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30 million acres of public land in Alaska at risk of being developed or transferred

‘The size and scope is simply staggering.’

 

Bears enjoy the Anan Creek in the Tongass National Forest. The Trump administration hopes to open the Tongass, part of the largest remaining intact temperate rainforest on the planet, to logging and other development.

This article was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

If the Trump administration gets its way, approximately 28.3 million acres of federal land across Alaska could be transferred, sold or opened up to extractive development, according to a new Center for American Progress analysis of the federal government’s land management actions in the state.

The administration’s agenda in Alaska amounts to “one of the most brazen public land liquidation efforts in U.S. history,” the left-leaning think tank writes in its report.

The analysis highlights nine separate actions that put protected public land on the chopping block. Those include President Donald Trump’s well-documented rush to open the 1.5 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling and his directive last month to allow logging and other potential development in more than 9 million acres of Tongass National Forest, the largest remaining intact temperate rainforest on the planet. 

It also includes several lesser-known initiatives, including revoking a pair of land withdrawals, a move that could ultimately open 1.3 million acres to future development; a land exchange that would allow for a road to be built through the 417,000-acre Izembek National Wildlife Refuge; and an ongoing rewrite of an Obama-era management plan that protected more than 13 million acres of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve from oil exploration. 

[RELATED:https://www.hcn.org/articles/wilderness-why-bulldoze-the-izembek-one-of-the-wildest-places-on-earth]

Kate Kelly, CAP’s public lands director and a co-author of the report, said public lands in Alaska are facing a “perfect storm” as the state’s Republican delegation and the Trump administration have partnered to push pro-extraction policies. 

“The size and scope is simply staggering,” said Kelly, who also served as a senior adviser at the Interior Department during the Obama administration. “We are talking about nearly 30 million acres, [an area] approximately the size of Georgia, that are at risk of being sold out or transferred. These are lands that belong to all Americans.”

The Interior Department did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

A caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge watches from the river. The Trump administration is pushing to open ANWR to access the oil reserves thought to reside under the coastal plain.

CAP’s analysis comes as the Trump administration faces backlash over the recent appointment of William Perry Pendley, a conservative lawyer who has spent decades campaigning for the sale and transfer of federal lands, as acting director of the federal Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the Interior Department. In that role he now oversees 245 million acres of public land

[RELATED:https://www.hcn.org/articles/climate-desk-bureau-of-land-management-land-transfer-advocate-and-longtime-agency-combatant-now-leads-blm]

Pendley, who once wrote that the “Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold,” spent his first few weeks on the job trying to repair his image, as E&E News reported. In an op-ed in The Denver Post, he swung back at what he described as “attacks on my character and misrepresentations of my past.”

Pendley’s appointment added to conservationists’ fears that it is only a matter of time before the Trump administration embraces transferring control of federal lands to states, as the Republican platform calls for. The administration maintains that it “adamantly opposes the wholesale sale or transfer of public lands,” an Interior Department spokesperson recently told The Washington Post.

Yet it continues to slash environmental protections and open up millions of additional acres of land and offshore waters to logging, mining and drilling. 

Nowhere is more emblematic of Trump’s exploitation-first mindset for America’s public lands than Alaska, Kelly said. And she sees the administration’s efforts there as “doubly problematic” because of their potential to further drive global climate change. 

“This plan would log America’s largest old-growth forest and at the same time lock our nation into fossil fuel emissions that we can’t afford,” she said.

The United Nations warned in a report last month that deforestation and other unsustainable land use has helped drive atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to their highest levels in human history. And scientists the world over agree that preventing cataclysmic warming requires world governments to rapidly phase out fossil fuels.

Chris D'Angelo is a reporter for HuffPost, based in Washington, D.C. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.