GET INFORMED

Photo Credit: Richard Spener

Thank you for your interest in learning more about our public wild lands in Alaska. Stop by often to find the latest updates and information on all of the special places we work to protect outlined here. You can also find more information about the Places We Protect here.

ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

The Center for America Progress has released an in-depth analysis that finds the Trump administration's attacks on the Arctic Refuge and Tongass National Forest could release almost 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide — nearly as much pollution as all the world's cars emit in one year. These attacks on protected areas by the Trump administration will exacerbate the climate crisis and should not move forward.

Arctic Refuge drilling advancements and how you can help
The Trump administration finalized its environmental review process with a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Monday August 17. This sets the stage for a potential oil and gas lease sale – something they are trying to execute before President-elect Biden is sworn in.

Breaking News: Announcement of the call for nominations for a lease sale in the Arctic Refuge

There are multiple steps in the process to hold a lease sale for the Arctic Refuge and on November 17, the administration announced the next step moving forward. The call for nominations (NOM) precedes the announcement of a lease sale with the purpose being an opportunity for corporations to identify preferable areas and tracts they would like to see offered in the upcoming lease sale. This makes it imperative we elevate the Refuge as much as we can to support President-Elect Biden's commitment to take day one action to stop the advancement of development in the Refuge.

President-elect Biden has included Arctic Refuge protections as part of his climate plan, the DNC platform and in his unity plan with Senator Sanders (D-VT). We will be working between now and January 20th to challenge and delay any efforts by the Trump administration to advance development in the Arctic Refuge. Most importantly, we need to work to spotlight the Arctic Refuge so that President-Elect Biden feels empowered to fulfill his commitment to take immediate action on day one to reverse these harmful and rushed decisions.

Seismic Exploration Update: A rush to approve harmful activity in the Arctic Refuge

At the same time that they are pursuing their last ditch effort to hold a lease sale, very quietly the Interior Department has also in recent weeks set in motion a process for approving a massive new seismic testing program for nearly a half million acres of the Arctic Refuge coastal plain. The proposed program, separate from the lease sale process, involves hundreds of miles of trails resulting from 90,000-pound seismic vehicles traveling with bulldozer convoys towing a camp for up to 180 workers across fragile coastal plain tundra. It also threatens to displace denning polar bears and should require a lengthy environmental review. But the administration seems poised to fast-track the process anyway in order to get seismic underway before January 20th. There are still legal steps that they have to take to move forward with this damaging proposal, so we will keep you updated, and we are looking at all of our legal options to stop this, on top of ways that President-elect Biden can address this timely issue on Day One.

What can we do right now to engage in the fight and protect the Arctic Refuge?
Spread the word. This is a key moment to make sure we engage all who care. Act now by writing a letter to the editor to support President-elect Biden's commitment to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Writing a letter to the editor (LTE) to your local or regional newspaper is an effective and easy way to reach a large audience with your message. This is an important tool for organizing, especially now!

We have talking points and ideas in sample LTEs at this link. Use as they are, change as desired or craft your own letter.  Also if you are active on social media please share this post on Twitter or on Facebook. You can also share this video from our collaborative Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign that put the squeeze on the oil companies.

What steps can we take to stop the Trump administration?
The most important next step is litigation and we have joined a suit led by the Gwich'in Nation to challenge this decision. There are major deficiencies in the EIS and, in our view, gaping failures to comply with environmental laws including what Congress stipulated in the Tax Act, the longstanding purposes of the Arctic Refuge and much more. In short, we think we have a strong case. But this could take some time to play out and there are many possible scenarios.

Keep pressure on the banks: Goldman Sachs was the first U.S. bank to join more than a dozen major international banks that have adopted policies against financing projects in the Arctic Refuge. Now amazingly since December 2019 JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, CitiBank, and Morgan Stanley have also rejected funding Arctic drilling!

We will now keep up the pressure on the ONE remaining: Bank of America.
Urge Bank of America to not to finance any Arctic Refuge leasing activity. You can take action here.

What’s in the Record of Decision?

  • The administration adopted the most destructive drilling alternative possible and will attempt to lease the entire 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to the oil industry.
  • Their findings acknowledge that there will be severe impacts on natural and cultural resources, indicating that drilling in the Arctic Refuge “could significantly restrict subsistence uses” but that “the significant restriction of subsistence uses is necessary.”
  • The ROD concludes a process that has completely overlooked or ignored obvious impacts to ecosystem and wildlife including failing to estimate how many polar bears will be killed or harmed, understating the loss of caribou habitat; and underestimating climate change impacts, the threat of oil spills, air pollution, the lack of available freshwater resources for oil activity such as ice road construction and many, many others.
  • Bottom line: the ROD tries to paper over the massive deficiencies in the final EIS that government agencies, scientists and Alaska Native communities have identified. The ROD, however, cannot effectively defend the indefensible: it does not change the reality that drilling the Arctic Refuge will have catastrophic impacts on subsistence resources, wildlife, air quality, water and the climate. As a result, the courts or a new presidential administration will have ample opportunity to overturn this reckless and flawed decision.

TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST

The Trump administration has opened 9.3 million acres of protected Tongass land to road-building and clear-cut logging.

The Tongass National Forest is America’s largest national forest, encompassing the majority of the southeast Alaska panhandle.  The region’s residents - 70,000 strong - generally reside in small communities that aren’t accessible by traditional roads.   The region’s economy used to be dominated by logging, but as high profit but unsustainable practices of industrial scale clear cutting have been reduced, the economy of the region has transformed to one centered around tourism and fisheries.  Each year more than 1 million people come to experience glaciers flowing from the mountains into the sea and iconic wildlife that thrives in one of the largest remaining temperate rainforests in the world.

Alaska’s national forests were protected under the 2001 Roadless Rule expressly because forested wildlands persist in Alaska on a scale unknown elsewhere in the country. In addition to harboring great natural beauty and iconic wildlife, scientists believe that retaining the intact roadless areas of the Tongass is a “key element” in sustaining robust salmon runs, and they can also be key to securing a stable climate for our future.

So much hard work was done over the course of the public comment period on the proposed Alaska specific Roadless Rule exemption draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)—400,000 individual comments were submitted; 13 tribes and city governments in SE Alaska, 254 commercial fisherman in SE Alaska, more than 100 elected officials, nearly 200 businesses in Alaska and the lower-48, and 234 scientists told the U.S. Forest Service that they oppose removing Roadless Rule protections. Altogether 96% of all of the comments received were in support of keeping Roadless Rule protections. Alaska Native communities, in particular, felt the 2001 Roadless Rule supported their way of life, cultural practices, subsistence harvest opportunities, economic interests, and honored their history as having occupied Southeast Alaska for time immemorial.

Adam Kolton, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League released a prepared statement saying, "In yet another sweeping attack on an iconic American landscape, the Trump administration removed two-decades old protections for old-growth trees and habitat in the Tongass National Forest. This presidentially directed move, to gut roadless protections for our nation's largest and most biologically rich national forest, is a calamity for our climate, for wildlife and for the outdoor recreation economy of Southeast Alaska."

We will continue to build support for the Roadless Area Conservation Act in both the House and Senate.

ARCTIC OCEAN

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Arctic sea ice coverage was the smallest ever recorded for October 2019 at 32.2 percent below the 1981–2010 average. As our climate warms and with the Arctic warming at twice the rate as the rest of the globe, protecting the Arctic Ocean and keeping fossil fuel development out of it is essential.

In 2015 and 2016, President Obama issued a landmark Executive Order (EO) withdrawing 98% of the Arctic Ocean from future oil drilling. President Trump immediately tried to revoke this withdrawal with his own EO, which we challenged in the courts. Judge Sharon Gleason, a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Alaska, vacated the Trump EO and ruled that a president does have the authority to withdraw acres from development but that a future president does not have the authority to reverse those withdrawals without congressional approval.

In 2020, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation relinquished its 21 leases in the Beaufort Sea, leases purchased from Shell when the oil major ended its own drilling plans in the Arctic Ocean. These leases were some of the last remaining in industry hands, so with this change, only 13 leases (covering about 58,000 acres, down from a peak of more than four million) remain in America's Arctic Ocean.

NATIONAL PETROLEUM RESERVE-ALASKA

In 2019 the Bureau of Land Management started the process to create a new integrated activity plan (IAP) for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. All action alternatives propose opening additional areas in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area to oil and gas leasing and industrial activity, and all eliminate the Colville River Special Area. BLM should instead strengthen protections for these special areas, not undermine or erase them from the map.

The final comment period of the Integrated Activity Plan draft Environmental Impact Statement is now closed. While the League continues to build public support to keep current protections in place, we also worked with Representatives Lowenthal (D-CA), Grijalva (D-AZ) and Huffman (D-CA)—and 45 of their colleagues who sent a letter to BLM in opposition to the administration’s proposed alternatives. You can read their letter here.