FAIRBANKS -- Alaska state leaders oppose a federal plan to update the conservation efforts for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday said it will update the 22-year-old plan, which could include more wilderness protection. If the plan recommends designating more wilderness for the refuge, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar could forward that advice to Congress.
Gov. Sean Parnell and all three members of Alaska's congressional delegation oppose the plan, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. "The oil and gas, wilderness and wildlife values of the coastal plain have already been studied, and this study previously has been submitted to Congress," Parnell said in a statement. "It is a mistake for the federal government to initiate yet another planning process in ANWR, the most promising unexplored petroleum region in North America."
Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Alaska already leads the nation in the amount of protected land. She said in a statement that it's possible to tap the refuge's vast oil and gas reserves without disturbing wildlife.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said he plans to fight any effort to block development of the estimated 11 billion barrels of oil and natural gas under ANWR.
A wilderness designation would prohibit such development.
In its announcement, the federal agency noted that it won't address whether or not the refuge coastal plain should be open for oil and gas development since Congress decides that.
But fish and wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods said Thursday that the agency might recommend the coastal plain be designated as wilderness.
The agency has scheduled public meetings to discuss issues and future goals for the refuge. The meetings are planned for April and May in Anchorage, Arctic Village, Fairbanks, Fort Yukon, Kaktovik, and Venetie.