Officials criticize federal land plan

FAIRBANKS — State officials and leaders are criticizing the federal government’s plan to open one-quarter of the land it manages in eastern Alaska to mining and oil development, saying it restricts development in the state.

The Bureau of Land Management’s plan released in July designates 1.7 million acres for possible resource extraction, while recommending the other 4.8 acres of federal land remain closed to mining. It is scheduled to take effect after a 30-day appeal period, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The plan also designates about 1 million acres as areas of critical environmental concern. It keeps both the White Mountains National Recreation Area and the Steese National Conservation Area closed to mining and oil drilling. It also leaves development restrictions on the Birch Creek, Beaver Creek and Fortymile Wild and Scenic River corridors.

The BLM plan is different from a draft version in 2012, which recommended a majority of the land be used for resource development.

Elizabeth Bluemink, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said staff members are still reviewing the final plan but there are some concerns.

The Department of Natural Resources is concerned about “future impacts to mining and other land uses due to the restrictions and withdrawals identified in the plan,” Bluemink said in an email. “We also are disappointed that the plan was released for public review during the busy summer months.”

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski also has voiced opposition to the plan, saying it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The law says the executive branch of government cannot withdraw more land in Alaska from development without Congressional action.

“BLM is clearly attempting to restrict economic opportunity in our eastern Interior region, and seeking to effectively withdraw over 1 million additional acres of land through the use of a wilderness derivative that violates ANILCA,” Lisa Murkowski said in a written statement last week.

Support for the federal plan has largely come from tribal governments and conservationists.

Representatives from the Chalkyitsik Village Council and the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwichin Tribal Government of Fort Yukon as well as the Tanana Chiefs Conference tribal consortium said last week that the plan has come a long way from a previous version and shows major improvements in areas that were closed to development.

“They were going to open up an area that they knew very little about. We would say there are spawning streams and they’d say, no there’s not,” said Victor Joseph, the president of Tanana Chiefs Conference.

The complete plan marks the end of an administrative process that began with public meetings in 2008.

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