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USFWS revised draft CCP for arctic refuge released

Alaska's D.C. delegation firmly opposes plan

Posted: August 14, 2011 - 8:16pm

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases its revised draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge today.

Bruce Woods, the Service’s chief of media relations for the Alaska Region, said this is the regularly scheduled review process for refuges within the state. He said this revision was announced during the first public comment period in April 2010.

“This will give the public another opportunity to comment,” he said.

According to a release, the draft will outline a 15-year management plan for the arctic refuge. It will contain six alternatives for long-term management. These include the continuation of current practices, potential inclusion within the National Wilderness Preservation System and the potential designation of four additional Wild and Scenic Rivers on the refuge.

None of the alternatives would change existing protocols for subsistence harvest.

The Service states the draft plan does not identify a preferred alternative and that all are under active consideration.

In conducting a wilderness review for each geographic area under consideration, the Service addressed factors in maintaining the purposes for which the refuge was established and in determining suitability for inclusion into the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Service also addressed the benefits and impacts of managing each area as wilderness compared to the benefits and impacts of managing the area under an alternate set of goals, objectives and strategies not involving a wilderness designation.

Alaska Communications Manager Tim Woody of the Wilderness Society said he expects the revised plan to formally consider wilderness status for the Arctic Coastal Plan.

State lawmakers, however, don’t agree with the whole process.

“I have said all along spending limited federal dollars on a review of new wilderness designation in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a waste of time and money,” Sen. Mark Begich said in a release. “I am glad the Interior Department did not recommend new wilderness area in their draft plan, and urge Alaskans to speak out over the coming months to ensure the coastal plain of ANWR stays on the table for oil and gas development.”

“The rich energy resources beneath the Arctic Refuge should be developed to help ensure America’s energy and economic security,” Begich said. “Development in ANWR could create thousands of much-needed jobs in Alaska and across the country. I’ll fight every step of the way any effort by federal bureaucrats to close off this enormous source of oil and gas by slapping it with more wilderness designation.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski also had a statement criticizing the plan. She said this is an example of the federal government restricting use of Alaska’s resources.

“Despite claims to the contrary, the Fish and Wildlife Services’ efforts to designate new wilderness areas in Alaska is a violation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The law is clear: under ANILCA, section 1326(b), the administration lacks authority to even conduct wilderness reviews in Alaska without the express consent of Congress,” Murkowski said. “Congress has given no such approval.”

“The coastal plain of ANWR holds valuable oil and natural gas reserves vital to our nation’s economy, which is why Congress designated it for oil exploration more than three decades ago, and included language in ANILCA to ensure no further wilderness designations occur in Alaska,” she said. “Instead of trying to lock up our resources, we should be developing them as part of a balanced energy plan that creates jobs and bolsters our failing economy.”

In a statement to the Empire, Rep. Don Young’s office makes it clear that he also disagrees with the plan. He calls it a waste of time and money to include Wilderness designations in the revised plan. He states Congress “is so strongly opposed and has no intention whatsoever to pas the required legislation.”

The letter states, “While Congressman Young understands that CCP’s are required to be revised every so often, the FWS’s blatant attempt to identify and designate Wilderness is inappropriate. It’s clear in federal statute that Congress, and only Congress can designate Wilderness and/or Wild and Scenic Rivers. The non wilderness portions of ANWR were set aside for multiple use and they should be managed as such.”

The draft plan is on the Arctic Refuge website at arctic.fws.gov/ccp.htm. The public comment period for the plan runs today through Nov. 15.

Public meetings are scheduled, although none are in the Southeast. Public can still comment by emailing to ArcticRefugeCCP@fws.gov, faxing to 907-456-0428 or by mail to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arctic NWR – Sharon Seim, 101 12th Ave, Room. 236, Fairbanks, AK 99701.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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