RDC NEWS DIGEST
Beluga whale count increases in Cook Inlet
A survey conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service found the Cook Inlet beluga whale population has increased this year over a 2009 count. Scientists with the federal agency estimate the population is now 340, compared to 321 last year. The results are based on aerial surveys conducted in June during fish migrations, when belugas concentrate at the mouths of rivers.
“This continues an upward trend from the all-time low of 278 in 2005,” said Jason Brune, RDC Executive Director.
The belugas in Cook Inlet were listed as an endangered species in 2008, an action that has raised much concern about potential impacts on activities ranging from oil and gas development and commerce to community wastewater treatment.
The State of Alaska, which is challenging the listing in court, estimates there is less than a one percent probability of extinction for the whales in the next 50 years.
State, RDC ask for de-listing of sea lions
The State of Alaska has petitioned the federal government to remove the Eastern distinct population segment (DPS) of the Steller sea lions from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).The state coordinated its filing with Oregon and Washington.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has divided the sea lions into two distinct population segments – a Western DPS and an Eastern DPS. The western is listed as endangered and the eastern is currently listed as threatened. The Eastern has surpassed the recovery objectives set by NMFS and the threats facing the sea lions have been addressed, meriting their removal from the ESA.
“We’re working on multiple fronts to ensure that commercial fishing and other important economic activities are not blocked by unwarranted ESA regulations,” Governor Sean Parnell said. “Removing a recovered species from the list reduces needless bureaucracy and litigation risks.”
The state also submitted comments on NMFS’ recent draft biological opinion and associated environmental assessment on the impact of the federal groundfish fisheries on the health of the Western DPS. Despite significant scientific uncertainty and an increasing population trend, the draft opinion concludes that commercial fisheries are inhibiting the recovery of two of the seven sub-populations of the Western DPS and calls for substantial curtailment of commercial fisheries in the Western Aleutian Islands.
“The agency’s conclusion that additional fishing restrictions are necessary is not supported by the best available science,” said Attorney General Dan Sullivan.
Marleanna Hall, RDC’s Projects Coordinator, supported the petition for de-listing the Eastern DPS. See comments at akrdc.org.
RDC supports Jonesville coal permit
RDC recently submitted comments to the state in support of the Jonesville Coal Mining Permit Renewal covering a five-year term.
The application for the renewal of the permit, submitted by Ranger Alaska LLC, does not include any changes or modifications to the previously approved permit.The original permit met all requirements of the Alaska Surface Coal Mining Control and Reclamation Act, a highly comprehensive permitting program which, when combined with other current state and federal regulations, sufficiently protects the environment and water resources in the area.
Princess to add new ship to Alaska in 2012
Princess Cruises will add an additional ship for the 2012 season, potentially bringing 45,000 new visitors and more than $40 million in direct and indirect spending in Alaska.
“I am extremely pleased that Princess has demonstrated confidence in Alaska’s business climate by adding another ship in 2012,” said Governor Sean Parnell. The governor signed legislation that reduces the cruise passenger head tax, after meeting with small business owners and visitor industry leaders and learning of the detrimental effects from the excise tax. Reversing the decline in visitor travel has been a focus of Parnell and a new organization, the Alaska Alliance for Cruise Travel (AlaskaACT), which is administered by RDC.
“Alaska changed from a destination fighting to keep the cruise business we had, to a destination that is now competing to regain the business,” said Bob Berto, President of AlaskaACT and a member of the RDC Executive Committee.“While we still face many challenges, I am optimistic Alaska can set a new course to stop the decline in the visitor industry and position ourselves for future growth.”
Recently, AlaskaACT was recognized for its efforts to support the visitor industry by receiving the Alaska Travel Industry Association’s 2010 Alyeska Award in conjunction with Alaska Cruise Association.
The additional 45,000 visitors expected to sail on the Princess ship will bring Alaska cruise visitation estimates in 2012 to 955,000 visitors.Visitation peaked in 2008 at more than 1,030,000 passengers.
RDC supports permit renewal for PacRim
The state should authorize a two-year extension to the exploration permit held by PacRim Coal, LP for its Chuitna coal project, RDC said in written comments last month to the Division of Mining, Land and Water.
PacRim Coal has applied for a two-year renewal to the existing permit for exploration in the Chuitna coal area 11 miles northwest of Tyonek.The permit, originally issued in 1983, has been renewed numerous times. A renewal would provide for continued monitoring of 82 previously drilled wells, and six new ones to be drilled.
“As PacRim Coal prepares to enter the mine permitting process, it is crucial that they be allowed to retain monitoring abilities at the Chuitna site, as well as conduct additional monitoring, should the need arise,“ said Deantha Crockett, RDC Projects Coordinator.
Railroad applies herbicide to control weeds
In late July, the Alaska Railroad (ARRC) applied a glyphosate herbicide along 30 miles of track between Seward and Indian and within the Seward yard.This followed a year-long Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) permit process, and months of litigation. It was ARRC’s first application of a herbicide in 28 years.
In 2009, ARRC requested an ADEC permit to use AquaMaster, a herbicide EPA approved for use in and around water. After a year-long review, ADEC approved the permit. Environmental groups litigated to block use of AquaMaster, but the Alaska Supreme Court declined to overturn ADEC’s decision. RDC supported the ARRC’s permit request.
The railroad hired a licensed and experienced contractor to apply the herbicide in select areas where waterbodies were further than 100 feet away, as required by the permit.The herbicide did an excellent job of getting rid of the weeds between the rails and the ties. Monitoring has shown the herbicide did not harm vegetation outside the spray zone, nor did it migrate or linger in the soil.
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