By Rachel Roberts
This past Sunday, the Obama Administration proposed increasing the area of the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to 12.28 million acres; 1.52 million acres of the refuge’s costal plain, 5.85 million acres of the Brooks mountain range, and 4.92 million acres of Porcupine Plateau would be given Wilderness designation.
Wilderness designation is the highest level of protection available for public lands, as it prohibits drilling, mining, roads, vehicles, and permanent structures.
Although many environmental groups are excited about the proposal, this announcement is not without controversy. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) said the designation comes as “a stunning attack on our [Alaska’s] sovereignty” and plans to “fight back with every resource at [our] disposal.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the refuge’s costal plain has about 10.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Murkowski believes that this Wilderness designation may hinder oil and gas production—a vital part of the Alaska economy.
Erik Milito, the Director of Upstream and Industry Operations for the American Petroleum Institute, has been actively voicing his opinion that rather than setting aside this area as wilderness, “the U.S. should be leading the development of these resources.”
The ANWR, however, has some of the most diverse wildlife in the arctic, including polar bears, caribou, gray wolves, and muskoxen. The arctic is home to some of the nation’s most exceptional habitats and is under an increasing amount of pressure from climate change, as it is warming much faster than other areas.
Although the White House Council on Environmental Quality supports the development of gas and oil production, it believes that the refuge is not the appropriate place to develop. Republicans and Democrats have been at odds for over 35 years regarding how to appropriately manage ANWR.
While the Department of the Interior has plans to start immediately managing the costal plains under Wilderness designation, only Congress has the power to make this designation permanent. In a video released this past Sunday on youtube, President Obama challenged Congress to do so.
According to Obama, ensuring that ANWR gets designated as Wilderness is important so that “we can make sure this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.”