An Arctic Refuge

Trump’s oil development scheme for sale of Alaskan Arctic Wildlife Refuge land to energy companies appears unlikely to survive, due to the auction’s lack of real interest on January 6th. According to Anchorage Daily News, the profit was significantly less than anticipated, selling 11 out of 22 land tracts for a total $14.4 million, instead of the expected $1.8 billion promised by the Interior department. The auction was the product of an Alaskan judge ruling lawful Trump’s plan to lease 1.6 million acres to energy companies, of which 10 billion oil barrels lie, according to North American news source CBC.

Trump’s administration pushed the scheme quickly through for approval, part of what Sarah McMillan, conservationist director of Wild Earth Guardians, describes as “climate denial”. Willful ignorance of the scheme’s likely consequences will manifest in devastating long term ecological and environmental repercussions. 

Perhaps the most stringent opposers to the oil harvesting are the Gwich’in peoples, who commenced their movement in 1988. Native to the North East Alaskan and North Canadian territory and scattered across 15 villages, fear of securing their traditional land’s preservation has heightened in recent months. The indigenous group has voiced concerns that the scheme will endanger herds of Porcupine caribou, which breed in the coastal plain where the leases were sold on Jan 6th

“Our people have been intrinsically tied to this herd for millennia, our village being aligned with the traditional migratory routes” said Dana Tizya-Tramm chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Yukon, in conversation with CBC North. Crucially, the herd’s loss will negatively impact the tribes’ hunting, part their traditional culture and a fundamental food source. Furthermore, the land is also a diverse home to polar and grizzly bears, wolves, and migratory birds, described by McMillan as “one of the planet’s largest remaining ecosystems”.

However, to the relief of many, President-Elect Joe Biden has planted himself in firm strong opposition to the judicially approved decision, following on promises made in July and consolidated further in his November 2020 published plan “For a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice”. Among a range of promised initiatives including contributing $2 trillion across 4 years towards combating climate change, Biden emphasised his drive to protect the Arctic Refuge from energy harvesting. 

Whilst the largely unsuccessful lease auction is a call for present victory, permanence of the Arctic refuge’s preservation will hinge on Joe Biden’s willingness to act decisively on his promises following his upcoming inauguration.

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Laura Gooding

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June 2022
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