arctic national wildlife refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; photo credit: Alexis Bonogofsky for USFWS

Biden Administration Scrutinizes Trump-Era Orders on Arctic Refuge, National Monuments

President Biden’s first few days in office show conservation and the environment are among his administration’s top priorities.

As the new president settles in, he’s made quick work to execute a slew of executive orders. Of course, the top priority for the administration is tackling the COVID-19 virus.

But not far behind, Biden seeks to review two conservation-related policies of the Trump era. Within both of these reviews are analyses of whether the previous administration made changes legally and whether those policies are appropriate for these landscapes.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Environmental Protection vs. Drilling

arctic national wildlife refuge oil leases
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; photo credit: Alexis Bonogofsky for USFWS

One of the most notable executive orders puts a halt on the oil leases sold off in the final days of the Trump administration on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The oil leases covered nine tracts of land. In total, 440,000 acres of previously protected coastal plains would have been subject to drilling. Now, the sale and potential drilling are under review.

The ANWR is one of the last pristine wildernesses in the world. At 19.3 million acres, it’s home to multiple mountain ranges. It also supports one of the last great migrations of caribou. And it’s one of the few landscapes polar bears inhabit.

Plus, Indigenous communities rely on its wealth of natural resources, and — other than these Indigenous settlements — there’s no infrastructure on the landscape.

The argument for drilling hinges on the need for Alaskan jobs and economic development. However, the sales of the leases brought less than $15 million, and most of those leases were purchased by the state of Alaska itself.

“The Secretary [of the Interior] shall review the program and, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, conduct a new, comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program,” the executive order reads.

National Monument Boundaries Under Review

Grand-Staircase Escalante boundaries
Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument; photo credit: BLM

Biden’s administration also plans to review boundary changes made to the Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments.

The Trump administration reduced these Obama-era monuments to promote resource extraction and economic growth in hard-hit rural areas. But Indigenous communities railed against this, and a national outcry followed.

Now, the Biden administration will determine whether changes made by the Trump administration were appropriate. The executive order states that “the Attorney General, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce, the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and [in consultation with] Tribal governments” will perform the review.

The review will take 60 days. It will also address current litigation in the courts regarding the three monuments at hand.

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Nicole Qualtieri
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Based in Montana, Nicole Qualtieri is GearJunkie's Hunt + Fish Editor. She also serves as a Board Director for Orion the Hunters Insititute, a non-profit promoting fair chase and hunting ethics nationwide. A DIY hunter, she comes from a non-traditional hunting background and began hunting and fishing in her 30s. She's been a voice for hunting, fishing, and conservation since 2014, when she got started working on the television show MeatEater. She's an avid horsewoman, bird dog aficionado, snowboarder, hiker/backpacker, food nerd, and all-around outdoorswoman. Find her online at @nkqualtieri.