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BLM asks feedback on proposal to open federal lands to development

The federal Bureau of Land Management is asking Alaskans to offer public comments on a proposal to open up some or all of 28 million acres to development in five Planning Areas around the state.
Bureau of Land Management
The federal Bureau of Land Management is asking Alaskans to offer public comments on a proposal to open up some or all of 28 million acres to development.

Federal agencies conducting public meetings in four eastern Interior communities through Tuesday

The Bureau of Land Management is holding meetings in three eastern Interior communities over the next several days to get public feedback on a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed removal of federal land use restrictions on up to 28 million acres around Alaska, including some in the Interior.

The BLM has been conducting meetings since last week in communities around the state that are likely to be affected by the Interior Department’s proposal to revoke its withdrawal of the 28 million acres of so-called d-1 lands. That would make them available for mining and other uses.

The d-1 lands include a diverse patchwork of different land uses and classifications, and adjacent communities.
Bureau of Land Management
The d-1 lands include a diverse patchwork of different land uses, classifications and adjacent communities.

Revoking the withdrawals may result in changes to land use, including opening the land to mineral entry or leasing and any potential subsequent development, according to BLM’s Alaska d-1 Withdrawal website.

Agency spokespersons weren’t unavailable Wednesday.

The proposal in some cases would enable the state to take ownership of the parcels, a change that the agency says would remove the federal subsistence priority from these lands, according to the online background information.

Dozens of Alaska Native organizations in the Interior and western Alaska oppose removing those protections, which they say would threaten their Indigenous way of life. Interior Department officials say other uses, including recreation, also would be affected.

Environmentalists also have raised numerous objections.

More than 50 years of BLM oversight

The BLM has managed the 28 million acres since passage of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. They’re called d-1 lands because that’s the section of the act that authorized the feds to withdraw them from development.

The Trump administration initiated the effort to revoke the land withdrawals three years ago, with support from both Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. According to news release the senators jointly issued, revoking the withdrawals and the protections they enabled would “return millions of acres to multiple-use status, allowing for selections to be made by the State, Alaska Native Corporations and by Alaska Native Veterans,”

In 2022, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland partially revoked other federal withdrawals to make 27 million acres available to Alaska Native veterans who served during the Vietnam era. And now the BLM is resuming the effort to make the 28 million acres of d-1 lands available for development. The agency is holding public meetings as part of a draft Environmental Impact Statement it’s compiling that’ll assess how the change would affect the land and peoples who live nearby.

Feds ask Alaskans to weigh-in on proposals

And they’re asking for public comments, including opinions on how much of the land, if any, should be made available for development, as outlined in four action alternatives: Alternative A would not revoke the withdrawals, leaving the d-1 lands status unchanged. Alternative D would revoke the all withdrawals and make all 28 million acres available for development. Alternatives B and C would revoke some withdrawals, totaling about 400,000 acres.

Bureau of Land Management

This week the BLM began a series of meetings in communities around the Interior located near those d-1 lands. In the East Alaska Planning Area, the revocations would occur as parcels surrounding Glennallen; northwest of Mentasta Lake; southwest of Paxson; and in parcels surrounding Cantwell and south of Cantwell.

The first meeting was held in Mentasta on Wednesday. The next will be this evening at the Delta Junction Community Center. Friday’s meeting will be at the Westmark Hotel in Fairbanks, and on Tuesday at the Cantwell School. All the meetings are in-person, and begin at 5:30 p.m.

BLM will continue the sessions elsewhere around the state through Feb. 8, including a virtual statewide meeting on Jan. 29.

Comments also can be submitted online. The comment deadline is Feb. 14.

A final Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be completed by this summer, after which Interior Secretary Haaland will issue a decision by fall.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.