Environment | National | Politics

Obama to seek stronger protections for wildlife refuge in Alaska

A view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Facebook

President Barack Obama will ask Congress to designate the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, a request that has infuriated politicians in Alaska.

More than 7 million acres in the 19.3 million-acre refuge are already managed as wilderness. But Obama said the remaining lands and their resources needed to be protected for future generations.

The White House: Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

"It supports caribou and polar bears, all manner of marine life, countless species of birds and, for centuries, it's supported many Alaska Native communities," Obama said in a video. "But it's very fragile."

A press release from the Interior Department and a blog post from the White House mentioned the importance of the caribou in the refuge to the Gwich'in people. The tribe opposes development in ANWR out of fear it will harm an area known in their language as "The Sacred Place Where Life Begins."

One Gwich'in community -- Arctic Village -- is located on the southern border of ANWR. But the Inupiat people also live in the refuge -- on the northern coastal plain -- and they support energy development on their own lands.

Arctic Slope Regional Corp., an Alaska Native regional corporation, owns subsurface rights to land within ANWR boundaries. Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation, a village corporation, owns the surface rights.

Neither the Inupiat people nor the corporations were mentioned in the press release or the blog post.

Alaska's Congressional delegation and new Gov. Bill Walker (I) immediately blasted Obama's proposal. Politicians in the state have long called for opening up ANWR to energy development and they vowed to prevent the wilderness request from being approved.

Obama will make the formal request after the end of a 30-day review period for ANWR's new Comprehensive Conservation Plan.

Get the Story:
Murkowski fears Obama may unilaterally declare ANWR a national monument (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 1/25)
Obama to seek wilderness designation for Alaska refuge (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 1/25)
Alaska congressional delegation blasts Obama's wilderness plan (The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner 1/25)
Obama administration to propose new wilderness protections in Arctic refuge — Alaska Republicans declare war (The Washington Post 1/25)
Obama plans to block development in Arctic refuge; Alaska leaders irate (The Alaska Dispatch News 1/26)
Obama Will Move to Protect Vast Arctic Habitat in Alaska (The New York Times 1/26)
As Oil Prices Fall, Alaska’s New Governor Faces a Novel Goal, Frugality (The New York Times 1/26)

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