Resilience Area: Obama Orders Protection Of Bering Sea Against Oil Exploration


In an effort to conserve Arctic biodiversity, President Barack Obama on Friday issued a new executive order that protects Alaska's Bering Sea against the dangers of oil exploration.

The new protection, which gives tribes in Alaska more say in management of Bering Sea resources, also establishes an expansive resilience area that could soon limit fishing in the region.

Federal Management And Oil Exploration

President Obama has made the Arctic a cornerstone of his climate and environmental policy in the last few years.

But coastal village residents that depend on marine resources from the Bering Sea have long clamored that their views be heard because of the effects of climate change, offshore petroleum drilling, and expanding ship traffic on the Arctic.

Now, the new executive order boosts the federal government's consultation with native villages and the 39 communities that reside in Alaska's west coast.

In fact, the action creates a task force that will consult villages on management activities and work to safeguard subsistence and cultural activities. Comments from Alaska Natives on projects such as a port access route study conducted by the Coast Guard, which is nearing completion, will be considered.

The order directs the agency to consider community recommendations on which sensitive areas should be avoided because of the value for hunting and other subsistence activities.

Furthermore, oil exploration is permanently banned in 40,300 square miles (some 104,376 square kilometers) of St. Matthew Island and Norton Basin. Both areas have already been recognized as vital hunting areas beforehand.

Creating A Resilience Area

Meanwhile, the new resilience area created under the executive order covers 112,300 square miles (290,855 square kilometers) of land and sea, the White House said.

Known as the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area, the region witnesses the migration of marine mammals such as the beluga and bowhead whales, ice seals, migratory birds, and the Pacific walrus every year.

Eric Schultz, who acts as the deputy press secretary at the White House, said President Obama's action is solely based on the merits of protecting the Arctic.

"This was the right decision to make," Schultz told USA Today. "The idea that this is a preview of additional actions to come -- I wouldn't read that into it."

A Yupik elder who acts as the chair of Bering Sea Elders Group offered his thanks to Obama in a statement.

Harry Lincoln, who is an elder from Tununak, said it is the Alaska Native elders' vision that the Bering Sea be protected because it is the foundation of their people's way of life and culture.

"[It] is our responsibility to pass our rich heritage on to future generations," said Lincoln.

In 2015, Obama became the first president to visit north of the Arctic Circle. The incumbent president had said he heard about the need to work with native communities regarding the hunting and fishing rights.

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