Arctic National Wildlife Refuge / USFWS Photo
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of revising its management plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Issues they plan to address include the impact of drilling for oil in the refuge's coastal plain. and whether to designate more of the refuge as wilderness.
Although much of the focus of the hearing was on whether to allow oil and gas development in the coastal plain, Fish and Wildlife Service officials emphasized Tuesday that their aging refuge management plan needs updating regardless of the wilderness question. The last plan, completed in 1988, doesn't address a number of emerging issues at the refuge, including the effects of climate change.Designating the coastal plain as wilderness would make future development unlikely.
The agency also said the old plan failed to take into account a state-federal subsistence management program or the opening to the public of the Dalton Highway, the primitive road that runs along the western edge of the refuge through Interior Alaska to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.
If at the end of the two-year process the agency recommends adding wilderness or wild-and-scenic river designations, it would be up to the interior secretary to decide whether to recommend that Congress proceed with making them.It seems an odd time to reconsider the development question since political support for expanded drilling is questionable at best. I find it difficult to imagine either expanded drilling or wilderness designation making it through Congress in the current political climate. The other questions are a bit more interesting, particularly the need to create a plan for dealing with climate change. As our northernmost refuge, Arctic could stand to be among the hardest hit.
It's also up to Congress to determine how to handle the refuge's disputed coastal plain and whether to allow development there.
There's little precedent for retracting wilderness designations, so once an area achieves such a status and the president signs it into law by, it's all but permanent.