The Latest on America’s Arctic

During last fall's public process for both the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska or Western Arctic, Audubon heavily encouraged comments from the public. Here’s how you came through for the Arctic!

Fall 2023 was busy for Alaska’s Arctic, to say the least. On September 6 the Department of the Interior announced a three-part suite of constructive and historic actions that would strengthen conservation protections and help address climate change in the only Arctic ecosystem in the United States.

The announcement regarded two regions in northern Alaska: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Arctic Refuge) and the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska (NPR–A) or Western Arctic, together known as America’s Arctic.

First, the Department of the Interior announced it was canceling the illegal Trump-issued oil and gas leases on the Coastal Plain of the 19.6 million-acre Arctic Refuge— announcement number one. The second announcement initiated the next steps in the much-needed process of reassessing the environmental impacts of the Refuge’s Trump-era oil and gas leasing program. The Biden administration did this by issuing a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) that better recognizes the conservation needs and cultural distinction of the Refuge, prompting a 60-day comment period.

The third announcement addressed the 23-million-acre NPR–A, the nation’s largest tract of public land. Despite its unfortunate and misleading name, the landscape supports some of the most important avian habitat on the planet and is culturally irreplaceable for numerous communities across northern and western Alaska. The Western Arctic is home to five “Special Areas” (the Utukok River Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon, Colville River, Peard Bay, and Teshekpuk Lake), meaning areas of the Reserve with significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife, or historical or scenic value.

Also on September 6, the Biden administration initiated a new conservation rule that would strengthen protections for the 13 million acres of designated Special Areas and establish a process for creating additional Special Areas within the region, prompting a 90-day comment period. Recently, large oil and gas projects, including the Willow Master Development Plan, have been approved in the region, making the need for further protection timely and extremely important.

Audubon’s Alaska Interim Executive Director, David Krause, and the Audubon Public Lands team have worked tirelessly to educate and brief administration officials about the threats to birds and to urge protections for priority habitats and sacred lands through these policy mechanisms. These efforts have been years in the making, and this advocacy is beginning to pay off for millions of acres of America’s Arctic.

During the public process for both regions, Audubon heavily encouraged comments from the public. Audubon generated 26,408 comments during the Arctic Refuge public process that ran from September 8 to November 17. For the Western Arctic public process, open from September 8 to December 7, Audubon generated 19,675 comments.

Now Audubon’s efforts are focused on delivering a final administrative rule that defines “maximum protection” for the Reserve’s Special Areas. We are also working to develop new ways to better manage and steward this irreplaceable landscape. Stay tuned!

How you can help, right now