Washington, DC,
04:27 PM

For Immediate Release

Alaska Native Claims Settlement Improvement Act is a massive public lands giveaway

Today 10 a.m., the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining will hold a legislative hearing on 15 bills, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski's Alaska Native Claims Settlement Improvement Act, S. 1481.

Robert Dewey, vice president of government relations and external affairs, Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement: 

"The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Improvement Act is a massive public lands giveaway. The bill would sell off hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands within the Tongass National Forest and the National Wildlife Refuge System to private profit. Lands that belong to the American people within the biologically sensitive coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would be privatized and opened to oil and gas development. These actions would have significant impacts on the wildlife that rely on old-growth forest and the Arctic Refuge to survive." 


S. 1481, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Improvement Act of 2017 

Three sections of S. 1481 (Section 7, Section 10, and Section 11) would privatize large areas of currently designated federal lands that are part of the Tongass National Forest and national wildlife refuges across the state of Alaska. Sections 5 and 6 would give away wild forest and taxpayer dollars in exchange for logged lands. Even worse, the legislation authorizes the exchange without mandating a review to ensure that it is in the public interest. This bill could lead to the privatization of more than 600,000 acres of public lands in Alaska, including national wildlife refuges, national forests and other wilderness areas in the state.  

The Tongass National Forest -- Americans' Rainforest 

  • The Tongass National Forest encompasses almost 17 million acres of wild forest in southeast Alaska. 

  • It is the largest intact temperate rainforest reserve on the continent.  

  • The low-elevation, large old-growth trees—some more than 800 years old—provide important fish and wildlife habitat.  

  • However, old-growth forest only constitutes 4 percent of the forest and about half of that prime habitat has already been lost to destructive clearcutting.  

  • The forest is home to five species of salmon, brown and black bears, bald eagles, wolves, mountain goats and Sitka black-tailed deer. Migratory birds that come from all over the continent spend the summer nesting and breeding in the Tongass. Off the coast, there are orca and humpback whales, sea lions, seals and sea otters.  

The Importance of the Arctic Refuge 

  • The coastal plain, where drilling would occur, is the biological heart of the refuge. Oil development will irreparably damage this vital landscape. The wilderness and habitat values will be destroyed by an industrial complex, replete with oil spills, leaks and pollution. Pipelines, drill rigs, buildings and other infrastructure accompanied by the noise of industrial development would threaten iconic wildlife and imperil sensitive species that call the refuge home. 

  • The Arctic refuge contains vital nesting habitat for hundreds of species of migratory birds from all 50 states and six continents; the most important onshore denning habitat for threatened polar bears in the United States; spawning streams for Dolly Varden and other valued fish species; and room to roam for caribou, wolves, muskoxen, Dall sheep, Arctic foxes and many other wildlife species. 

  • Most of the Arctic refuge’s coastal plain is designated critical habitat for federally threatened polar bears. Mother polar bears with cubs are increasingly dependent on this area as annual sea ice melts more quickly due to a warming climate. The coastal plain is also the principal calving ground for the nearly 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates hundreds of miles to birth and raise their young in the refuge each year. 

  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower first set aside much of the refuge in 1960. Congress later affirmed and expanded the refuge in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. Now about the size of South Carolina, the Arctic refuge preserves one of the largest intact ecosystems in the world. Approximately 40 percent of the refuge, mostly in the Brooks Range, is designated as wilderness to help permanently protect this treasured landscape. 

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.