US FWS plans for ANWR include possible wilderness designations

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comments on six conservation plan alternative drafts for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), including one that would designate ANWR’s Coastal Plain and two other areas as federally protected wilderness.

The draft, called a Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, outlines a 15-year management plan for ANWR. Proposals range from continuing current practices to naming four rivers for possible wild and scenic designation along with the three potential wilderness areas. Comments will be accepted through Nov. 15, and the US Department of the Interior agency has scheduled public meetings about the proposals across the state, beginning Aug. 24 in Anchorage.

Officials in FWS’s Arctic regional office emphasized in their Aug. 12 request for comments that a recommendation to include wilderness and/or wild and scenic river designations in the final plan would require approvals by the agency’s director, the US Interior secretary, and the president of the United States. It then would have to be submitted to Congress, which has the final say on such designations.

The announcement drew immediate criticism from Alaska’s senior US senator, Lisa Murkowski (R), who said FWS’s efforts to consider areas for wilderness designation in the state violate the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act. Section 1326(b) of the law states that the federal government lacks that authority without congressional consent, she said on Aug. 12. “Congress has given no such approval,” the senator said.

Designating ANWR’s Coastal Plain as wilderness would effectively close an area which another DOI agency, the US Geological Survey, estimates has a 50% chance of containing 10.4 billion bbl of crude oil and 8.6 tcf of gas, she added.

Murkowski urged Alaskans to attend the public meetings and submit comments on the draft proposals. “We have tremendous reserves, we have the technological know-how, and we have incredible support,” said Murkowski, who is the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member. “The only thing standing in the way is the federal government, but I am hopeful that will change for the better as we really begin to evaluate our options for debt reduction.”

Contact Nick Snow at

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