FWS’s ANWR management plan does not change coastal plain’s status

The US Fish & Wildlife Service formally adopted a previously announced plan to begin managing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness (OGJ Online, Jan. 26, 2015), but stopped short of designating ANWR’s coastal plain as a wilderness study area that effectively would close it to oil and gas exploration and development.

Instead, it retained the coastal plain’s Minimal Management designation, an administrative designation that provides similar tools to Wilderness Management, but does not formally designate it wilderness since that decision rests solely with Congress, it said in an Apr. 3 record of decision.

The newly adopted plan for the next 15 years calls for 12.28 million acres within ANWR – including the coastal plain – to be designated wilderness, however. In an Apr. 3 letter to US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), President Barack Obama asked Congress to enact legislation creating new wilderness areas identified in ANWR under the plan and adding four rivers there to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

“This area is one of the most beautiful, undisturbed places in the world,” Obama told the congressional leaders. “It is a national treasure and should be permanently protected through legislation for future generations.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation—all Republicans—angrily criticized the Obama administration’s move. US Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said it was “a classic news dump on this Good Friday afternoon” that ignored Congress’s designation of ANWR’s coastal plain for oil and gas exploration more than 3 decades ago.

“A congressional designation of the coastal plain as wilderness will not happen on my watch,” Murkowski said.

“There’s a growing theme with this administration: Bad news can only be delivered on holidays or weekends,” said Don Young, Alaska’s only US House member who is on the Natural Resources Committee. “They think they can hide from their shameful decisions while the minds of Alaskans are elsewhere, but they cannot.”

Dan Sullivan, the state’s other US senator, meanwhile said, “This outrageous proposal from the Obama administration will undermine Alaska’s future and America’s energy security. It will never see the light of day in Congress.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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