In a win for wild lands and wildlife, President Joe Biden recently moved to protect more than 10 million acres of Alaska’s North Slope from oil development. The action permanently bans drilling across large swaths of this region.
In a separate move, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland also canceled drilling leases, which were issued under the Trump administration, inside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
On the other end of the spectrum, some environmentalists said the new protections were not enough to erase the administration’s March approval of the controversial ConocoPhillips Willow project, which is predicted to produce 576 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years.
The Arctic Refuge is also a traditional territory for the Gwich’in, Athabaskan, and Iñupiat people. The Gwich’in call the refuge’s coastal plain “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins” and rely on its caribou herd for clothing and food, as well as to maintain a spiritual connection to the land, according to the environmental group Protect the Arctic.
By and large, environmentalists praised the administration’s recent actions.
“Conservation is a very long game and takes decades,” Chris Wood, president of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, told The Washington Post. “It’s rare to have these big-stroke opportunities. So it’s terrific and heartening to see the administration demonstrate they have a bit of a bold streak when it comes to protecting our lands and waters.”
Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, told AP News, “It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of today’s announcements for Arctic conservation. Once again, the Arctic Refuge is free of oil leases. Our climate is a bit safer and there is renewed hope for permanently protecting one of the last great wild landscapes in America.”
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