Biden Administration Approves Willow Project and Other Threats to Alaskan Wilderness

The Biden administration just approved the Willow Project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.

Analysis by the Bureau of Land Management suggests this project will release annually the equivalent of 2 million gas powered cars.

Map of the National Petroleum Reserve. 

The 23 million acre reserve is the largest undeveloped and unprotected areas in the United States To give some perspective, the entire state of Maine is 20 million acres.

Development will likely include a minimum of 200 drill rigs, and miles of new roads, not to mention methane leaks, and yet another intrusion into the Alaskan wildlands.

The political decision the Biden Administration is weighing is how to foster good relations with Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski who has shown herself to be more independent than the average GOP senator. She voted, for instance, to impeach Trump.

Oil development on North Slope of Alaska. Photo George Wuerthner

The other person the Biden Administration is attempting to placate is newly elected Mary Peltola who is half native and half white.  Though Peltola is a Democrat, she is supportive of oil development in Alaska, in part, because many native groups also want the oil and other exploitation. Biden needs to help her get re elected to maintain the close division in the House.

Though most of the conservation media neglects to mention or only in passing suggests that Alaskan native people overwhelming support development of lands where they have a financial stake. In the case of the oil development on the North Slope, native groups own the subsurface rights and earn royalties from oil development.

Plus, in many cases, native groups outside of the Arctic also support the Willow Project because they have oil field subsidiary companies that provide services, which in turn provides income for native people.

There also is “majority consensus” in support in the North Slope region, said Nagruk Harcharek, president of the group Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, whose members include leaders from across much of that region. Supporters have called the project balanced and say communities would benefit from taxes generated by Willow to invest in infrastructure and provide public services.

While there is opposition to development within any group, including native people, the majority of people in Alaskan villages have limited economic opportunities, and mining, oil, logging, and other development projects are welcomed.

While the Biden Administration suggests that it will put limits on development of 13 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve, as well as place the Beaufort Sea off limits to new oil drilling, the effect is a net loss of wilderness and wildlife habitat.

It’s important to recognize that every new development and its attendant air strips, roads, and work communities increases the chance for expansion.

Map of proposed Ambler Road. 

We see a similar expansion occurring with regards to the Ambler Mining District which lies just south of the Noatak Preserve along the Kobuk River. A 211 mile long road is proposed that would branch off the existing Dalton Highway (pipeline haul road) along the southern edge of the Brooks Range to carry equipment and ore to and from the mining site.

Again, both Mary Peltola and Lisa Murkowski support the mining venture as do many native people, including the Inuit folks in NW Alaska who own many of the mining claims at Ambler.

Kobuk River, Alaska. Photo Geoge Wuerthner

The Biden administration has yet to make a final decision on the Ambler Road, but given the support of both the Democratic and Republican Congressional delegation, I believe they will approve the road—of course, with the usual blather about strict guidelines to limit environmental impacts.

In yet another dangerous position, Secretary of Interior Haaland is supporting the decommission of wilderness at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on the Alaskan Peninsula to facilitate construction of a road between the village of King Cove and Cold Bay. There is a large full scale air strip at Cold Bay that road advocates believe will increase the profitability of salmon fishing by making quick access to markets possible.

If Secretary Haaland can simply declassify wilderness than no place is safe.

The Izembek proposal may be an even biggest threat to Alaskan wildlands than the Willow Project and Ambler Road. If allowed to stand it would permit the Secretary of Interior (any Sec of Interior) to declassify wilderness and park protections for resource development. But thus far, Haaland is supporting the road development likely because it involves Aleut commercial interests.

Izembek NWR on the Aleutian Peninsula. 

When combined with other proposals such as a gold mine in Lake Clark National Park (also native owned), potential transfer of Tongass National Forest to native groups (who after previous land transfer logged the old growth), and other projects, Alaska’s wildlands may be under great threat of compromise and development under the Biden/Haaland administration than any previous time.

Meanwhile though the Biden Administration has reinstated the Roadless Rule on the Tongass, reestablished expanded boundaries for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante NMs, it has been slow to protect new national parks, wilderness, and national monuments.

There isn’t much time left for Biden to reach or even come close to his much vaulted 30 x 30 protection plan for setting aside 30 percent of the United States from resource development by 2030.






  1. Lyn McCormick Avatar
    Lyn McCormick

    I guess we’ve been had by the Biden Admin. Sorry, there’s no way to rationalize this; 30 x 30 et al
    Whatever is politically expedient, business as usual, masked as anti-Trump propaganda. And, of course now the Right is saying the only way to recover the economy is to drill baby drill !
    The institutional corruption knows no bounds.

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      This is what I think. He and his appointees cannot be trusted to care for the environment.

      This and a ‘study’ from Norway that says moose eating tree buds that come back after clear-cutting are responsible for climate change! Hopeless:

      1. Rich Avatar


        Thanks for posting. Reminded me of protest rhymes from Seventeenth Century England regarding the commons and goose. To paraphrase:

        Human hubris blames the moose
        On the common for nibbling spruce
        But leaves the greater villain loose
        Who stole the common from the moose

        The researchers could teach Tucker Carlson a thing or two about hoodwinking the public

        1. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          Oh you are very welcome. Perfectly said.

          It’s nice to know that there are people do care.

        2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          I’m not even going to bother to look at that supposed “study” because it’s so ridiculous. You sure this wasn’t The Onion or some other comedy bit?

          1. Ida Lupine Avatar
            Ida Lupine

            I wish I hadn’t! I only wish it was from The Onion.

            News outlets from left to right are reporting it, and it is just another example of human supremacy. Imagine begrudging another living thing food because we want to still be able to log for timber during the climate crisis.

            1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
              Jeff Hoffman

              The ONLY thing that’s causing the climate crisis is industrial society, i.e., burning fossil fuels. Humans may have caused a much smaller global warming/climate change by destroying forests — starting with those in the Middle East thousands of years ago — that turned into deserts. But blaming Bullwinkle for the climate crisis is so ridiculous that I wouldn’t even bother to address that claim unless it’s taken up seriously by some part of the government to act upon and we need to stop that proposed action.

            2. Ida Lupine Avatar
              Ida Lupine

              I should edit this last sentence to read:

              Imagine begrudging another living thing food because we want to still be able to log for timber during the 6th Extinction and Climate crises.

              1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
                Jeff Hoffman

                You should add, “both of which we’re causing.”

                1. Ida Lupine Avatar
                  Ida Lupine

                  Yes! That little fact seems to be downplayed. When politicians and world leaders such as Bill Gates talk about not having to change the way we live in these times as well.

                  It’s pathological IMO, that people think this way.

        3. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          Also I should add that not much seems to have changed since the Seventeenth Century!

  2. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    Disappointing just doesnt cover it. I get that many of the Alaskan residents see this as benefiting their lives and maybe this is naive but is there no other possible way to improve their lives – no other chance to increase their livelihoods – only mining & drilling & logging – only destroying all those natural resources – wildlife, habitat & natural environment? No other possible way – has anyone ever attempted to find one?

    1. Charles Fox Avatar
      Charles Fox

      The rape and run mentality isn’t the only way to boost local incomes, it’s just the fastest. Then they can take the money and ruin some other part of the Earth. It’s a metastatic disease.

    2. Lyn McCormick Avatar
      Lyn McCormick

      All the $ to Ukraine could do a lot for those communities.

    3. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      If you think that getting more money and the stuff it buys improves your life, then of course these people think that more destruction and killing will improve their lives. The problem here, as everywhere, is that humans focus on the wrong things and ignore the right ones. We should be so happy just to be alive on this wonderful planet and focus on expanding our consciousness, but instead the vast majority of humans lust after money and material things.

      1. Ida Lupine Avatar
        Ida Lupine

        Bill Gates was saying in an article just the other day that we ‘don’t have to live impoverished lives’ to combat climate change, that we can do it all with ‘technology’. I don’t know how he defines impoverished.

        Personally, I can’t support any of the energy alternatives we have. The country goes about it all wrong. Everything has to be huge. Millions of acres for offshore wind, incidental takes of marine life, and of course we all know how bad fossil fuels are for the environment.

        Changing our lifestyles is just too much trouble I guess.

      2. D Jacobs Avatar
        D Jacobs

        It is my impression that the natives think that money will buy the schools with books, clinics with doctors that prescribing glasses, heating that doesn’t require them to carry wood long distances by foot and shelter that includes nails and glass. You can probably say none of those things will improve their lives because you have denied yourself of unnecessary material trappings like they seem to desire. I wonder if your perspective would change any if you lived months out of your year with no sundown and months without a sunrise.
        It might be best for people that don’t have orange trees to think of orange as a color and not a fruit.

  3. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    On another “front” – Seems for several years now there has been a die-off of Pronghorns in Wyoming -a “mystery”

    “>Initial lab results show the animals are succumbing to Mycoplasma bovis, a pneumonia-causing bacteria that’s common in CATTLE but rare in wildlife, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said Wednesday. Where they picked it up is still a mystery.<<<”

    1. Charles Fox Avatar
      Charles Fox

      Thanks for the info on pronghorns but it’s off topic here.

      1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
        Maggie Frazier

        Yes it is – sorry – but found it here on WWP’s site below. Ignoring it seemed wrong.

        1. Maggie Frazier Avatar
          Maggie Frazier

          Have to add – its just one more incidence of the damage being done. There seem to be too many to ignore any of them.

        2. Ida Lupine Avatar
          Ida Lupine

          They are so beautiful aren’t they? And iconic to our country.

          If it is cattle spreading disease, there’s not much comment, but only if is the other way around. Same for bighorn sheep.

  4. Jerry L Thiessen Avatar
    Jerry L Thiessen

    It does not add anything to the
    Piece or eventual discussion to point out that Mary Peltols is “half native and half white.”

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      It just says that to generalize about ‘traditional indigenous knowledge’ to protect wild areas is a myth.

      Which is what Deb Haaland has done (she phrases it that way for returning bison to tribal lands). I’m not sure if that will turn out well or not. Read it and weep!

  5. Joanne Gura Avatar
    Joanne Gura

    Either we stop the drilling and save this planet or we don’t. If we could get our planet healthy and safe, maybe they would be happier in the end. Maybe everyone would be. But we don’t have the right to do anymore damage to this beautiful planet that we are supposedly leaving to our children…we should be cleaning it up, not making it worse…I wish a better planet for my kids and their kids.. Please look at the big picture without what makes a few happy for right now…thank you.

  6. Charles Fox Avatar
    Charles Fox

    Why do we continue to call the exploitation of fossil fuels “development”? It would be far more accurate to call it Global Carbon Suicide.

    Can’t Indigenous Peoples find any other way to make a living other than destroying their own land, water, wildlife and committing cultural suicide?

    It’s hard to see much difference between Trump and Biden on these issues. Either way, it’s a criminal state.

  7. laurie Avatar

    Absolutely no leadership at all. The useless, mind-dead politicians aren’t even trying to find other creative ways to provide enterprises for natives, etc., that don’t pillage and rape THAT WHICH BELONGS to ALL AMERICANS.

  8. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Thanks George – we are all well aware that political decisions are about wheeling, dealing and placating. And the environment is always a bargaining chip, no matter which party you support. It used to be that you could depend on Democrats to side on the environment at least a little bit, but I don’t think it is even mentioned under the Biden administration.

    Disgusting. 🙁

  9. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
    Jeff Hoffman

    If Congress created the wilderness in the wildlife refuge, Haaland can’t just eliminate that protection. How was that wilderness created?

  10. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    I find it very troubling that news outlets from all sides are reporting the study that moose are responsible for climate change, from FOX to the Washington Post, and that moose need to be ‘managed’. 🙁

  11. Pat Simmons Avatar
    Pat Simmons

    This is a profit making destruction of the Earth! Why doesn’t the President & SOI just pay the natives to live there? Would be so much cheaper and we save the wildlife and habitat. Taking away wilderness should be illegal. Hope there some huge lawsuits filed!!

  12. Jannett Heckert Avatar
    Jannett Heckert

    Once ground is broken all these national parks it will never end. Roads and buildings and mining will just keep expanding. Alaska is the last frontier. Do we have to destroy it for money?

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      When I was an Earth First! campaigner in the 1980s, I told everyone that we could get all the land in the U.S. designated as National Park wilderness, but ultimately it wouldn’t matter. Once people, whether for profit or because they enjoy the fruits of the killing and destruction, think they need the land for something, they’ll take it, designations be damned.

      The real battle here is for hearts & minds. We’ve got to convince people to give up this evil modern lifestyle and return to living naturally, even if doing so takes thousands of years. If we don’t stop living like this, we’ll never stop killing and destroying natural land. The problem is how to convince people, and other than educating and getting them into natural areas to experience them, I have no answer for that.

      1. Rambling Dave Avatar
        Rambling Dave

        “We’ve got to convince people to give up this evil modern lifestyle…”

        Well, I dunno about you, but looking back over my life I can honestly say that I’ve never convinced anyone of anything. Not a damned thing. Not the little things and certainly not the big things that actually mattered. Once I realized that most people are essentially unreachable after about the age of five this world started to make a whole lot more sense to me.

        1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
          Jeff Hoffman

          Well, I’m a lawyer, so I have to convince people of things all the time. I’ve also convinced very conservative working- and middle class people that socialism would be much better than our system (though of course I didn’t use the word “socialism,” I just described how things work now and how they’d work under that system).

          We should never give up hope that we can change things for the better, and in this case that means convincing people that human supremacy is just as wrong and evil as any other supremacy, that the human supremacy attitude is destroying ecosystems, ecological processes, and habitats, is killing life on Earth, and that we need to greatly lower our population and live naturally in order to stop all that. How to accomplish that is another issue, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

          1. Charles Fox Avatar
            Charles Fox

            Ironically, human supremacy is destroying humans as well. Try convincing someone of that and you may win a few over, especially if you describe it instead of labeling it. Humans are so reactive/reflexive now. All you have to do is label someone as a “radical” or “environmentalist” or something and other people will automatically hate them as “job killers” or some such slogan. The reality of the situation hardly matters. There will be no good faith conversation or collaborative problem solving. It’s a Republic of Lies.

            1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
              Jeff Hoffman

              The human supremacy problem is far worse and far more important than which economic system people use, despite capitalism being a cancer that must be removed from the planet for environmental and ecological reasons alone.

              I agree with you about avoiding labels when talking to regular people, as I described doing in my example in my previous post. But when talking to like-minded people, or in an intellectual setting where labels are useful and properly defined & understood, labels are fine. Just depends on where labels are being used. Personally, I try to get people to empathize with other species, and I start with other mammals, with whom humans can relate more easily.

  13. Nancy Avatar

    “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization”

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      So true. Unfortunately, we’ll take everything else with us.

    2. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Quite possibly. But the problem isn’t the end of humans, it’s the great harms and destruction that humans are doing to the Earth and everyone else on it. If humans want to end their own species, that’s their business. They just shouldn’t be taking others with them.

  14. Chris Zinda Avatar
    Chris Zinda

    I’ve got a BA in poli sci, a Master of Public Admin. I was brought up by an ERA activist who helped start reproductive health clinics in the 70s, a product of Gaylord Nelson’s WI and Earth Day. I worked for a Dem Congress person and the feds in land mgmt. We have three kids, 14-26. I’ve never voted GOP and stopped voting for Dems in 2012 after the failure of Healthcare legislation, reinforced by the continued collaboration toward environmental collapse. I’ve watched the Dems go from civil and environmental rights to the their assisting in losing them.

    I have no efficacy in this political system. Neither do my kids, naturally. I used to, including faith in the vocation of the defenders of rights. No longer. None of us vote Dem, the two party, winner take all system far too cynical, oppressive. Really, I no longer vote at all.


    What a political legacy I leave our children.

    1. Jeff Hoffman Avatar
      Jeff Hoffman

      Other than possibly local elections and referenda, there’s no point in voting. Voting just supports a totally corrupt and rigged system. You mentioned one of the main problems, which is the undemocratic winner-take-all electoral system. The other main problem is private campaign financing, which amounts to the rich buying elections. The 2014 Princeton study showed that the U.S. isn’t a democracy; it’s an oligarchy.

      But this was true for decades before that study, maybe always. In political science 101 in 1972, we were taught that elected politicians don’t run things, the rich & powerful do, and the politicians merely do their bidding. The real problem here is the human overpopulation that causes people to live in unnaturally dense numbers, which in turn prevents having a representative government. Overpopulation is first and foremost an ecological and environmental problem, but it affects almost every aspect of life, including political life.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner