Leak: More Land To Set Aside in Alaska ?

By Libby Casey

An Obama Administration internal report lists Bristol Bay and Teshekpuk Lake in Alaska as places potentially worthy of federal protection.  A draft document leaked from the Interior Department lists 17 locations throughout the country that might be deserving of protection.  

The two Alaska areas are both controversial.  Bristol Bay is the site of the debate over the Pebble Mine project, and Teshekpuk Lake in the western Arctic has been at the heart of battles over oil and gas development.  Both are prized by conservationists for their wildlife habitat.

The internal Interior Department report says the Alaska locations are “worthy of protection.”  However it also notes that they are IN-eligible for Monument Designation, and are NOT likely to receive LEGISLATIVE protection in the near term.

Alaska Representative Don Young and other Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee are condemning the leaked report.

But the Interior Department says the list was merely brainstorming, and does NOT express any commitment.

Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff  says Secretary Ken Salazar believes it’s important for the Department to serve as stewards of the places most important to Americans.

For that reason he has asked Dept of Interior bureaus to think about what areas might be worth considering for further review for possible special management or Congressional designation.  The preliminary internal discussion draft reflects some brainstorming discussions with BLM, but no decisions have been made in which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration.

Barkoff says Salazar believes local opinions and input are important when making decisions about conservation plans.  But Congressman Young says this is an “underhanded tactic” by the Obama Administration.  Young says he doesn’t necessarily blame Secretary Salazar, but thinks environmental groups are trying to wield influence at Interior.

This administration is playing games now.  I don’t know whether… this is certainly not Zolar’s (Salazar’s), this is coming from interest groups that are trying to take and convince him Alaska has to be protected.  If we’re any more protected, we might as well be in a glass cage with bars around it and not be able to get out any day of the year.

Young dismissed the Interior Department’s response that the report was merely brainstorming.  He says it’s a sign they’re trying to impede the Congressional process.  The Interior Department says that’s not the case.


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