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BLM Still Considering Options for Eastern Interior Management Plan

Fairbanks, AK - The Bureau of Land Management is considering a change to the boundary of a proposed area of critical environmental concern in the Fortymile region. The agency may also designate a separate similar area for Mosquito flats. The decisions come as part of the process to draft a new resource management plan for Alaska’s Eastern Interior.

The BLM has been working on a new resource management plan for Alaska’s Eastern Interior for at least the last two years. The plan hasn’t been updated since 1986.

“I didn’t expect it to take this long. I guess the level of controversy was a little bit higher than I anticipated," said Jeanie Cole, Planning and Environment Coordinator for the BLM in Fairbanks.

“Just the fact that it includes the White Mountains, the Steese National Conservation Area and three wild and scenic rivers means the public is very interested in it and we’re getting a lot of input and concerns and we hear from both sides of the issues," Cole said.

Cole and colleagues expect a final Environmental Impact Statement later this year, but public comments on the draft caused the BLM to consider designating two Areas of Critical Environmental Concern – or ACECs.  One would encompass the rare wetlands at Mosquito flats, west of the Taylor highway between Tok and Chicken.

“This is just a really unusual type of wetland and in addition to the wetland characteristics, it’s an important moose calving area and we also know it supports short-eared owls and also some other species that are considered to be sensitive, like nesting trumpeter swans.”

A second ACEC involves redrawing a boundary to maintain habitat and better manage caribou and Dall sheep.

The BLM is accepting public comments on the two designations until March 3rd. Cole says the agency has received a number of inquiries, but she hasn’t received any formal comments yet. “We’ve heard from some of the mining associations and they haven’t given us comments yet," she said, "but they have asked for more information and asked us to clarify some things and then we’ve had a few questions from some environmental groups.”
A proposed resource management plan could come as early as this summer, but it would still be subject to a consistency review by the Governor.  Cole says it’s unlikely a finalized Resource Management Plan will be approved before 2016.