Biden Locks in Western Arctic Protections

Biden Announces Final Conservation Rule to Protect Millions of Acres of Ecologically Important Lands in America’s Arctic

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Biden administration released a final conservation rule to protect vital landscapes in America’s Arctic. This announcement will provide stronger protections for Special Areas within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska – a welcome and critical step toward recognizing the importance of Alaska’s public lands and waters for protecting communities, biodiversity, and the future of our global climate.

Today’s decision will ensure that 13 million acres of the Reserve’s designated Special Areas – which are integral to local people for food and their ways of life and ecologically important lands in the Western Arctic, including Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay – are more robustly protected. The new conservation rule also establishes a much-needed process for creating or expanding Special Areas within the Reserve. Vast and diverse, the Reserve contains vital habitats for wildlife like polar bears, muskox, millions of migratory birds, and three caribou herds, including the Western Arctic Caribou Herd. 

This announcement comes at a critical time for America’s Arctic, which is warming at four times the rate of other regions, and is under threat from exploitative oil and gas drilling. Organizations from the Arctic Defense Campaign celebrate this announcement from President Biden and shared the following statements: 

“The Arctic is home to valuable biodiversity, economies and communities that must be protected from industry interest,” said Raena Garcia, Senior Fossil Fuel and Lands Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, “We appreciate the action the Department of the Interior has taken to protect the region, but it doesn’t erase the immense and irreversible environmental harm they’ve allowed by approving the carbon-bomb Willow project. To demonstrate that they’re true climate champions, DOI must reverse projects like Willow and end oil and gas drilling on our public lands once and for all.”

“We applaud the Biden Administration for this important step to increase protections for 13 million acres of the Western Arctic to safeguard the irreplaceable ecosystems and wildlife found there. We look forward to partnering with the administration to adopt new measures applicable throughout the Western Arctic to protect it further and our climate from expanded drilling,” said Abigail Dillen, President of Earthjustice.

“This is great news for the western Arctic,” said Vicki Clark, Executive Director with law firm Trustees for Alaska. “We’re grateful to see millions of acres protected and a means for protecting even more. It’s crucial that decisions about the Arctic center on climate and Arctic health while addressing the harmful effects the oil and gas industry has already had in this region. This rule is an important stepping stone toward better protections for the Arctic and all who rely on this region now and for generations to come.

“The Biden administration’s actions for America’s Arctic shows a commitment to conservation that meets the needs of the region’s outsized vastness and ecological value. Our nation’s public lands are an essential part of addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis, and this decision could not come at a more critical time,” said Kristen Miller, Executive Director at Alaska Wilderness League. “Under this rule, the Western Arctic’s Special Areas will start to receive the protections they deserve for the sake of local communities, the region’s biodiversity, and our global climate.” 

“The Biden-Harris administration’s announcement is a critical step towards protecting Special Areas that have been identified as critical for wildlife habitat but it’s not the final step: while this announcement means that 13 million acres of designated Special Areas can remain free from oil and gas development, protections for more Special Areas should be established to prevent threats and impacts from current and future projects. We look forward to working with local communities and the Administration to protect more Special Areas in the Western Arctic,” said Jocelyn Torres, Co-Interim Executive Director and Chief Conservation Officer at the Conservation Lands Foundation.

“It is good news for the nation that the Biden administration is moving to protect globally significant and irreplaceable resources and address the effects of climate change by enhancing protections for the Western Arctic’s designated Special Areas,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, “But it is particularly beneficial to the region’s Indigenous communities that rely on those lands. We are grateful that the administration is moving toward a comprehensive shift toward a more holistic conservation, climate, and community-centric approach to managing public lands.”  

“The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the planet,” said Evergreen Action Senior Policy Lead for Energy Transition, Mattea Mrkusic. “But that hasn’t deterred Big Oil from threatening delicate ecosystems and accelerating the climate crisis further by drilling for oil and gas in Alaska’s Western Arctic. Now is the time to safeguard this precious and biodiverse ecosystem for future generations. We appreciate the Biden administration’s necessary step to strengthen protections for 13 million acres of Special Areas—which are integral to local communities for food and their ways of life—and we look forward to working with them to end oil and gas drilling on public lands once and for all.”  

“Strengthening protections for the Special Areas of the Western Arctic is crucial as climate change rapidly reshapes the region,” said Elisabeth Balster Dabney, Executive Director of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. “Prioritizing the health and sovereignty of Alaska Native communities and safeguarding these ecosystems is essential to shaping more equitable and inclusive management of the Western Arctic.”

“I can’t imagine living in a world without polar bears or other incredible Arctic wildlife and today’s announcement is one step closer to ensuring a continued future for all Arctic wildlife species,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Senior Alaska Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife. “BLM must continue to align public lands management with our national goals to address the climate and biodiversity crises, including in the Reserve.” 

“This rule is critical to protecting the Western Arctic,” said Marshall Johnson, Chief Conservation Officer at National Audubon Society. “As the Arctic rapidly warms, these new regulations will ensure that critical bird habitats like the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area will be resilient in the face of climate change. It is long past time that these lands and waters are given maximum protection.”

“The improved regulations for America’s Arctic announced today ensure the protections of some of the most ecologically important lands in the Western Arctic. Drilling for oil in these landscapes would fracture the fundamental integrity of the reserve’s ecosystem. The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to climate change, which means that additional oil and gas developments would only accelerate climate impacts for wildlife, biodiversity, and for the rest of the planet,” said Steve MacLean, Managing Director U.S. Arctic Program for the World Wildlife Fund. “The Biden Administration’s decision is a big step towards moving us away from a petroleum-fueled future while supporting cultural subsistence traditions of the Indigenous communities who have relied upon and stewarded these lands for millennia.”

“This is incredible. President Biden and Secretary Haaland have just protected the largest acreage of critical land we’ve seen in decades. This huge wild place will be able to remain wild. Even more exciting is the path to protect additional wildlife habitats in the Western Arctic going forward,” said Ellen Montgomery, Public Lands Campaign Director with Environment America Research & Policy Center. This rule moves the administration significantly closer to its goal of protecting 30% of our most important lands and waters by 2030. Youth activists whose voices have elevated the need to protect this area are now more likely to live on a planet with caribou herds, polar bears, belugas and thousands of birds who call this place home.”

“As the Arctic undergoes dramatic climatic changes, this new rule is absolutely necessary to protect birds, caribou, and fish,” said David Krause, interim executive director at Audubon Alaska. “Durable protections of these intact and functional ecosystems are essential for habitat and species adaptation, and the continuation of cultural resources and practices throughout the region.”

“This is a major victory for the communities and wildlife of Arctic Alaska,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous. “Oil and gas drilling in the Western Arctic isn’t just incompatible with the long-term survival of those who rely on these landscapes – it’s incompatible with President Biden’s own climate goals. For more than a year, millions of people called on President Biden and his administration to stop the extraction on these lands – extraction that every year drives us closer to climate catastrophe. Thankfully, the Biden administration listened. The Western Arctic is one of the largest contiguous areas of public lands in the country, and it is on the frontline of climate change. Thanks to President Biden, this new rule puts it on the frontline of climate action.”

Media Contacts: 

Dawnell Smith, communications director, Trustees for Alaska, [email protected], 907-433-2013

Shaye Skiff, Friends of the Earth, [email protected]

Holly Burke, Evergreen Action, [email protected] 

Emily Mesner, communications coordinator, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, [email protected], 907-452-5096

Jacqueline Covey, communications specialist, Defenders of Wildlife, [email protected], 630-427-7164 

Tim Woody, communications manager, The Wilderness Society, [email protected], 907-223-2443

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