Hearings on refuge regulations are abruptly cut short

Oct 27, 2020

At the start of the public hearing Monday evening, representatives from the Fish and Wildlife Service laid out the proposed refuge regulation changes to over 70 viewers.
Credit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service presentation

The third in three hearings about proposed Kenai National Wildlife Refuge changes has been canceled with no explanation.

An outpouring of concern for proposed refuge regulation alterations — which would change how the refuge handles trapping and bear baiting, among other policies — prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to hold a public hearing. The service added two additional hearings when space for public comment filled up. 

Around 115 commenters were slated to speak at last night’s hearing, held on Zoom, though only 22 ended up showing up to testify — two in favor of the rule changes and 20 against. Dozens of others attended the meeting as listeners.

There were 75 spots open for comment at tonight’s meeting and there were an additional 75 scheduled for tomorrow, though it’s unclear how many of those slots were claimed.

Now, Wednesday commenters are being asked to wait until the end of tonight’s meeting for a chance to testify. They’ll be allowed to speak on a first-come, first-serve basis until 9 p.m.

Caroline Brouwer, who works for the National Wildlife Refuge Association in Washington, D.C., was supposed to testify tomorrow. 

“Part of my concern about this is that I wasn’t fully prepared to be testifying tonight," she said. "And I thought I had an extra day to prepare. So I don’t have everything that I wanted to say ready.”

Brouwer guessed the service canceled tomorrow’s session because it anticipated a similarly low turnout among registered commenters. 

Richard Steiner, of Anchorage, was also slated to testify tomorrow. He cannot attend the hearing tonight.

“This is just so typical of the Trump Administration’s disdain for public process, for real, legitimate, genuine public process," he said. "But it’s really surprising here on this issue where so many people in Alaska really care about this and for them to schedule a hearing and then the night before cancel it with no explanation … that’s pretty unusual stuff.”

Mandy Migura, of Eagle River, was frustrated with how the service handled the abrupt change. She also is not able to attend tonight.

“To give virtually no notice of, ‘You’ve got to do it today, maybe, if you’re lucky, if there’s not too many people, and sit around and wait and maybe you’ll get in,’" she said. "That was just a very dissatisfying solution to the cancelation. And with no notice really either.”

Stephen Miller, deputy manager for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said the change was not the refuge’s decision. He said his team found out about the change at noon today.

A representative from the Fish and Wildlife Service could not be reached before air time.