Battle over U.S. Arctic refuge's future heats up
A planned study of possible new wilderness protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has sparked a furor in Alaska, where energy companies have long dreamed of tapping oil reserves beneath its vast coastal plain home to herds of migrating animals.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service effort announced this week is part of a sweeping review of a land-management plan for what is the second-largest national wildlife refuge in the United States.
The agency stresses that its work is just starting and that a formal draft is not expected until next year.
But the oil industry and its political allies regard it as a prelude to an attempt to keep the refuge off-limits to energy production for good by formally declaring its remote coastal tundra as wilderness.
"Alaska will not allow the federal government to lock up more land without a fight," Governor Sean Parnell said this week.
The Alaska Wilderness League, for its part, accuses oil companies of trying to destroy a refuge that represents the only place on Alaska's North Slope that is legislatively closed to development.
"The Arctic Refuge is one of the last true wilderness areas left in the United States -- some places are just too special to sacrifice to oil and gas development," said Cindy Shogan, the league's executive director.
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