Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
January 25, 2015 (San Diego's East County) - The U.S. Department of the interior announced Sunday that President Barack Obama plans to ask Congress to designate 12 million acres of Alaska’s 19 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness to protect it from oil and gas drilling.
The land in question is a narrow coastal plain between the Arctic Ocean and the Brooks mountain range that is vital habitat for migrating caribou herds and for polar bears. If approved, the action could be one of the largest conservation steps since passage of the Wilderness Act 50 years ago, according to the Interior Department.
A video released on YouTube contains images of the spectacular scenery and wildlife, along with a statement by President Obama on why he believes this area should be “preserved for future generations.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hey_WIAFVA&feature=youtu.be
The Interior Department will begin managing the land as wilderness immediately, pending Congressional action, to assure no damage from oil drilling can occur in the interim.
But Alaska’s two Republican Senators have voiced opposition to the plan.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, accused the administration of treating Alaska like a territory. "The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them,” she complained.
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan says Obama’s plan puts "energy security in serious jeopardy.”
Both have vowed to fight to defeat the proposal.
Environmental leaders, meanwhile, hailed the plan. Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, issued a statement noting, “Big oil has long wanted to get its hands on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but the scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service have declared that this iconic American wilderness is just too special to drill in.” He concludes, “We wholeheartedly agree and celebrate this announcement by the Obama administration.”
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell supports the action. “Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon” she says, “the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come.”