The Department of the Interior announced Sunday a revised plan to better manage and sustain the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and designate 12 million acres of the refuge as wilderness.
The proposal would quash the possibility of drilling for oil in the region’s much-contested Coastal Plain. Only Congress can approve the designation but until then the area will be covered under the new protections.
The proposed protected areas include 1.52 million acres of Coastal Plain, 5.85 million acres of the Brooks mountain range and 4.92 million acres of the Porcupine Plateau, according to the Washington Post. The wilderness designation would bar motorized access and development, including development of new roads.
“Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge is an incredible place—pristine, undisturbed. It supports caribou and polar bears, all manner of marine life, countless species of birds and fish, and for centuries it supported many Alaska Native communities,” President Obama said in a White House video. “But it’s very fragile.”
Opponents of the move consider it another example of regulatory excess. Much of Alaska’s untapped petroleum reserves are in protected federal areas, a fight that has been ongoing for decades. “What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), according to the Washington Post. “It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. …But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”