U.S. Interior Department mapped ANWR wrong, took too much land, court finds

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A U.S. District Court has found the Department of the Interior’s mapping agency should have considered additional mapping that was available in the 1950s when the boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was created. The court has sent the matter back to the agency inside of the Interior Department to reconsider the boundary line.

ANWR was established in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower, and was at the time called the Arctic National Wildlife Range. It had an area of 13,900 square miles. The wildlife range was expanded to 19.3 million acres and renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter when he signed Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest unit in the National Wildlife Refuge System. ANILCA mandated wildlife studies, as well as an oil and gas assessment of the coastal plain, sometimes called the 10-02 area.

The State of Alaska argued that the Bureau of Land Management incorrectly surveyed the western boundary of ANWR, and erred when it withheld approximately 20,000 acres of land on the eastern North Slope from the State. The mapping agency, called the Board of Land Appeals, set the boundary at the Canning River, but maps created by the BLM put the boundary several miles to the west at the Staines River. The error cost the State of Alaska about 31 square miles of land to which it was entitled. The decision has important implications for oil and gas development on the eastern North Slope.

“It’s about time that the BLM recognized that the Canning and Staines are two different rivers, that don’t even connect to each other,” said Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy. “The ANWR boundary cannot be what the BLM says it is. Their position that the boundary follows the Canning River until an unmarked location, where it hops over a nine-foot riverbank, crosses more than 10 miles of open tundra, and only then joins the Staines is simply preposterous. This is yet another attempt by the federal government to prevent the State from receiving land that it is entitled to under the law, and we’re extremely pleased to be able to take the fight back to the IBLA.”

“We are very pleased with the Court’s order,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “Once IBLA considers the proper maps—the maps that actually existed when the boundary of ANWR was being set—we believe that the intended boundary is unquestionably at the Canning River, not the Staines River as IBLA incorrectly found.”

In its order, the Court said a series of USGS maps dating from 1951 should have been considered in determining the United States’ intended boundary for ANWR.  The Board of Land Appeals had only looked at later maps published after ANWR’s establishment to find “intent.”

“The State wants the BLM to follow the text of the public land order that created ANWR, which the federal government wrote for itself,” said Department of Natural Resources Commissioner John Boyle. “When it does, it’s clear that the State is entitled to this land by operation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.”

Alaska administratively appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals following the Bureau of Land Management’s initial decision in 2016. The Board of Land Appeals issued a decision in favor of BLM in 2020 and the State sought judicial review of that order in March 2022.

ANILCA has a “no more” clause, stating says there are to be no more lands in Alaska withdrawn to federal control, unless Congress approves it. President Carter had used the Antiquities Act to expand the refuge as a way to protect it as a wilderness.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, this could mean a lot in regards to the revenue achieved by the state. Maybe the governor is playing his hand now. What fun.

  2. Good strategy: make the eco-terrorists so angry that they gum up the courts for the next generation over the violation” of ANWR so they ignore Willow…

    • The roughly 20,000 acres in the 10-02 area are only a small drop in the bucket compared to the 42,546,812 acres still owed to the state from the feds as part of the Statehood Act signed 64 years ago. Suing the feds to get what rightfully belongs to the people of this state is old hat at this point.

  3. Perhaps this could lead to the USGS correcting the maps they erroneously drew that show the bed of the Yukon River as being within the Yukon-Charley River Preserve. Federal overreach is everywhere and all the time. It needs to stop.

  4. Well look everybody we can’t trust the feds. They lied in court they lied about Kennedy they lied about weapons of mass destruction they are liars not to be trusted. We need to kick them out of our state. Now they are stealing land. The feds can rent land from us if they want.

  5. Why is Biden’s approval required for the Willow project? What part of the words, “National Petroleum Reserve” do they not understand?

    • Because its managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which is within the Department of Interior, which is an Executive Branch agency, hence approval needed by the administration.

      The density of snowflakes on the MRAK comments pages is impressive.

  6. I hope the judge takes judicial notice that the BLM has changed its record keeping system and confirming evidence in more than one case has willfully been destroyed or has created gaps on a scale that justifies construing for the appellant.

  7. It’s pathetic that the State of Alaska has to sue the Feds for every acre of land that it is owed. The settlement should have happened decades ago, but won’t happen until the Feds quit using the Natives as an excuse. Don’t hold your breath for that to happen any time soon. So keep suing, Big Mike. Every victory is a march toward getting what is due to Alaska.

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