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Yukon Flats refuge land exchange rejected

Fairbanks, Alaska (AP) 7-09

The Fish and Wildlife Service has rejected a proposed land exchange at the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

In a preliminary decision July 2, the service picked the “no action” alternative from a range of options in environmental studies.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports it indicates the agency’s direction for the final decision expected in early 2010.

Doyon Ltd. would have received 110,000 acres plus oil and gas rights to another 97,000 acres of refuge lands. In exchange, the refuge would have picked up at least 150,000 acres owned by Doyon within refuge boundaries.

The FWS decision was welcomed by many in communities near the refuge who feared it would open a pristine area to oil and gas development.

“I’m very happy, on behalf of the tribe,” said First Chief Michael Peters of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribe at Fort Yukon. “This means a lot to us. I commend Fish and Wildlife.”

He said Natives value clean air, clean water and a traditional lifestyle living off the land. Oil and gas development bring toxins and an influx of outsiders who could alter a remote lifestyle.

 

Doyon, a Native corporation, first petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service almost six years ago to swap lands within refuge boundaries and, in addition, Doyon would have traded 56,500 acres of land within the refuge for acreage outside the refuge.

Doyon vice president for lands and resources Jim Mery said U.S. Geological survey work in conjunction with the environmental review revealed more opportunities on Doyon lands, and it downgraded the potential of federal parcels.

“Those factors, coupled with a much stronger oil price today compared to six or so years ago when this land exchange process started, has indeed cast doubts on whether Doyon would have gone forward with the exchange,” he said.

Some members of the Birch Creek Tribe, which has about 200 members, hoped for development that would bring jobs.

“We see that as a huge opportunity for a very poor tribe,” said Angela Ludwick, executive director of the tribe’s Tihteet Aii Inc. “There were no mixed feelings in Birch Creek Tribe. The people want to work; they want opportunities, they want opportunities for their children. ... But, it’s actually working out for us.”

The environmental impact statement indicated prospective oil and gas resources on corporation land.

“We feel very confident we can develop it very smartly and with considerations to the land and the environment, and I think us being involved will ensure that,” Ludwick said.

According to the refuge Web site, residents of seven villages within or near the refuge use local resources for subsistence: Beaver, Birch Creek, Chalkyitsik, Circle, Fort Yukon, Stevens Village and Venetie. Some of the tribal corporations and Doyon own about 2.5 million acres of land within the refuge.

 

 

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