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Rural Alaska

Trump administration moves to open millions of acres to potential mining in Western Alaska

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: December 8, 2020
  • Published December 8, 2020

In another late-stage move, the Trump administration on Friday released a final report that could open millions of acres of wilderness in rural Alaska to mining.

The Bureau of Land Management’s final environmental report proposes to update resource management plans for 13.5 million acres it oversees in the state’s western and Interior regions, including lands south of the central Yukon watershed and west of Denali National Park and Preserve.

“We’ve worked hard to develop a plan that strikes a balance between the protection of critical subsistence resources, development of local resources, and conservation of important fish and wildlife habitat,” Chad Padgett, Alaska director for the agency, said in a statement on Friday.

The agency has proposed making mining an option on 13.4 million acres, nearly all the land under consideration in the Bering Sea/Western Interior planning area. That’s up from the current 8.7 million acres, established in plans developed in the 1980s.

Several Alaska tribes have protested the proposal, expressing concern that mining would be an optional activity for the first time on lands near the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

The agency has said that only about 564,000 acres has “medium-to-high” potential for mining, and that mining would not occur without project-specific state and federal environmental permitting reviews and limits.

The agency expects to finalize the plan in early January. It did not say whether that decision would arrive before Jan. 20, when Trump leaves office.

In recent days, the Trump administration has announced the federal government’s first-ever oil and gas lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and advanced a seismic proposal to explore for oil in the refuge, steps toward development that opponents have labeled last-minute and rushed.

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