DRAFT—January 15, 2008, K.Westra

 

The Wilderness Society ▪ Northern Alaska Environmental Center ▪ REDOIL ▪ Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Government

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 18, 2008

CONTACTS:

Nicole Whittington-Evans, The Wilderness Society, (907) 351-8844, nicolewe@tws.org

Pam Miller, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, (907) 452-5021 ext 24

Dacho Alexander, First Chief, Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribe, (907) 347-4144

Faith Gemmill, REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), (907) 750-0188

Fran Mauer, Retired Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (907) 455-6829

 

Conservation, Native Groups Oppose Proposed Land Swap for Oil Development in Yukon Flats Refuge in Alaska

Groups Blast USFWS for Failing to Protect Wilderness, Native Values

 

Anchorage, AK—A coalition of Alaska native and conservation groups, joined by a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, denounced a proposed land swap that would remove 110,000 acres of critical and irreplaceable wildlife habitat and wilderness from the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to allow oil and gas development on the land. The coalition, responding to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), also sharply criticized USFWS for failing to provide an adequate public comment period for the controversial proposal. The public will have only 45 days to comment on the proposal before USFWS makes a final decision on the land swap.

 

The 11-million-acre Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in eastern interior Alaska encompasses some of the most productive Arctic wildlife habitat in North America. The wetlands, river floodplains, and forested lowlands of the refuge support the highest density of breeding ducks in Alaska, along with three species of salmon and hundreds of other birds, mammals, and fish species. Native Gwich’in and Koyukon Athabascan people have relied on these resources for thousands of years, and subsistence activities continue to define the cultural and social fabric of the eight native villages located in and near the Refuge.

 

In 2004 the USFWS and the Doyon corporation reached an initial agreement to trade 110,000 acres of refuge land plus subsurface title to another 97,000 refuge acres for approximately 150,000 acres owned by Doyon. Doyon is interested in exploring and drilling for oil and gas and would likely seek to acquire additional refuge lands for expanded operations in the future.

 

“The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge constitutes the largest, most biologically productive boreal    forest wetlands in North America,” said Fran Mauer, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist opposed to the land swap proposal. “It has remained until now subject only to the forces of nature. This proposed land swap scheme violates the most fundamental purposes of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. It will destroy the integrity of this vast and important ecosystem, and set the stage for development within other conservation areas in Alaska. If this land swap proceeds, nothing will be safe.”

 

“Oil and gas development are not compatible with the purposes for which the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge was established,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Director of The Wilderness Society’s Alaska Refuge Program. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service itself has acknowledged this in the past. Development poses a threat to water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, subsistence cultures, and the wilderness and recreational values of the refuge and its adjacent public lands.”

 

“Oil and gas development would severely affect everyone who depends on the Yukon River,” stated Dacho Alexander, First Chief of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribe in Fort Yukon. “If there was a spill it could flow downhill in the watershed to the Yukon River and impact the salmon and all other wildlife that depend on the river. It would destroy the renewable resources that support our traditional way of life. Global warming is already changing our lands. Lakes are drying up. Salmon migrations and health are changing. There are increased forest fires. Oil development would add more impacts on top of global warming in the Yukon Flats.”

 

Alaskans  know all too well about the negative consequences of oil and gas development and decisions moving forward without the appropriate environmental studies and safeguards,” said Pamela Miller, Arctic Coordinator of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. “The oil industry’s relentless drive to expand—aided and abetted by an Administration determined to give them whatever they want no matter what the consequences—is what we have seen on the North Slope and what we can expect for Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge if this proposal is allowed to move forward.”

 

Faith Gemmill of REDOIL (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands) noted that “Native communities in the area have opposed this plan for years, and have even gone to the Doyon board to express their opposition. Last year at Doyon’s Annual meeting a voice vote of Doyon Shareholders even voted the land trade down. We have seen the serious consequences not only to the land and the wildlife, but to the health and subsistence livelihood of native people on Alaska’s North Slope. The native people who live in and around the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge cannot afford similar risks to their health and their way of life. This plan is a bad idea, and should not proceed.”

 

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