President Obama today sent letters to Congressional leaders formally requesting wilderness protection for parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including the coastal plain.
The letters follow through on a plan the White House announced in late January, enraging Alaska’s governor and congressional delegation, who want the area opened to oil exploration.
Obama’s action today changes nothing on the ground. Only Congress can declare an area “wilderness,” resulting in the highest level of resource protection.
Despite decades of pressure from environmentalists, Congress has refused to confer wilderness status on the coastal plain of the refuge, and the president’s request is unlikely to change that.
The Fish and Wildlife Service says that unless Congress acts, it will continue the current management regime for the coastal plain, known as “minimal management.”