Sen. Sullivan Lashes Out At Refuge Management He Calls Illegal

Pond on ANWR coastal plain. (Photo: USFWS)
Pond on ANWR coastal plain. (Photo: USFWS)

In Congress, they call it “questioning witnesses” but it can sound a lot like verbal pummeling, as it did when Sullivan had his few minutes.

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“How can the president of the United States, a couple of months ago, say he’s going to submit a bill to make the 1002 area wilderness — which is fine. He has a right to do that. It’s got to be approved here (in Congress). It won’t go anywhere. – but then in the meantime say I’m going to quote ‘manage the 1002 area for wilderness anyways.’?” Sullivan asked Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “That’s what he said. On Air Force 1! To big fanfare!”

(President Obama’s video statement from Air Force 1 in January doesn’t use those words, but he talked about “designating” the coastal plain for “preservation.”)

Sullivan’s question includes an assertion has been making since January, after President Obama announced he was going to ask Congress to designate new wilderness areas in the Arctic Refuge. Sullivan alleges the Obama administration also changed how the area would be managed in the meantime. Sullivan says the coastal plain of the refuge – known as the 1002 area –  is being managed as wilderness, the category of highest protection, that only Congress can grant. For Sullivan, it’s another case of the president overstepping his authority.

“How can he manage the 1002 area for wilderness, when you don’t have the authority to do that? Can you explain that to me? This is a huge issue for my state,” Sullivan said, gaining energy as he continued. “And I think you’re violating the law. I think the president is violating the law. How do you do that?”

Ashe at times attempted to answer a few times but the questions kept coming. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., interrupted Sullivan to object to the inquiry style, but Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., overruled her and gave Sullivan more time.

The Fish and Wildlife Service insists it hasn’t changed its management on the coastal plain of the Refuge, an area within the South Carolina-sized federal property, in the upper right corner of the state, that Alaskan political leaders have been trying to open to oil and gas exploration for decades.

“It’s managed in an administration zoning category that we call ‘minimal management,” says Brian Glaspell, the manager of the Arctic Refuge. He says the zoning regime has remained the same since 1988.

“The wilderness recommendations of the Arctic Refuge don’t change how we currently manage any of the recommended areas, including the coastal plain,” he said.

As for how “minimal management” differs from wilderness management, Glaspell acknowledges the disparities are administrative, with little difference on the ground. For example: imagine scientists want to put a weather monitoring station in a refuge. If it’s a designated wilderness area, Glaspell says they have to go through a specific analysis to determine if the weather station is necessary for proper management of the area.

“It’s a fairly onerous process to go through that analysis and documentation,” he said. “In minimal management, though we similarly strive to maintain the natural conditions of the area, there is no requirement to conduct that kind of analysis.”

Sullivan’s spokesman says the service speaks out of both sides of its mouth. He points out that at the hearing, the director of the agency said they manage the 1002 area “to protect wilderness value.”

Also at the hearing, Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, raised an issue sure to jerk some chains in Alaska. He sponsored a bill that would ban leg-hold traps and other body-gripping traps from all National Wildlife Refuges. Booker brought big photos mounted on poster board to the hearing.

“Last month in Missouri on public land, a mountain lion .. paw was found torn in one of these traps. They found nothing but the torn paw of a mountain lion,” he said.

Booker also showed a photo of a dead beagle in a trap. He says her named was Bella.

Trapping is allowed in all 16 of Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges. Proposals to ban them surface frequently in Congress.

Four decades ago, Alaska Congressman Don Young famously stuck his hand in a leg-hold trap at a hearing, in an attempt to demonstrate that they aren’t inhumane.