AP NEWS

Alaska tribal groups oppose federal plan to allow mining

January 6, 2020 GMT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — More than two dozen tribal groups oppose a federal land-use proposal that could open large areas of wilderness to future mining in rural Alaska.

Th opposition is in response to a proposed Bureau of Land Management update to its resource management, The Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday.

The Bering Sea-Western Interior Resource Management Plan covers 21,094 square miles (54,633 square kilometers) in Alaska’s western and interior regions.

The agency announced its preferred proposal in March, known as Alternative C, which would make mining an option on nearly all the land in the plan.

The proposal would increase available mining land from the current 13,594 square miles (35,208 square kilometers) established in the 1980s.

Officials expect to take until next year to make a final decision from the four land-use drafts under consideration, including two that would have greater restrictions on mining and other development, the agency said.

The announcement generated alarm among Native Alaskan leaders who said subsistence hunting and fishing is the primary land-use by villages in those areas.

The Bering Sea-Western Interior Tribal Commission formed over the summer to fight the proposal. The commission includes 26 tribes from the state’s northwest, southwest and interior regions.

The land management bureau wants to make a “massive change to allowable land use” with resource extraction as the overriding principle, the commission said in a statement last month.

“We want our watersheds in particular protected,” said Paul Mountain, a group member and tribal administrator in Nulato. “We want to make sure our salmon will be there for future generations.”

Bureau spokesman Eric Tausch said in an email that mining on the land is unlikely based in part on limited past interest and the area’s low mineral potential.

Mickey Stickman, first chief in Nulato, said the tribes do not oppose mining, but want to protect fish spawning grounds and other important wildlife areas. He is not reassured by the agency’s claim that mining probably will not occur.

“If that’s the case, then why open it up,” Stickman said.