In comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, RDC said the wood bison should not be reintroduced into the Yukon and Minto Flats areas of Interior Alaska, given the uncertainty surrounding the status of the species and the lack of detailed information concerning potential impacts.
In its letter, RDC requested that before the bison are reintroduced in Alaska, the Service must clarify the status of wood bison under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), consult with landowners that will be potentially impacted by the reintroduction and assess alternative locations for any reintroduction. RDC also requested the agency prepare an environmental impact statement that thoroughly examines the impacts of the proposal.
RDC said the Service should delay a decision on the bison until after a determination on whether down-listing of the species is warranted.
RDC and its members who own land in the huge geographical areas that may be affected are concerned of the potential impacts to future resource development activities. Doyon Limited, for example, is concerned that a reintroduction of bison could hamper plans to drill for natural gas in the Nenana basin.
Some relief to the stringent regulatory provisions of the ESA could occur by designating the wood bison an “experimental population” under the 10(j) Rule of the act.
“We simply don’t have a lot of confidence in the 10(j) Rule,” said RDC Board member Jim Mery, Doyon’s Senior Vice President of Lands and Resources. “The intentions are good, but sometimes good intentions are hijacked by interest groups.”
RDC Executive Director Jason Brune agreed that there are significant regulatory risks with the proposal. He noted there is uncertainty regarding the current listing status under the ESA and how the status may change in the future. He said it is also unclear what assurances will be provided to impacted landowners through the 10(j) process.
“Like many Alaskans, RDC would like to see the wood bison reintroduced, but first we need federal assurances as we have seen how predatory groups like the Center for Biological Diversity can use the ESA to block responsible projects,” Brune said.
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