The Biden administration released a new Record of Decision for the Integrated Activity Plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska today, reinstating protections that were pulled back by the Trump administration. That 2020 Trump plan would have dramatically expanded oil and gas leasing, along with subsequent industrialization and pollution, in the western Arctic.
“While we are grateful to the Biden administration for appropriately abandoning the reckless 2020 plan for the Reserve, the Western Arctic remains vulnerable to oil exploitation,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Alaska Program. “We need a commitment to climate solutions and a way forward that protects the remote, fragile wildlife habitat of the Reserve.”
Federal law requires the Bureau of Land Management to protect the incredible fish and wildlife resources of the Reserve while also implementing an oil and gas leasing program. The current management plan for the area, known as an Integrated Activity Plan (IAP), balances these dual goals by permitting oil and gas development on over 11 million acres — a little over half of the Reserve — while restricting development in many of the most important areas for wildlife.
Today’s action restores protections from the previous 2013 plan, including for designated special areas, like the Colville River area and Teshekpuk Lake. This region — one of the largest wetlands complexes in the circumpolar Arctic — provides habitat for a multitude of birds and wildlife, including up to 100,000 molting geese of several species, over half a million shorebirds, high densities of loons and eiders, denning polar bears, and tens of thousands of caribou in the Teshekpuk Caribou Herd. It is vital for wildlife and globally significant to biodiversity.
Defenders of Wildlife and other groups were represented by Trustees for Alaska in several lawsuits filed over the 2020 plan, charging the Interior Department with violating multiple laws.