President Obama Recommends Wilderness for the Arctic Refuge

Comprehensive Arctic Refuge Conservation Planning Process Nearly Complete

Feb 09, 2015
Lisa Oakley

President Obama announced in late January his plans to recommend Wilderness for 12.28 million acres of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the vitally important Coastal Plain. We applaud President Obama for his bold action toward permanently protecting the Arctic Refuge!

The Arctic Refuge provides exceptional habitat for many birds and mammals, including polar bears, wolves, muskox, and 200 bird species that migrate from the Coastal Plain to six continents. The Porcupine Caribou Herd travels to the Coastal Plain each year to give birth to calves and seek refuge from the relentless arctic insects. The Gwich’in people call the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,” because of its importance to the Porcupine Caribou Herd. This caribou herd is the foundation for the social, cultural, and spiritual fabric of the lives of the Gwich’in people.

Because of its ecological and cultural importance, Trustees has worked for decades with our conservation and indigenous partners to protect the Arctic Refuge from harmful oil and gas activities. Our work includes going to court, behind-the-scenes work on ill-conceived legislative attempts to open this pristine area to the oil industry, and working with our partners to advocate for Wilderness. And we will continue our work until we gain permanent protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS Photo.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS Photo.

The President’s recent action will be the single largest Wilderness recommendation since the Wilderness Act became law in 1964. Wilderness protection is the highest level of protection available to our public lands. This recommendation is a first for the Arctic Refuge and reverses a 1987 recommendation from the Reagan Administration to open the Coastal Plain to oil and gas leasing and development.

The announcement comes as the Department of the Interior works to finalize the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the entire Arctic Refuge. That Plan will guide the management of the Arctic Refuge for the next 15 years. Work on the Plan has taken years of scientific assessment, management review, and public input. Once the planning process is complete, the President will send his recommendation to Congress.

The Arctic Refuge was first protected in 1960 as the Arctic National Wildlife Range for its “unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values.” In 1980, with the signing of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the name was changed to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, significant lands were added, and much of the original Arctic Range was designated as Wilderness. But Congress delayed the decision on Wilderness for the Coastal Plain until more studies were complete.

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