Photo: Michael Cameron, NOAA


Reversal on Arctic Ocean Protections Puts Vital Arctic Marine Areas at Risk

Today, the Trump Administration directed the Department of Interior to walk back protections to vital marine areas in the U.S. Arctic Ocean.


APRIL 28, 2017


Rebecca Sentner, Communications Manager,, (907) 276-7034
Susan Culliney, Policy Director,

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, the Trump Administration directed the Department of Interior to walk back protections to vital marine areas in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. As part of an Executive Order on expanding offshore energy development, Trump called for reopening the recently completed Outer Continental Shelf 2017-2022 Five Year Plan to reconsider Arctic leasing, while also directing a review of Arctic-specific drilling guidelines. Trump also indicated that he had repealed President Obama’s decisions to indefinitely withdraw acres from leasing in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Bering Seas of the U.S. Arctic Ocean. These actions affect the wildlife that inhabit several exceptional ecologically rich areas in the U.S. Arctic.

Last November, the Department of Interior finalized a Five Year Leasing Program and scheduled no Arctic lease sales for the duration of 2017-2022, effectively pausing new Arctic offshore leases for the next five years. In December 2016, President Obama used authority granted under Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to indefinitely withdraw 115 million acres in the Arctic Ocean from oil and gas leasing. President Obama had previously used the 12(a) authority in January 2015 to withdraw areas of the Chukchi, including Hanna Shoal, important habitat for Pacific walruses, and a whale migration corridor along the Chukchi coastline. Combined, these Obama actions had left 2.8 million acres in the nearshore Beaufort Sea potentially available for leasing under future agency plans. A separate Obama withdrawal on December 9, 2016 had also designated a portion of the Bering Sea as a climate resiliency area.

“The science justifying protecting the Arctic marine environment remains as real today as it was during the previous administration’s planning process and withdrawal decisions,” said Susan Culliney, Policy Director for Audubon Alaska. “The Trump Administration has revealed a fundamental lack of understanding on responsible Arctic management. Undoing protections, repealing Arctic drilling standards, plus the stark reality that we have zero response capacity for an Arctic oil spill, all adds up to a disaster waiting to happen.”

“The Arctic Ocean provides necessary habitat for seabirds and marine mammals. Wildlife hotspots like Hanna Shoal and Smith Bay form the backbone to the Arctic marine ecosystem, and the science strongly supports their ongoing protection.” said Melanie Smith, Director of Conservation Science for Audubon Alaska. “This region is already experiencing dramatic reductions in sea ice and increased temperatures. In conducting his review, the Secretary should take a hard look at the scientific rationale for the withdrawals and for keeping the Arctic out of the Five Year Plan.”

The President’s direction to re-open the Five Year Plan will likely instigate another lengthy administrative process. President Trump’s move to undo his predecessor’s 12(a) withdrawals tests the boundaries of his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act; the legality of his Executive Order is a question of first impression that will likely be resolved by the courts.


Since 1977, Audubon Alaska's mission is to conserve the spectacular natural ecosystems of the state, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats, for the benefit and enjoyment of current and future generations. Audubon Alaska uses science to identify conservation priorities and support conservation actions and policies, with an emphasis on public lands and waters. Audubon Alaska is a state office of the National Audubon Society.

Now in its second century, the National Audubon Society is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Our national network of community-based nature centers and chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of areas sustaining important bird populations, engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds in conservation. 

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