The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Despite Shutdown, Trump Administration Continues Push to Open Western Arctic
By Kelsie Rudolph
At the 11th hour on Jan. 22, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quietly extended the initial public comment period in an environmental review process aimed at creating a new management plan (the Integrated Activity Plan or IAP) for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). Already, BLM has rescheduled public meetings with little notice, plus the government shutdown is still going strong and the agency has only extended the public process for one week. BLM's current rush job, meant to cater to ConocoPhillips and the oil industry, is unforgivable, especially when compared to the extensive work that went into—and broad stakeholder support that was garnered for—the current management plan.
This IAP process seeks to undo the existing management plan that was put in place under the Obama administration less than five years ago. As part of this effort, BLM is seeking to eliminate important protections for key ecological Special Areas in the Reserve that Alaska Wilderness League and others have fought tirelessly for decades to protect. And as with many oil and gas projects across the country and offshore, the agency is continuing to press forward despite the current government shutdown. On Jan. 17, the Alaska Wilderness League—along with several of our partners—sent a request to BLM asking the agency to extend the public comment period due to the unavailability of staff to answer questions or serve as a public resource. What we've received is one additional week with no notice of the extension, and still no end to the shutdown in sight.
The current management plan, approved in 2013, received strong public support and put in place sensible conservation protections for 11 million acres in the Reserve, setting aside five Special Areas of exceptional wildlife and wilderness value: Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, Utukok River Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay. President Obama's Department of the Interior (DOI) spent years working with tribal communities, local governments, the state of Alaska, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group and the public on this plan. Alaska Wilderness League, along with our partners, was integral to seeing this plan put in place with strong ecological protections. We worked diligently to advocate for key protections within the Reserve—helping to collect and deliver 400,000 public comments, collect 30 regional and local tribal resolutions representing 90 villages across Alaska, and organize dozens of events across the country to educate the public on the importance of Reserve Special Areas.
America's Western Arctic is teeming with wildlife and rich with landscapes worthy of strong protection. For one, Teshekpuk Lake provides vital habitat for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd and includes globally significant Important Bird Areas that support threatened spectacled eiders, king eiders, red-throated loons, dunlins and buff-breasted sandpipers. Teshekpuk Lake and its surrounding wetlands are ecologically unique and one of the most important wildlife habitats in the entire circumpolar Arctic. Gray wolves, brown bears, polar bears, spotted seals, the 45,000-strong Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd as well as countless migratory birds all thrive in this area.
Spectacled eiders in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Still, it's no surprise that the drive to open these protected areas in the Reserve, especially Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, stems directly from the Trump administration's favor factory for the oil and gas industry. ConocoPhillip's interest in more acreage within the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area is no secret. ConocoPhillips is doubling down on development in the Reserve, pushing forward with current projects and buying hundreds of thousands of acres for future development, continuing to build upon its growing spider web of oil and gas development projects.
The Alaska Wilderness League is committed to doing everything we can to protect the integrity of the current management plan for the Reserve. Any revisions to the current management plan should result in expanding protections in places important to wildlife and local communities, not offering more acres of our public lands to the oil and gas industry. Upsetting this carefully crafted plan to protect public lands in favor of oil and gas development is irresponsible.
Send a message to keep protected Special Areas in the Reserve safe!
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
That salmon sitting in your neighborhood grocery store's fish counter won't look the same to you after watching Artifishal, a new film from Patagonia.
Get ready to toast bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. National Pollinator Week is June 17-23 and it's a perfect time to celebrate the birds, bugs and lizards that are so essential to the crops we grow, the flowers we smell, and the plants that produce the air we breathe.
The U.S Forest Service unveiled a new plan to skirt a major environmental law that requires extensive review for new logging, road building, and mining projects on its nearly 200 million acres of public land. The proposal set off alarm bells for environmental groups, according to Reuters.
By Teju Adisa-Farrar & Raul Garcia
In the summer of 1969 a banner hung over a set of condemned homes in what was then the predominantly black and brown Brookland neighborhood in Washington, DC. It read, "White man's roads through black men's homes."
Earlier in the year, the District attempted to condemn the houses to make space for a proposed freeway. The plans proposed a 10-lane freeway, a behemoth of a project that would divide the nation's capital end-to-end and sever iconic Black neighborhoods like Shaw and the U Street Corridor from the rest of the city.