Alaska’s Bering Sea-Interior Tribal Commission Applauds the Bureau of Land Management’s Recommendation to Maintain D-1 Protections Across Ancestral Lands In Alaska

June 28,2024 – Fairbanks, Alaska

Today the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act 17(d)(1) Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), concluding a lengthy process and announcing a preferred alternative that recommends the Secretary of the Interior retain protections across the subject 28 million acres across Alaska. These D-1 lands include BLM-managed lands in five BLM planning areas: Kobuk-Seward, Bering Sea-Western Interior, Bay, East Alaska, and Ring of Fire, which together contain critical salmon-producing watersheds, caribou calving grounds, tundra landscapes, coastal estuaries, moose habitat, and marshes important to migratory birds. These lands are important hunting, fishing, and gathering grounds for more than 100 Indigenous communities. The Bering Sea-Interior Tribal Commission applauds the BLM for responding to the unprecedented and near-unanimous testimony by the people and Tribal communities most impacted by this decision.

During the EIS process, 19 public hearings were held, offering an opportunity for people to voice their views about whether the D-1 protections should be maintained, modified or lifted. In all the public hearings on the Draft EIS, there was near-unanimous testimony by in-person and online attendees asking BLM to retain the D-1 protections, which prevent different forms of extractive development. Additionally, over 400,000 written comments were received by BLM with over 98% of those comments favoring retention of all the protections. Over half of the 229 Alaska Tribes wrote letters to BLM asking for retention of all D-1 protections, as did 5 Alaska Resource Advisory Councils and 4 Alaska Native Regional Corporations.

Public hearing participants from communities living closest with these D-1 lands, shared stories detailing a litany of current severe stresses and impacts from climate change including declining caribou herd populations, a five-year salmon crash on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers in which communities have been prohibited from fishing, the first Typhoon in Alaska, longer periods of ice-free seas, warming river temperatures, and rising ocean levels that are impacting salmon spawning. With these existing stresses, community members testified that adding the stress of extractive development—that would be allowed by lifting the D-1 protections—would cause grave impacts to the customary and traditional ways of life of the Tribal communities living closest with these lands.

“These lands currently sustain our communities and have supported our people for generations. It is our obligation to do what is in our power to protect our traditional lands and way of life for our children, grandchildren, and those still to come.” Eugene Paul, Chairman of the Bering Sea Interior Tribal Commission.

“Once our lands are scarred and our waters damaged, they will never be the same. We are calling on the Bureau of Land Management to honor our culture and traditions and protect these lands just as we have always done,” added Frank Katchatag, Vice Chair, Bering Sea Interior Tribal Commission.