Obama Proposes Additional ANWR Wilderness

Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could become even more protected, with another 12.8 million acres designated as wilderness.
anwr wilderness proposal: polar bears

President Obama is proposing that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be declared a wilderness area. (Susanne Miller/USFWS via Flickr)

President Obama is asking Congress to designate more than 12 million acres of land in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as a wilderness area, which would stop any oil production and the associated drilling that comes along with it.

GOP lawmakers have responded angrily to this plan, as they believe it would seriously damage Alaska's economy. Still, Obama has come out saying that he wants to "makes sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations."

The area under dispute? The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, specifically 1.5 million acres on its oil-rich coastal plain. Currently, the Department of the Interior is developing a "comprehensive plan" to protect the fragile area, according to a video released Sunday by the administration. Congress would have to pass a bill to designate the area as wilderness (see "5 Easy Steps to Creating a New Wilderness").

Political authorities in Alaska believe this is a politically motivated move that could threaten the entire economy of the state. New Senator Dan Sullivan says that the plan puts energy security in danger and that the state will "defeat the lawless attempt to designate ANWR as a wilderness, as well as the ultimate goal of making Alaska one big National Park."

More than 7 million acres of the area is currently designated as wilderness, but the Interior Department is requesting that some 12.28 million fall under that designation, including the debated coastal plain.

Not surprisingly, many environmental groups are pleased about the Obama administrations request. The National Resources Defense Council said "it was the best move for the refuge since President Eisenhower established it in 1960."

The area in question is home to caribou, polar bears, gray wolves, muskox, and many bird species . And with recent spikes in oil production in the US overall, John Podesta, counselor to the President, and Mike Boots, the acting chair on Environmental Quality, say that the Arctic Refuge is much "too special" to put at risk of the dangers of oil production.