April 14, 2010
Responding to the update of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's 22-year-old Comprehensive Conservation Plan to include consideration of new wilderness designations within ANWR, U. S. Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) said in a prepared statement, "The Obama administration is wrong to pursue new wilderness in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or anywhere else in Alaska."
Begich said, "I'll fight any effort to block development of the enormous oil and gas likely beneath the Arctic Refuge. I'll work through my position on the Senate Budget Committee to cut any funding for this effort, and with the other members of Alaska's congressional delegation to short-circuit this unnecessary, money-wasting review."
The planning process will begin with public meetings to discuss issues and future goals for stewardship of the Arctic Refuge. The Service will meet with the public this April and May in the following communities in Alaska: Anchorage, Arctic Village, Fairbanks, Fort Yukon, Kaktovik, and Venetie. There will also be a public meeting in Washington DC on May 4, 2010. Dates, times, and locations of the other meetings will be announced locally in advance. The meetings will help the Service identify issues and draft alternatives for future stewardship of the refuge. After evaluating public comments, the Service will release a draft plan for public review and comment in February 2011. Based upon a thorough review of comments, the Service will issue the final plan and record of decision in April 2012.
As part of the planning process for Alaska refuges, the Service may inventory, study, and possibly propose areas suitable for wilderness within the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness areas preserve a landscape's natural conditions for the benefit and use of the American people. A wilderness area recommendation by the Service is forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior for consideration. Any new wilderness designation requires Congressional approval.
"The comprehensive conservation planning process gives the Service the opportunity to evaluate the needs of each refuge and the resources it serves, and to create a road map for meeting those needs. For this process to be complete, the leadership of every refuge should have the opportunity to work with partners and the public to determine if any lands are appropriate for inclusion in the wilderness system," said Alaska Regional Director Geoffrey L. Haskett.
"No decision has yet been made about the status of any lands in the refuge not currently designated as wilderness. If any lands are recommended for wilderness designation, they would be identified and vetted through extensive public consultation and review as part of the plan revision process and ultimately require congressional approval," said Haskett. "The Refuge's current CCP is more than 20 years old, and much has changed since then. New laws and policies have been enacted, climate change has emerged as a concern, the Dalton Highway has opened to the public, and visitor use patterns have changed."
The Service had postponed wilderness reviews of Alaska refuges as it awaited finalization of national refuge wilderness stewardship policy. This policy, finalized in November 2008, requires wilderness reviews for refuges outside of Alaska and provides the option for wilderness reviews for refuges within Alaska. The Service Director directed that wilderness reviews be included for Alaska refuges.
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