Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Alaska Public Lands Decision Has Big Implications for Native Communities
Press Release

RELEASE: Alaska Public Lands Decision Has Big Implications for Native Communities

Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress highlights a pending decision by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland that could protect a massive area of public lands in Alaska. Known as “D-1 lands,” this area is critical for Alaska Native subsistence and for species facing the brunt of climate change and habitat loss.

The 28-million-acre area is about 37 times the size of Yosemite National Park and would be one of the Biden administration’s biggest wins for conservation and Indigenous rights, the report says. Well more than half of the federally recognized Tribes in Alaska have called on the Biden administration to retain protections for these lands, which the Trump administration attempted to strip in January 2021.

These public lands encompass about 6,700 miles of rivers and streams that support fish migrating from the ocean—including five varieties of Pacific salmon, among other species. Nearly 15 million acres of the lands under review also fall within the range of the Western Arctic caribou herd, one of the largest caribou herds on the planet. 

“This issue has flown below the radar, but it could be one of the most important conservation and Indigenous rights decisions of the decade,” said Drew McConville, senior fellow at CAP and co-author of the report.

“The Biden administration has a chance to protect millions of acres of at-risk lands and honor calls from Alaska Native Tribes, whose homelands and food security are threatened by orders signed during the Trump administration,” McConville said. “These lands and waterways sustain subsistence traditions that have survived for thousands of years, and they offer a vital buffer against the climate impacts taking a toll today on Alaska’s communities, wildlife, and harvests.”

About 80 percent of Alaska Native villages (183 total) and more than half a million people live within 50 miles of the Bureau of Land Management lands under evaluation. Most of these lands are designated by the federal government as areas where rural community residents have priority to hunt and fish for subsistence.

The report highlights three different regions, and three Alaska Native villages, to illustrate at regional and community levels what’s at stake in the upcoming decision:

  • In southwestern Alaska, home to the village of Igiugig, the Bristol Bay watershed hosts the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.
  • The intact Yukon River watershed of western interior Alaska provides quality habitat for multiple species—including important salmon runs—and contains ancestral lands of the Holy Cross Tribe, where members and other communities rely on subsistence harvesting.
  • Above the Arctic Circle, along the Chukchi Sea, the Northwest Arctic supports one of the world’s largest caribou herds and other wildlife critical to the subsistence practices of the village of Buckland.

CAP also just released a video featuring Igiugig Tribal citizen Tess Hostetter, who traveled to Washington, D.C., this spring to advocate for the conservation of the at-risk D-1 public lands.

Read the report:A Below-the-Radar Public Lands Decision With Big Implications for Alaska Native Communities” by Drew McConville and Alia Hidayat

Watch the video:A Day in the Life of Conservation Advocate Tess Hostetter

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at [email protected].

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