed on tree branches in Nome, which picked up a daily record of 0.43 inches of rain on Sunday. (Kristine McRae)

McRae, who owns Bering Tea and Coffee in Nome said she closed her coffee shop early Tuesday because of the weather. She had to chip ice from her car doors to get to work Tuesday morning. She also had to heave on the doors to her house to get out. They had frozen shut due to freezing rain and strong winds.

The winter rain comes a month after portions of the state also experienced extreme doses of rainfall. A “prodigious” rainstorm dumped nearly 30 inches of rain on the Portage Glacier in late October and early November. The historic storm yielded one of the heaviest four-day rainfall totals observed in the state.

Parts of Alaska have warmed more than 2.5 degrees since the 1970s, outpacing the remainder of the Lower 48 by about two-thirds. Alaska’s North Slope is experiencing the greatest human-induced climate warming, with entire ecosystems at risk amid the abrupt biome and environmental shifts.

Three volcanoes are erupting at the same time in Alaska

The simultaneous eruptions have been going on for more than a week but do not currently pose a threat to nearby communities or air travel.Aug. 13, 2021, 10:08 AM PDT / Updated Aug. 13, 2021, 10:13 AM PDTBy Denise Chow

Along a remote, roughly 800-mile stretch of Alaska’s Aleutian island chain, three volcanoes are erupting at the same time, with at least two spewing low levels of ash and steam.

Image: Volcanoes erupt in Alaska
Active lava fountains spew from the Great Sitkin volcano in Alaska, on Aug. 5. Peggy Kruse / Alaska Volcano Obs / Reuters

The simultaneous eruptions have been going on for more than a week but do not currently pose a threat to nearby communities and have not disrupted any air travel so far, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Still, the volcanic activity has made for a busier-than-usual time across the Aleutian Islands, the vast archipelago that juts westward from the Alaska Peninsula and acts as a border between the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.

“Alaska has a lot of volcanoes, and we typically see maybe one eruption every year, on average,” Matthew Loewen, a research geologist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory, told NBC News. “To have three erupting at once is less common, but it does happen.”

Pavlof Volcano, Great Sitkin and Semisopochnoi Volcano all remain under an orange threat level Friday, which signals that eruptions are underway and minor ash emissions have been detected.

Pavlof is located almost 600 miles away from Anchorage. Its nearest city is Cold Bay, a small community that is home to fewer than 120 residents. Closer to the middle of the Aleutian Islands, Great Sitkin lies roughly 25 miles northeast of the city of Adak.

Semisopochnoi Volcano, meanwhile, is on an uninhabited island that forms the easternmost land location in the United States. Though the island is part of the western Aleutian chain, it lies in the Eastern Hemisphere, “well on its way to Russia,” Loewen said.

The volcanic islands that make up the so-called Aleutian Arc are part of a horseshoe-shaped zone that can be traced along the rim of the Pacific Ocean where many of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. This region, known as the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” is seismically and volcanically active because it is located at the boundaries of several tectonic plates that continually collide and mash together.


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While Pavlof, Great Sitkin and Semisopochnoi are in remote parts of the Aleutian Islands, they can produce ash clouds that are hazardous for air travel.

“The Aleutian Arc sits between North America and Asia, so we have a lot of air travel going over and ash is very dangerous for airplanes,” Loewen said. “We’re always paying attention to ash with our volcanoes in Alaska.”

Loewen said it’s been at least seven years since three volcanos erupted simultaneously in Alaska, and the recent unrest has kept monitoring campaigns lively at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

“It’s keeping us on our toes,” he said. “It’s definitely exciting and a busy time for us up here.”

Alaskan glacier has started moving 50 to 100 times faster than normal, scientists say

A glacier is surging.ByChristian Spencer | April 12, 2021 20% 

Story at a glance:

  • A glacier in Denali is experiencing a surge event.
    • Glaciers move due to the ice on the base becoming wet from heat.
    • Muldrow Glacier has not moved this fast since the 1950s.

Muldrow Glacier, a mountain in Denali — south central Alaska — is moving quickly in what is called a glacial surge event.

The surging glacier is moving at a rate between 50 and 100 times faster than normal, according to Denali National Park, Gizmodo reported.

“They are these things that have fascinated glaciologists for decades,” Jonny Kingslake, an assistant professor of environmental science at Columbia University, said.

Glaciers normally move at a glacial rate of mere millimeters per day, but sometimes some of them experience rare surges, likely tied to the seasons.

The glacier surge was first discovered by Chris Palm, a K2 Aviation pilot, which does flight-seeing tours and glacier landings in Talkeetna, Alaska.

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Experts aren’t sure what causes the surge, but they suspect this particular one isn’t related to climate change. Still, a warming world is causing many of the world’s glaciers to recede and has been implicated in some surge events.

The bottom base of the ice creates a lubricant for the glacier to tile or move.

“The whole thing is flowing very slowly, and then suddenly it accelerates, and that can cause the glacier at higher elevations to thin, and then the ice slumps down to lower elevations,” Kingslake explained. “Then that happens, and it slows back down, and the material at lower elevations starts to melt, and the ice near the top thickens, and the whole thing repeats. It’s doing, like, a see-saw thing.”

The sometimes-slow, sometimes-fast moving river of ice presents challenges to people and animals who depend on transportation and the use of water.

“Denali for climbers, may no longer be transversable for the nearly 1,000 climbers who have signed up to climb Denali this year, as the surge creates new crevasses and jostles up the familiar landscape,” Gizmodo reported.

The last time Muldrow Glacier surged was in the 1950s, when it moved 4 miles over a couple of months.

Trump Authorizes Logging In Alaskan National Forest Less Than Two Weeks After Signing Trillion Trees Initiative|35,039 views|Oct 28, 2020,01:29pm EDT

Daniel CassadyForbes StaffBusinessI cover breaking news.


 Less than two weeks after signing an executive order to have the U.S. join the One Trillion Trees Initiative, President Donald Trump stripped nearly 20-year-old protections from Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, one of the world’s largest intact temperate rainforests, paving the way for new roads and logging in over 9.3 million acres of near-virgin forest.

A forest scene at Takatz Bay on Baranof Island, Tongass...
A forest scene at Takatz Bay on Baranof Island, Tongass National Forest, Alaska, USA. (PHOTO BY WOLFGANG KAEHLER/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES)


Starting Thursday it will be legal to pave roads and cut down and remove timber from Tongass National Forest, according to a report by the Washington Post; it has been under federal protection since 2001.

Experts say Tongass is a “massive carbon sink” where the trees, some of which are up to 1,000 years old, absorb at least 8% of carbon emissions from the mainland United States.

Tongass is also home to a multitude of species, including Pacific salmon and trout, Sitka black-tailed deer, and the highest population of brown bears in the nation. 

On October 16, Trump signed an executive order to join the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees Initiative, which aims to protect and restore a trillion trees by 2030.

The new regulation, which was posted Wednesday by the Department of Agriculture and will be in the Federal Register on Thursday, will make “an additional 188,000 forested acres” of mostly “old-growth timber” available for harvest, in addition to the 300 acres that were authorized since 2001.

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Trump has tried to bring the logging industry to protected Alaskan forests before. In September a federal court stuck down the administration’s plan to open parts of Tongass’ Prince of Wales Island to the logging industry. In the decision, Judge Sharon Gleason said the U.S. Forest Service’s analysis of the environmental impacts of logging in the area had “serious shortcomings.” 


Trump to strip protections from Tongass National Forest, one of the biggest intact temperate rainforests (Washington Post)

President Trump Signs One Trillion Trees Executive Order, Promoting Conservation and Regeneration of Our Nation’s Forests (The White House)

Alaska judge stalls logging in Tongass National Forest (The Hill)

Trump Administration Finalizes Plan to Open Arctic Refuge to Drilling

The decision sets up a fierce legal battle over the fate of a vast, remote area that is home to polar bears, caribou and the promise of oil wealth.

Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A decision on Monday overturns six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States.
Credit…Christopher Miller for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday finalized its plan to open up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas development, a move that overturns six decades of protections for the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States.

The decision sets the stage for what is expected to be a fierce legal battle over the fate of the refuge’s vast, remote coastal plain, which is believed to sit atop billions of barrels of oil but is also home to polar bears and migrating herds of caribou.

The Interior Department said on Monday that it had completed its required reviews and would begin preparations to auction off drilling leases. “I do believe there could be a lease sale by the end of the year,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said.

Environmentalists, who have battled for decades to keep energy companies out of the refuge, say the Interior Department failed to adequately consider the effects that oil and gas development could have on climate change and wildlife. They and other opponents, including some Alaska Native groups, are expected to file lawsuits to try to block lease sales.

“We will continue to fight this at every turn,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, in a statement. “Any oil company that would seek to drill in the Arctic Refuge will face enormous reputational, legal and financial risks.”

Though any oil production within the refuge would still be at least a decade in the future, companies that bought leases could begin the process of seeking permits and exploring for oil and gas.

President Trump has long cast an increase in Arctic drilling as integral to his push to expand domestic fossil fuel production on federal lands and secure America’s “energy dominance.” Republicans have prized the refuge as a lucrative source of oil and gas ever since the Reagan administration first recommended drilling in 1987, but efforts to open it up had long been stymied by Democratic lawmakers until 2017, when the G.O.P. used its control of both houses of Congress to pass a bill authorizing lease sales.

“ANWR is a big deal that Ronald Reagan couldn’t get done and nobody could get done,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox & Friends on Monday.

It remains unclear how much interest there will be from energy companies at a time when many countries are trying to wean themselves from fossil fuels and oil prices are crashing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Exploring and drilling in harsh Arctic conditions remains difficult and costly.

Nevertheless, by proceeding with the lease sales, the Trump administration has made the Arctic refuge a potential issue in the presidential campaign, and the region’s fate may ultimately hinge on the election’s outcome. The Democratic nominee for president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., has called for permanent protection of the refuge. However, even if he were to win the White House, it could prove difficult for his administration to overturn existing lease rights once they have been auctioned to energy companies.

The administration’s push to open up the refuge has been backed by lawmakers in Alaska, as well as by local energy firms and other Alaska Native groups, who have said that drilling could provide much-needed jobs and revenue for the state, where oil production has declined since the 1980s.

“Thousands of Alaskans are employed in our oil industry, and their livelihoods depend on the good-paying jobs created by our state’s reserves,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska. “Today, we are one step closer to securing a bright future for these Alaskans and their families.”

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge spans 19 million acres in northeastern Alaska. The fight over drilling centers on 1.5 million acres in the refuge’s coastal plain, which is believed to contain the largest onshore reserves of oil in North America that remain untapped.

Opponents say that opening the refuge to development would be a step backward in an era when the world should be burning less oil in order to avoid drastic global warming. They also say drilling could harm vulnerable wildlife in the area, including polar bears, which are already struggling because of climate change, and Porcupine caribou herds that use the coastal plain as a calving area.

“There’s no good time to open up America’s largest wildlife refuge to drilling and fracking, but it’s absolutely bonkers to endanger this beautiful place during a worldwide oil glut,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.
ImageDavid Bernhardt, the interior secretary, at the White House in January.  “I do believe there could be a lease sale by the end of the year,” he said on Monday. 
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

For decades, Democrats in Congress had blocked proposals to open the refuge. But in 2017 the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress included a section in a tax bill authorizing the Interior Department to establish a plan to sell leases in the coastal plain. Under the law, the agency must conduct at least two lease sales of 400,000 acres each by the end of 2024.

As part of the process, the Department of Interior was required to conduct a review of the potential environmental effects of drilling. The final version of that environmental impact statement was released in September and recommended that oil and gas leasing be allowed in the 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain.

In its review, the agency said that activities associated with oil and gas development — including new roads and truck traffic, as well as air, noise and water pollution — could potentially harm wildlife. But it suggested that there were ways to blunt the effects, such as limiting the use of heavy equipment for one month of the year during caribou calving season.

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Environmentalists have criticized the agency’s review as insufficient, saying it was largely based on older research and failed to address several concerns. For instance, critics have noted, the environmental impact statement does not provide an estimate of how many polar bears could potentially be killed or harmed by exploration in the coastal plain.

Drilling opponents have also said that the Interior Department downplayed the risks of climate change in its review. For example, the agency estimated that the refuge could produce as many as 10 billion barrels of oil over its lifetime, but argued that the effect on greenhouse gas emissions would be minimal, since most of that oil would simply displace oil being produced elsewhere in the country. In comments submitted to the agency, the attorneys general from 15 states, including New York, called this displacement theory “completely unsupported.”

3 issues may thwart Trump’s ANWR plan


Heather Richards and Niina H. Farah, E&E News reporters

Published: Tuesday, August 18, 2020ANWR. Photo credit: Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia

A view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia

The Trump administration announced yesterday that it would open nearly all of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain to oil and gas leasing.

But it didn’t say when.

Timing is just one of the major questions lingering after Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced a record of decision authorizing the first-ever oil and gas leasing program in the refuge.

From oil prices to politics, a minerals auction in ANWR is full of uncertainties. Allowing development in the ecologically rich landscape between the Brooks mountain range and the Arctic Ocean has been a key part of President Trump’s energy dominance agenda. But with the 2020 presidential election fast approaching, many drillers are still waylaid by an oil price bust, and critics have vowed to fight the Interior approval.

The agency’s final environmental review of the leasing plan was published last fall, as Interior raced to fulfill a 2017 congressional mandate to hold an oil and gas auction in ANWR’s coastal plain.

The record of decision sets “where and under what terms and conditions” a leasing program can take place in the 1.6-million-acre region. There are multiple questions it did not answer, however, leaving the fate of drilling up in the air. Here are three of them:

When is the sale?

The looming presidential election may pressure Interior to lease the land quickly, as presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has voiced opposition to the prospect of drilling in the refuge.

“The Trump administration is hell bent on getting parts of ANWR leased for drilling before it leaves office on January 20,” said Robert Percival, head of the University of Maryland School of Law’s Environmental Law Program, in an email.

Percival pointed out that it is harder and potentially costlier for the federal government to revoke a lease once it is held by an oil company.

“And they would love to have the drilling start before a new administration can stop it, so that the area will no longer have a pristine character,” he added.

Bernhardt noted yesterday that the political landscape wasn’t guiding ANWR decisionmaking, but he did not specify a date for the sale beyond the congressionally mandated deadline of 2021 and the possibility of getting one in this year.

Interior staffers have said they were left out of ANWR decisions in recent weeks, with details limited to a tight political circle helming the agency (Energywire, Aug. 12).

That approach hasn’t changed with the release of the record of decision yesterday, some say.

“We have heard nothing yet on a lease sale” on the coastal plain, one senior Interior official said yesterday, noting that there has also been silence on the timeline for an anticipated 2020 sale in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), west of ANWR.

The lack of open planning is “frustrating,” the official said.

There is also polarized but sustained political pressure on Alaska’s congressional delegation to advance an ANWR sale.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan (R) is up for reelection and will likely put his weight behind the first sale, given the state’s desire for good news on the fossil fuel front, said Larry Persily, an Alaska-based oil and gas columnist and longtime observer of the state’s resource-rich North Slope.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), meanwhile, leveraged her position as chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to push the ANWR leasing program through Congress three years ago but has since warned that drilling might not happen until 2030. She’s “astute enough to know there are major impediments to this,” said Persily.

Murkowski said over the summer that she was “struggling” with the idea of supporting Trump in the upcoming election after a largely peaceful protest outside the White House was dispersed with tear gas.

The president responded in a series of tweets in June promising to campaign for anyone who runs against her when Murkowski comes up for reelection in 2022.

“I gave Alaska ANWR, major highways, and more. Get any candidate ready, good or bad, I don’t care, I’m endorsing. If you have a pulse, I’m with you!” Trump tweeted.

Given the political bombast surrounding ANWR, opponents of drilling say they are preparing for the administration to advance a sale soon.

“They’ve said they are going to be aggressive in their leasing and companies could try to get in, and that is very consequential,” said Brook Brisson, a senior staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska.

Carl Tobias from the University of Richmond School of Law said environmentalists could stall the administration by taking Interior to court.

“I don’t think we are going to be seeing any real leasing for a long time,” he said.

Will drillers bite?

A near-term ANWR sale would come at a poor time for the oil and gas industry, experts note, as the sector grapples with a drop in oil demand due to the coronavirus crisis.

Bernhardt said in a call with reporters yesterday that oil drillers look at long-term projections when weighing whether to bid on drilling rights.

Alaska Oil and Gas Association President Kara Moriarty also played up the coastal plain’s long-term energy potential in a statement yesterday.

“While the industry has been hard hit by the recent pandemic and low prices, it is critical that the government continue to meet its leasing obligations — such as the statutory mandate to carry out lease sales for ANWR,” she said.

But others say persistent challenges for Alaska’s oil sector could hurt chances for a sale. Many of the deep-pocketed oil and gas producers equipped to drill in the far north have already left the state.

Earlier this year, British oil supermajor BP PLC finalized the sale of its assets to Texas-based Hilcorp Energy. That came after Chevron Corp.’s North Slope departure, leaving just ConocoPhillips remaining from the so-called Big Three operators (Energywire, Dec. 11, 2019).

ConocoPhillips is focused on the NPR-A, where it recently won approval to advance the $6 billion Willow oil project. The company has expressed interest in delving deeper into the reserve and has favored plans to open more protected areas of the NPR-A’s Teshekpuk Lake area to oil and gas production.

“That’s probably where they see their future,” Persily said. “It’s more affordable [than ANWR]. It’s less contentious, and it fully occupies Conoco’s time up here.”

Waning interest in developing big, expensive oil projects in places like the Arctic could kill the prospects for the first ANWR lease sale, said Persily.

Still, a lease sale could draw at least some interest, he said. But actual development still seems unlikely.

“The leases could be cheap if there is not a lot of interest from deep-pocketed people, but even if you get it for a dollar, why would you do it if it’s going to cost you billions before you know if there is oil there?” he said.

There are other potential pitfalls for the industry: There is a ballot measure this year that could hike taxes on oil production.

Meanwhile, environmental groups have tried to make investment in ANWR as unpalatable as possible from a public relations perspective.

The largest U.S. banks, and several in Europe, have committed to not directly fund oil and gas development in the Arctic following an extended campaign by the Sierra Club and others (Climatewire, March 4).

It’s unclear what that attempt to pressure not just banks but energy companies may have on ANWR bids, said Brisson of Trustees for Alaska.

“Is any company going to risk its reputation?” she said.

Who will sue?

Critics of BLM’s decision to allow oil and gas leasing in the Arctic refuge say it has several fatal flaws that could imperil it in court.

“The law requires the agency to carefully analyze, disclose and mitigate the numerous inherent harms that opening up this amazing place to oil drilling will cause. But the agency ignored these obligations,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in an email.

For example, she said, the agency failed to take a “hard look” at how oil spills or seismic activity planned in the heart of polar bear habitat would affect the vulnerable species. The plan also did not take into account the increased stress on the animals from the project and how those stresses will negatively affect a species already at risk from rising global temperatures.

Monsell criticized BLM for making assumptions in its analysis that she said underestimate the climate effects of the project.

The federal agency could also face challenges over its pace for moving forward with drilling and for failing to work closely enough with the Fish and Wildlife Service in its decisionmaking.

“BLM ignored agency scientists again and again in this process, including calls by FWS for significant information gaps to be closed before a program is adopted,” Brisson said in an email. “This is only one way that BLM rushed to adopt this program.”

Additionally, the record of decision takes up the most expansive of the scenarios Interior considered in its environmental analysis by opening nearly all of the coastal plain’s acreage for drilling.

That route has already been flagged as problematic by some critics who say the administration is overstepping limitations meant to protect the refuge.

Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, noted that the record of decision is poised to barrel past a technical 2,000-acre surface footprint limitation set up by Congress.

Similar accusations of flawed analysis were a common theme in responses to Interior’s announcement from conservationists and watchdog organizations. Autumn Hanna, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, deemed the program a “fool’s errand.”

The Trump administration has lost several high-profile energy battles in the courts, from industry regulations to pipeline projects, based on failures to follow process, some observers noted yesterday. It’s a weak spot that several appeared ready to exploit.

The administration’s record of decision on the oil and gas leasing plan repeats the “the same errors” that it made before losing oil pipelines like Keystone XL, which was halted due to problems with Endangered Species Act compliance, said Jessica Girard, director of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, in a statement.

“The fight is not over,” Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said in a statement. “We have attorneys on this case, and the courts will get to hear about the corrupt and illegal ways the Trump administration has used to open the Sacred Place Where Life Begins for drilling.”

Endangered Species Protections Sought for Rare Wolf in Southeast Alaska

SITKA, Alaska— The Center for Biological Diversity, Alaska Rainforest Defenders and Defenders of Wildlife petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to give Endangered Species Act protections to the Alexander Archipelago wolf in Southeast Alaska.

This rare gray wolf subspecies, which inhabits the coastal rainforests of Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, faces numerous threats. Legal trapping recently killed 165 wolves in one key population on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. Meanwhile the Trump administration is pushing to open hundreds of thousands of acres of wolf habitat to clearcut logging.

“These beautiful wolves are more threatened than ever,” said Shaye Wolf, a scientist at the Center. “They’re being bombarded by clearcut logging, unprecedented trapping and hunting, and chronic management failures by state and federal officials. We’re dangerously close to losing these rare wolves forever. They urgently need the protections of the Endangered Species Act if they’re going to survive.”

Today’s petition asks the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect Alexander Archipelago wolves in Southeast Alaska as a “distinct population segment” due to the concentration of threats and population declines in the region. By 2018 the largest wolf population on Prince of Wales Island had declined by an estimated 60% over the previous 15 years due to escalating threats. New genetic evidence indicates this population is in danger from high levels of inbreeding.

“Over many years, optimistic management of Southeast Alaska’s small, isolated wolf populations by Alaska’s Board of Game and its Fish and Game Department has led to a succession of unfortunate surprises on Prince of Wales Island,” said Larry Edwards with Alaska Rainforest Defenders. “Now, a new genetics study of these wolves shows that populations in three of the region’s game management units, including POW, are more inbred than even the troubled Isle Royale population in Michigan. It notes there is a ‘hidden and insidious’ threat of ‘an extinction vortex’ for populations like these.”

Clearcut logging on the Tongass National Forest and surrounding state and private lands destroys and fragments the old-growth forest habitat that wolves rely on for raising pups and hunting their primary prey, Sitka black-tailed deer. Road construction allows increased access for trappers and hunters.

“Alexander Archipelago wolves in Southeast Alaska are facing the loss and fragmentation of key habitat and significant depletion from poorly managed hunting and trapping,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director of Defenders of Wildlife. “On top of extensive historical logging and roadbuilding in the region, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing massive clearcuts and eliminating roadless protections in Tongass National Forest. The Forest Service has turned its back on the promised transition away from old-growth clearcutting, so Defenders of Wildlife is stepping in to protect the wolves.”

In 2016, under the revised Tongass National Forest management plan, the U.S. Forest Service authorized intensive old-growth and second-growth logging and road building concentrated in the wolves’ most important habitat areas.

In 2019 the Trump administration worsened this threat with a plan to eliminate long-standing roadless protections on 9 million undeveloped acres of the Tongass. The proposal, which would open vast areas of previously protected habitat to logging and road building, is expected to take effect later this year.

High levels of killing from legal and illegal trapping and hunting further threaten wolves with extinction.

On Prince of Wales Island, an unprecedented number of wolves were killed during the 2019-2020 trapping season. A total of 165 wolves were legally trapped out of a population last estimated at 170 wolves in fall 2018, not including wolves killed illegally. This alarming slaughter occurred after the state ignored the recommendations of its own wolf management program and eliminated limits on the number of wolves that could be trapped or hunted.

In 2016 the Fish and Wildlife Service denied Endangered Species Act protection to Alexander Archipelago wolves. The agency primarily based its decision on the claim that wolf populations in British Columbia were stable, while acknowledging the more precarious status of wolves in Southeast Alaska.

Threats to the wolves in Alaska have escalated since 2016, due to inadequate federal and state management and enforcement and the Trump administration’s plan to end protections for much of their habitat.

Protection under the Endangered Species Act would require state and federal agencies to better manage threats to the wolves, including measures that protect their habitat and limit hunting and trapping.

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.

Alaska sees 80-degree heat while East blasted with record cold and snow: Here’s why

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Over Mother’s Day weekend, parts of New England received over 6 inches of snow, as cities across the Eastern U.S. woke up to record low temperatures.

All the while, Alaska had sunshine and near record-breaking high temperatures over the weekend, including an 82-degree temperature reading in Fairbanks on Sunday.

The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Fairbanks said Monday that the region saw its first 60, 70, and 80 degree days of 2020 all within the span of a week.

“Hopefully everyone has enjoyed the beautiful weather as much as we have!” the NWS office tweeted.


According to the forecast office, the warm week in Fairbanks was only the fourth time on record that the region had all of those firsts in the span of seven days.

The other years were 2013, 2002 and 1964.

So what’s behind this recent stretch of warm weather in Alaska while the rest of the nation gets a chilly May?

During what has been a mostly mild winter, the polar vortex has remained at higher latitudes. This has resulted in much of the Eastern U.S. receiving well-below average snowfall.

As the polar vortex and the coldest air spilled into the eastern U.S., it made space for warmth to move up the West Coast into western Canada and Alaska. 

As the polar vortex and the coldest air spilled into the eastern U.S., it made space for warmth to move up the West Coast into western Canada and Alaska.

This past weekend, that changed in time for Mother’s Day.


As the polar vortex and the coldest air spilled into the Eastern U.S., it made space for a warm-up to move up the West Coast into Western Canada and Alaska.

While not as pronounced, this same pattern is continuing the first half of this week. Forecast highs in Fairbanks and Juneau are higher than most locations across the lower 48.

Warm conditions will continue in Alaska on Monday before the pattern changes and more seasonable conditions return.

Warm conditions will continue in Alaska on Monday before the pattern changes and more seasonable conditions return. (Fox News)

“Oh by the way, today will be another dandy in Fairbanks, with highs in the upper 70’s!” the NWS Fairbanks office tweeted Monday.

Forecasted highs in Fairbanks and Juneau are higher than most locations across the lower 48 on Monday.

Forecasted highs in Fairbanks and Juneau are higher than most locations across the lower 48 on Monday. (Fox News)

The warm temperatures over the past week have also led to rapid snowmelt, with local forecasters warning of flood advisories in the Alaska interior.

This recent May heat in Alaska, however, is not the norm.


The polar vortex will retreat from the East Coast on Tuesday, settling back across Canada and Alaska.

The polar vortex will retreat from the East Coast by the end of the week, settling back across Canada and Alaska.

The polar vortex will retreat from the East Coast by the end of the week, settling back across Canada and Alaska. (Fox News)

The ridge of heat across the West that stretched into Alaska will break down, returning to a more zonal pattern that keeps the cooler air up north.

Alaska faces triple hit from coronavirus due to reliance on oil, fishing, tourism

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – The U.S. state of Alaska is so far distant from the worst medical ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, but its economy is in critical condition.

Alaska is especially vulnerable because it depends on oil, tourism and fisheries – basic industries that are reeling from the global coronavirus pandemic – and the state government gets most of its revenue from investment earnings that have now evaporated.

“Alaska is experiencing a perfect storm, a most terrible trifecta, the hat trick from hell,” said state Senator Natasha von Imhof, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, at a hearing Saturday. “We are being hit on all sides with the stock market crash, oil prices plummeting and the tourism and fishing season all but idle.”

So far there have only been a dozen cases of coronavirus in Alaska out of at least 24,000 total in the United States. But the pandemic has caused demand for fuels to crater, shuttered businesses and kept residents in their homes. Oil prices have cratered, with the U.S. price of oil falling to $23 a barrel as of Friday.

The price drop will cost the treasury $500 million to $700 million immediately, said Mouhcine Guettabi, an economist with the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research.

The state’s oil-wealth fund, the largest source of revenue for state operations, is reeling. With the stock-market crash, the Alaska Permanent fund lost about a tenth of its value in a little over two weeks, according to managers. As of March 16, its value stood at $58.7 billion, managers said.

Big oil companies have already announced cutbacks to Alaska investments and staffing in the North Slope. ConocoPhillips, Alaska’s top oil producer, said spending reductions will reduce North Slope output by 2,000 bpd, and the company this week imposed a two-week suspension on its flights to the North Slope, limiting the workforce there to “essential” personnel.

The tourist season, which several communities depend on for most of their year’s income, is shaping up to be a bust. Cruise companies have already canceled sailings, a huge blow to employers that depend on cruise passengers for their income.

The seafood industry, the state’s largest private-sector employer, is facing a dearth of processing-plant workers, a large percentage of whom come from outside the United States.

Only a few months ago, the economic outlook was rosier. The state was pulling out of a prolonged recession that saw its population shrink for three straight years.

ConocoPhillips had announced its biggest North Slope winter exploration season in decades. It and other oil companies were welcoming Trump administration plans to open federal lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to development. Alaska produces about 500,000 barrels per day, down from 2 million bpd 30 years ago, and its break-even cost is about $39 a barrel.

Now, Alaska might not be able to afford the normal annual Permanent Fund dividend paid in the fall and balance the budget at the same time, according to a legislative analysis.

Governor Mike Dunleavy on Friday proposed an emergency April payment from the fund of $1,306 to all Alaskans. Some lawmakers were cool to that idea, though.

“Draining the Permanent Fund to pay supersized dividends would be monumentally irresponsible @GovDunleavy at a time when our savings accounts are nearly empty and we must maintain funding for core health, safety,” state Representative Zach Fields said on Twitter.

AK: Fairbanks man snared dozens of moose to use as wolf bait, troopers say

A Fairbanks trapper faces misdemeanor charges after he admitted snaring more than two dozen moose to use the meat as bait for catching wolves, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported this week.

Joseph Lyndon Johnson, 24, was charged in early January after an Alaska wildlife trooper investigated a trapline the man had set, the newspaper reported, citing an affidavit for a criminal complaint.

The trooper, investigating the man’s trapline on March 21 near Hess Creek north of Fairbanks, found a trapped live wolf next to a moose carcass. He also found two marten traps, still set though the season ended weeks earlier.

The trooper set up a camera to observe the trapline. That was soon stolen.

Days later, a trooper, after flying over the area in a helicopter, found that only part of the moose remained. The moose contained markings suggesting it had been snared around its snout. Other evidence suggested it had been hauled there by sled. The wolf had been removed.

A necropsy showed the moose had been trapped in a snare.

After finding records showing Johnson had taken a wolf, the troopers received a search warrant for his home. They found the missing camera, a gray wolf, and other items showing Johnson operated the trapline.

The man admitted to snaring 25 moose to use for wolf bait, the newspaper reported, citing the affidavit.

Johnson faces four Class A misdemeanor charges, according to online court records. They include using game as animal food or bait, unlawful possession or transportation of game, and two counts for leaving the marten traps out after the season closed.

Officials with the Alaska State Troopers did not immediately provide comment on Friday.

A class A misdemeanor can bring one year in jail and a $10,000 fine, state records show.