Today, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the potential effects of reversing protections for what are known in Alaska as D-1 lands. Back in June, this is what the Wild Salmon Center said about the opportunity to keep the lands protected:
Known as “D-1” lands, these acres have been considered off-limits to mineral, oil, and gas extraction since the passage of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Alaska’s BLM-managed D-1 lands (50.1 million acres in total) cover roughly 13 percent of the state. These large swaths of unfragmented habitat represent some of the nation’s largest remaining intact ecosystems, from high alpine tundra to the pristine estuaries and wetlands in places like Bristol Bay, home to the world’s most abundant wild sockeye runs.
These landscapes support migratory birds and roving herds of caribou, while their undisturbed watersheds deliver the cold, clean water that wild fish need to weather accelerating climate impacts. For Alaska Native communities that rely on subsistence fishing and hunting, D-1 lands are critical to supporting food security and maintaining a way of life that has endured for millennia.
“So far, the D-1 protection still remains in place,” says Wild Salmon Center Alaska Program Director Emily Anderson. “And this protection is arguably more important than ever, given the pressures of climate change on Alaska’s natural systems, fish and wildlife populations, and human communities.”
BLM’s analysis has received praise from several Alaska conservation., tribal and sport fishing groups. Here’s some reaction from in a joint press conference:
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA—SalmonState, Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition, Norton Bay Watershed Council, Brooks Range Council, Wild Salmon Center, Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge and United Tribes of Bristol Bay applaud the Bureau of Land Management for today’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the impact that eliminating long-standing protections for 28 million acres of “D-1” lands in Alaska would have on communities, renewable resource-based businesses, and fish and wildlife.
“Alaska’s D-1 lands are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prioritize climate resilience and biodiversity on some of the most pristine and productive lands and waters left in the country,” said SalmonState’s BLM Project Leader Rachel James. “They are a massive carbon sink, support incredible fish and wildlife, and have been protected for more than 50 years — but once those protections are lifted, they’re gone for good. With today’s draft environmental impact statement, President Biden and Secretary Haaland demonstrate a 21st century approach to conservation — one that prioritizes communities and food security, and that makes clear clean water, land, air and intact ecosystems are invaluable natural resources.”
“The people and cultures of Bristol Bay are directly tied to clean water and intact habitat. Without it, the natural resources we depend on — salmon, berries, moose, caribou — would not be available to Tribal members throughout the region,” said United Tribes of Bristol Bay Executive Director Alannah Hurley. “Protecting these lands must be the highest priority to ensure not only the future of these resources, but the future of our People and their ways of life.”
“The true measure of our society lies in how we honor and preserve the ways of life that have sustained this land for generations. Protecting our D-1 lands is a historic opportunity to do just that,” said Sophie Swope, Executive Director of the Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition. “The D-1 lands around the Kuskokwim River are essential to our ability to practice our traditional ways of life. Tribes along the Kuskokwim River are already fighting the enormous threat of the proposed Donlin gold mine, and with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act only turning 52 this year, this is not the generation to be asking to open these protected lands.”
“Every year, tens of thousands of people from around Alaska, America and the world travel to Bristol Bay to experience wild salmon runs and fishing unparalleled anywhere else on the planet,” said Brian Kraft, owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge in Bristol Bay. “Bristol Bay’s D-1 lands are critical habitat in a highly interconnected ecosystem. It’s vital that the D-1 protections on over 1 million acres of these lands remain in place — not only for the future of my business and for sportsmen and women across the nation, but to ensure Bristol Bay’s record-breaking wild salmon runs continue for generations into the future.”
“These 28 million acres represent some of the largest intact landscapes left in the country,” said Emily Murray, from Elim, Vice President of the Norton Bay Watershed Council. “The Seward Peninsula and Alaska are experiencing one of the quickest rates of climate change in the United States. These lands’ migratory connectivity and the natural climate refugia they provide are essential to buffer critical resources against rapidly changing conditions, so that communities can continue to practice traditional ways of life. With this announcement, President Biden and Secretary Haaland are prioritizing not only climate resilience, but Indigenous food security, biodiversity, community needs and the requests of Alaskans and Americans.”
“The D-1 lands of the Brooks Range are essential to the wilderness, clean water, fish, and migrating caribou that America’s northernmost mountain range is known for,” said John Gaedeke, Chairman of the Brooks Range Council. “These lands and waters make possible a way of life that has vanished in so many other parts of the world. Today’s welcome announcement gives communities, clean water, and food security equal weight to other natural resource values.”
D-1 lands under consideration in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement include critical habitat to several of the state’s largest caribou herds, including the Western Arctic Caribou Herd; important subsistence hunting and fishing lands along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in western and interior Alaska; vital salmon spawning grounds in Bristol Bay, home to the largest sockeye salmon run on the planet; parts of the Chilkat River Valley in Southeast Alaska, home to the largest gathering of bald eagles in North America; and more.
These 28 million acres have been protected from industrial development for 50 years, beginning under Section 17(D)(1) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Trump Administration tried to revoke protections and open these public lands up for private industrialization. That attempt was legally flawed. When it came into office, one of the Biden Administration’s first actions was pausing those orders to examine the impacts of the opening of these lands to industrial development.
Alaska’s D-1 lands are home to more than 100 Alaska Native communities. In November, 78 federally recognized tribes sent a letter to Secretary Haaland requesting that protections stay in place.
A 60-day comment period on the BLM’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement begins December 15.
Here is a map of D-1 lands in Alaska.
Images available upon request to email@example.com.
SalmonState works to keep Alaska a place where wild salmon and the people whose lives are interconnected with them continue to thrive.
Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition works to defend the Kuskokwim River from the threat of the proposed Donlin gold mine.
Norton Bay Watershed Council seeks to protect and restore tribal interest in water quantity, quality and rights in the Norton Sound, Alaska watershed.
Brooks Range Council is a coalition of stakeholders of diverse backgrounds formed to defend the Brooks Range from the proposed Ambler Road.
Brian Kraft is owner and operator of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge, a full service luxury fishing lodge located in the heart of southwestern Alaska.
United Tribes of Bristol Bay is a tribal consortium working to protect the traditional Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq ways of life in Southwest Alaska that depend on the pristine Bristol Bay Watershed and all it sustains.