Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Wildly remote and mysterious, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the world’s most controversial and intriguing natural protected areas. Covering more than 19 million acres (about the size of South Carolina), it is home to an abundance of plants and wildlife, in fact, the most diverse of any Park or Refuge in the circumpolar arctic. Every year, thousands of caribou from the world-renowned Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate across the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain. Polar bear, grizzly bear, wolves, muskoxen, Arctic foxes and migratory birds also come to the vast coastal plain that the Gwich’in call the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been reserved for wildlife purposes since it was first set aside as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1957. In the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (“ANILCA”), Congress doubled the size of the Arctic Range, renamed it the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and designated all but the northernmost portion (the “coastal plain,” or “1002” area) of the original Arctic Range as wilderness. The Arctic Refuge is therefore composed of three parts: the lands added by ANILCA (~10 million acres), the wilderness area (~8 million acres), and the “1002” area (~1.5 million acres). Currently, all of the land within the Arctic Refuge including the 1002 area is fully reserved and withdrawn from all private appropriation and use under the public land laws. Only Congress can authorize oil and gas development.
For decades, the Arctic Refuge has been threatened by oil and gas development. In 1987, the Department of the Interior recommended that Congress allow oil and gas development on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. Since then, drilling proponents in Congress have continually tried to pass legislation authorizing this oil and gas development. With the volatility in the price of oil and the mantra, “Drill, Baby, Drill,” the pressure continues to open the Arctic Refuge to drilling. In the 110th Congress, drilling proponents introduced an unprecedented 26 bills containing provisions that would open the coastal plain of the Refuge to oil and gas leasing and development.
So far in the 111th Congress, Sen. Murkowski has taken a purportedly new approach and introduced legislation that would allow directional drilling from adjacent state lands as the means to open the Refuge to oil and gas development. As with past drilling proposals, directional drilling under the Refuge poses significant threats to the wildlife, subsistence resources, and the wilderness values that are central to the purpose for which the Arctic Refuge was established. Trustees for Alaska, as a member of a national coalition of groups committed to the protection of the Arctic Refuge, has been successful in defeating such legislation year after year. Until there is permanent protection for the Arctic Refuge, Trustees for Alaska will continue to provide the legal support to defeat drilling proposals.
What’s Happening Now at Trustees for Alaska:
Currently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of revising the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (“CCP”), which will guide long-term management, for the Arctic Refuge. As part of that revision, Trustees for Alaska is working with coalition partners to advocate for further wilderness reviews and protections within the Refuge. Scoping for the CCP has just ended and the draft CCP is expected in early spring 2011.