The first month of the year brought several significant victories in Alaska, two in particular, were secured in part thanks to advocacy by Audubon and its members. We expect more news to come out of Alaska in the coming months, specifically on the Willow Master Development Plan in the Western Arctic. We will continue to let you know how you can take action.
Victory in Bristol Bay
In a rare move, the Biden-Harris Administration used its veto authority under the Clean Water Act to deny a proposal that would have developed one of the world’s largest open-pit gold mines in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Located in southwest Alaska, Bristol Bay is home to some of the world’s greatest concentration of seabirds, dozens of Important Bird Areas, and the world’s largest salmon runs.
The proposed mine would destroy 3,500 acres of wetlands, lakes, and ponds, and over 80 miles of salmon streams. An estimated 8-13 million pelagic seabirds forage in the area. More than one million seabirds such as Tufted Puffins nest in there. And up to 75,000 threatened Steller's Eiders use this area. Shorebirds, ducks, geese, and countless other birds flock to forage, rest, and breed in this astounding marine ecosystem.
Audubon Alaska and the National Audubon Society have been fighting alongside Tribal and other local community groups for more than a decade to protect the rich resources of Bristol Bay from the threat of this huge mine. More than 55,000 Audubon members submitted comments opposing the mining project. This is news we should all celebrate.
Roadless Rule Reinstated
Important protections for the Tongass National Forest have been reinstated by the Biden-Harris Administration. In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lifted roadless restrictions on more than 9 million acres of Southeast Alaska’s 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, areas previously determined by the U.S. Forest Service to be critical for protection.
Audubon fought this action in court and publicly advocated with Tribes and other local partners in Alaska. More than 60,000 Audubon members submitted comments requesting these protections to be reinstated. The decision by the administration to reinstate the Roadless Rule is a clear result of our collective action.
The Tongass National Forest is home to over 40% of birds from across North America, including Red-breasted Sapsuckers and Marbled Murrelets, as well as salmon, bear, deer, and hundreds of other species of wildlife.
As the country’s largest national forest, the Tongass also plays an important role in the stabilization of climate change. According to Audubon’s Natural Climate Solutions Report, the Tongass National Forest holds 44% of all the carbon stored in the U.S. National Forest system. It also contains some of the nation’s oldest forests, including some of the world’s largest remaining stands of old growth Sitka Spruce and Red Cedar.
Important Bird Area Threatened
As you may have seen, a Trump-era land exchange still threatens the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to road development. The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge lies along the Bering Sea side of the Alaska Peninsula, and is an Important Bird Area and a designated wetlands site of international significance under the Ramsar Convention. The area regularly supports more than half the world population of Emperor Geese, and a significant percentage of the world population of Steller's Eider and Taverner's Cackling Goose. More than 82 species have been documented there.