Alaska's North Slope offers some of the nation's most inspiring landscapes, but the region is also a rich and largely untapped oil and gas resource. Decisions over how such lands should be managed will be shaped in part by the Interior Department's new policy on wild lands management. Photo courtesy of USGS.
The first major debate over the Interior Department's new wild lands policy could center on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), where the Bureau of Land Management is working to develop a first-ever comprehensive land management plan for the 23.5-million-acre reserve on the state's oil- and gas-rich North Slope.
The policy, set forth in a Dec. 22, 2010, secretarial order from Ken Salazar, has drawn scorn from Republican lawmakers who argue the Obama administration's public lands policies have sharply reduced domestic oil and natural gas production, including in NPR-A and the nearby Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Nevertheless, Alaska's wild lands rank among the highest priorities for environmental groups seeking to pre-empt a drilling flurry by setting aside sizeable new acreage in both NPR-A and ANWR, which remains a primary target of pro-drilling lawmakers in both Alaska and Washington, D.C.
Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers last month marked the 50th anniversary of ANWR's designation as a wildlife refuge by reiterating their wishes to designate as much as 1.5 million acres of the refuge as wilderness.