FWS to study coastal plain, ANWR areas for wilderness status

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 28 -- Reviews of the coastal plain and two other study areas within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for possible federal wilderness designation will begin now that initial public comments have been gathered for updating ANWR’s 1988 comprehensive conservation plan, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said on Sept. 27.

The three areas comprise almost all of ANWR’s acreage that is not already wilderness, according to FWS’s Region 7 office in Anchorage. The coastal plain is believed to have substantial petroleum resources but is presently off-limits for leasing, development, or any other oil and gas activity. FWS expects to complete the reviews by February 2011.

US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) criticized the move, warning the US Department of the Interior agency against trampling a “no more” promise made to the state under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. “This is a blatant political move by the [Obama] administration and clearly violates the promise of no more administrative wilderness designations in Alaska,” she said on Sept. 28.

Murkowski, who is ranking minority member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Appropriations Committee, said she would work to cut off funding for what she said was an unauthorized wilderness review.

Environmental and conservation organizations applauded the agency’s announcement. “For decades, the oil industry has sought to destroy this unique wilderness refuge, despite the fact that it represents the only place on Alaska’s North Slope that is legislatively closed to development,” Alaska Wilderness League Executive Director Cindy Shogun said on Sept. 28.

FWS said its decision to review near all nonwilderness ANWR land, including the coastal plain, for possible inclusion in the federal wilderness system was a response to many public comments it received. Land found suitable for wilderness recommendation, if any, will be identified and vetted through extensive public consultation and review as part of the comprehensive conservation plan revision process, it said.

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