Obama Administration Moves to Protect Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Obama, Jewell Declaring War on Alaska’s Future Say Officials
By MARY KAUFFMAN
January 26, 2015
“Designating vast areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness reflects the significance this landscape holds for America and its wildlife,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”
The Interior Department plans to immediately begin managing the 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness – adding to the 18 million acres of ANWR already designated wilderness.
Secretary Jewell also said that President Obama plans to indefinitely withdraw areas in the offshore Arctic from oil and gas leasing in the new five-year plan being released later this week, which will effectively ban development in large swaths of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. It is unclear how these new restrictions will affect areas already under lease.
Alaska, ANWR, Canning River
Alaska Gov. Walker I) was outraged by the Obama administration’s actions at a time when the state is drawing down more than $10 million from savings every day due to low oil prices and declining production despite having more than 40 billion barrels of untapped resources, mostly in federal areas where oil and gas activity is blocked or restricted.
“What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them. I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”
“This outrageous action confirms what most Alaskans have feared – that the Obama administration’s war against Alaska families and the middle class would only intensify under the final two years of President Obama’s tenure. But Alaskans have been in tough battles before. We will defeat their lawless attempt to designate ANWR as a wilderness, as well as their ultimate goal of making Alaska one big national park. This decision disregards the rule of law and our constitution and specifically ignores many promises made to Alaska in ANICLA. It is just one more example of President Obama thumbing his nose at the citizens of a sovereign state – and will put Alaska and America’s energy security in serious jeopardy,” U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said. “I stand united with Sen. Murkowski, Congressman Young, Governor Walker and the members of the Alaska State Legislature to vigilantly safeguard and defend our fellow Alaskans’ interests, and I pledge to do everything in my power to fight back against this assault on Alaska’s economic future.”
“This callously planned and politically motivated attack on Alaska by the Obama administration is akin to spitting in our faces and telling us it’s raining outside. As if on command from the most extreme environmentalist elements, this president and his team of D.C. bureaucrats believe they alone know what’s best for Alaska, but this brazen assault on our state and our people will do the complete opposite,” Rep. Don Young (R-AK) said. “Every time the president undermines the law of the land, he breaks his oath of office and weakens the nation we love. This latest move, in clear violation of ANILCA’s 'no more' clause, and despite the fierce opposition of every Alaska statewide elected official and the vast majority of our people, demonstrates that the Imperial Presidency of Barack Obama knows no bounds. Simply put, this wholesale land grab, this widespread attack on our people and our way of life, is disgusting.”
According to the U.S. Department of Interior, Sunday’s action builds upon years of public engagement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revise the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and complete an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as required by law. The plan will guide the Service’s management decisions for the next 15 years.
Based on the best available science and extensive public comment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s preferred alternative recommends 12.28 million acres – including the Coastal Plain – for designation as wilderness. The Service also recommends four rivers – the Atigun, Hulahula, Kongakut, and Marsh Fork Canning – for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
Currently, over 7 million acres of the refuge are managed as wilderness according to the U.S. Dept. of Interior, consistent with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. However, more than 60 percent of the refuge – including the Coastal Plain – does not carry that designation.
Quoting a news release from the Dept. of Interior, designation as wilderness would protect and preserve the refuge, ensuring the land and water would remain unimpaired for use and enjoyment by future generations. Only Congress has the authority to designate Wilderness areas and Wild and Scenic Rivers.
Recommendations for Wilderness or Wild and Scenic River designations require approval of the Service Director, Secretary of the Interior and the President. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released on Sunday the revised comprehensive conservation plan and final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is not soliciting further public comment on the revised plan/EIS, it will be available to the public for review for 30 days, after which, the record of decision will be published. At that point, the President will make the formal wilderness recommendation to Congress.
“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge preserves a unique diversity of wildlife and habitat in a corner of America that is still wild and free,” said U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “But it faces growing challenges that require a thoughtful and comprehensive management strategy. The incorporation of large portions of the refuge into the National Wilderness Preservation System will ensure we protect this outstanding landscape and its inhabitants for our children and generations that follow.”
The revised plan/EIS addresses a variety of issues, including the protection of wildlife populations and their habitats, opportunities for fish- and wildlife-dependent recreation, subsistence needs of local inhabitants, and other public uses. The plan also strengthens wildlife and habitat monitoring, as well as the monitoring of public use of the refuge so as to better respond to changing conditions on the landscape, particularly those associated with climate change.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the 19.8 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to the most diverse wildlife in the arctic, including caribou, polar bears, gray wolves, and muskoxen. More than 200 species of birds, 37 land mammal species, eight marine mammal species and 42 species of fish call the vast refuge home. Lagoons, beaches, saltmarshes, tundra and forests make up the remote and undisturbed wild area that spans five distinct ecological regions.
The refuge holds special meaning to Alaska Natives, having sustained their lives and culture for thousands of years. The Gwich’in people refer to the Coastal Plain of the refuge as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,” reflecting the area’s importance to their community, maintaining healthy herds of caribou and an abundance of other wildlife.
According the White House, the United States today is the number-one producer of oil and natural gas in the world, and we import less oil than at any time in almost 30 years. The Obama administration believes that oil and natural gas resources can be developed safely. Unfortunately, accidents and spills can still happen, and the environmental impacts can sometimes be felt for many years.
The Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge, one of the few remaining places in the country as pristine today as it was when the oldest Alaska Native communities first set eyes on it, is too precious to put at risk. By designating the area as wilderness, Congress could preserve the Coastal Plain in perpetuity — ensuring that this wild, free, beautiful, and bountiful place remains in trust for Alaska Natives and for all Americans.
Wilderness status would permanently place off-limits the United States’ most promising onshore oil prospect and severely restrict access for subsistence hunters and other uses of the area. Under the terms of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), additional wilderness designations are barred in Alaska without the express approval of Congress.
Alaska Senate President Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage) released the following statement in response to the Department of Interior's decision to wage war on Alaska:
"This is a stunning decision by the Obama Administration and an unprecedented attack on Alaska. The impact of this decision, if allowed to stand, will harm the future of our Great State and will deal a devastating blow to our economy. Promises were made at Statehood to give us our land and resources to develop for the maximum benefit of Alaskans. This decision effectively negates that promise and will permanently lock up our economic future. We will not stand by and allow the Obama regime to kill opportunity and resource development in Alaska. I stand with US Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, Congressman Young and Governor Walker in defending our great state. We will fight this attack on our sovereignty by any legal means necessary."
Leaders of the Alaska House Majority Caucus also responded to President Barack Obama’s Administration proposing Sunday to manage the Coastal Plain, and other areas, of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness.
U.S. Sen. Murkowski is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which together have oversight of the Interior Department’s underlying legislative authority, nominations, and budget.
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