Concerns voiced over proposed NPR-A regulation changes

New plan would apply for all future BLM lease sales in the reserve

Several conservation entities are speaking out in the ongoing controversy over whether the federal government is putting more emphasis on resource development than environmental protections of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The conservation groups said in a statement released on Nov. 21 that the federal Bureau of Land Management’s newly released draft Integrated Activity Plan threatens the health of Arctic land, water, wildlife and people already suffering the consequences of industrialization and climate change. Their concern is that the proposal opens to oil and gas exploration millions of acres of critical habitat for migratory birds, brown bears, caribou, threatened polar bears, walrus, whales and more. Alaska Natives living in the region have for thousands of years maintained a subsistence lifestyle based on these resources, they said.

“The current IAP was only recently completed, after years of working on a compromise, and yet this administration is determined to see Arctic Alaska only as a place to exploit for industrial profit,” said Ryan Marsh, Arctic program coordinator for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center.

According to Rebecca Noblin, staff attorney at Earthjustice, “the only defensible change to the IAP would be to make it significantly more protective.”

“The plan issued in 2013 is based on a robust body of science and protects high-value wildlife habitat and subsistence resources,” said David Krause, Alaska assistant director for The Wilderness Society. “We will be engaging fully in this process to ensure that the Teshekpuk Lake and Colville Rifer Special Areas are meaningfully protected.”

Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity said proposed changes would do immense harm to Arctic wildlife already under siege from the climate crisis.

“Roads, pipelines and drilling platforms associated with such exploration in the NPR-A “will wreak havoc on imperiled species and our change climate,” she said.

The BLM initiated an environmental impact statement in November 2018 to evaluate a new Integrated Activity Plan for the NPR-A, a plan that once approved would supersede the 2013 NPR-A IAP record of decision and apply for future BLM lease sales in the NPR-A.

The deadline for comment on the new draft IAP online is Jan. 21.

Chad Padgett, state director for the BLM, stated in an introductory letter to the draft IAP/EIS that the BLM will evaluate all comments and address substantive comments in the final IAP/EIS, which is scheduled for release in 2020.

The revised plan includes all lands managed by the BLM in the NPR-A, a total of 22.5 million acres of surface and subsurface estate. Nearly 234,000 additional acres of subsurface estate lie under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act village corporation surface estate, which the IAP/EIS does not make decisions about.

Alternatives that the BLM could choose range from leaving the 2013 NPR-A IAP record of decision intact to making the Teshekpuk Lake Special area available for leasing, with impacts on caribou calving habitat and important bird habitat partially mitigated. The draft document notes that the BLM offered to participate in formal government-to-government consultants with federally recognized tribes in Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk, Nuiqsut, Point Lay, Utqiagvik and Wainwright and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope. The BLM also held consultations with Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and the Kuukpik Corp., which represents Nuiqsut.

Comments on the draft IAP/EIS may be submitted electronically at bit.ly/2LA0Aos, by fax to 907-271-5421, mailed to Stephanie Rice, project manager, BLM Alaska State Office, 222 West 7th Ave., #13, Anchorage, AK, 99513; or hand delivered at the BLM Public Information Center, in the James M. Fitzgerald U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, 222 W. 7th Avenue, Anchorage, or the BLM Public Information Center at 222 University Boulevard, Fairbanks, or at any of the related public meetings.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Ryan Marsh’s name.