Tribes write in a letter that these lands are critical to subsistence way of life
Seventy-eight Alaska Tribes wrote a letter urging the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to protect dispersed and intact ecosystems across the state, known as the “D-1” lands. The BLM is soon expected to release its Draft D-1 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which will include alternatives that determine whether different forms of mining can occur on nearly 28 million acres in Alaska.
“These lands are where our fathers, grandfathers, and ancestors gathered, hunted, and fished,” said Eugene Paul, Chairman of the Bering Sea Interior Tribal Commission. “It is our obligation to do what is in our power to protect these traditional lands for our children, grandchildren, and those still to come.”
D-1 lands in this EIS include BLM-managed lands in five planning areas: Kobuk-Seward, Bering Sea-Western Interior, Bay, East Alaska, and Ring of Fire – which together contain critical watersheds with highly productive salmon streams, caribou calving grounds, tundra landscapes, coastal estuaries, moose habitat, and marshes important to migratory birds. The lands are also important hunting, fishing, and gathering grounds for more than 100 Indigenous Alaska communities. Impacts related to climate change are affecting communities’ ways-of-life and safeguarding critical D-1 lands and watersheds will help mitigate these impacts.
The letter, which was sent to the BLM on October 19, 2023 states,
“We believe it is in the public interest to protect our Way-of-Life and retain the D-1 orders. Alaska is at the forefront of climate change and widespread impacts are already occurring including melting permafrost, coastal erosion, increasing air and water temperatures and the habitat displacement of fish and wildlife populations across subarctic and arctic environments.”
D-1 public land orders can only be lifted by the Secretary of the Interior if recommended in a BLM Resource Management Plan or an EIS. Since 2005, BLM has finalized five management plans across the landscape that have recommended lifting all D-1 protections from BLM-managed lands in its planning areas. Most of those plans were finalized decades ago and unfortunately did not consider impacts from climate change nor the impacts to Indigenous communities. Therefore, the Biden administration announced this EIS process to analyze impacts and make recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior. The Tribes’ letter is a call from Indigenous communities asking the federal government to not open these important federally managed lands to development.
“Once our lands are scarred and our waters spoiled, 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 of the Bering Sea Interior Tribal Commission.
The letter closes with,
“We are grateful to the Biden Administration for your commitment to engage with affected Tribes and for creating the environmental review process to evaluate the true impacts that lifting the D 1 protections could have on our people, communities, and culture… We also urge you to take action to protect our ancestral land so it can continue to support the diverse Ways-of-Life among Alaska Native peoples.”
When the administration releases its Draft EIS expected in the coming months, Tribes are hopeful that its preferred alternative will protect millions of acres of the nation’s most pristine land to safeguard Indigenous peoples’ traditional landscapes, that not only support food security but give essential meaning to their culture and way of life.