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ANCHORAGE, AK, December 15, 2020 – The Gwich’in Steering Committee and 12 allied groups filed a motion in U.S. District Court today requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from issuing any leases sold in the Jan. 6 sale of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and from authorizing seismic exploration activities.  

“The outgoing administration’s attempt to sell-off sacred lands in the last throes of its term is an act of violence toward the Gwich’in people, our way of life, and our survival,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “Today we asked the court to stop this violation of human rights and desecration of sacred lands. Tomorrow, and the day after that, and an infinite number of days after that, we will fight as our ancestors did to protect the lands that nourish the Porcupine caribou herd and our people.”  

Trustees for Alaska filed the motion for a preliminary injunction in the Gwich’in Steering Committee’s current lawsuit filed in August. The motion calls out the administration’s unprecedented rush to turn over the coastal plain to private oil and gas interests on its way out the door, despite ongoing litigation and the deeply flawed analysis it used when approving the leasing program. The threat of seismic activity this winter and the expansive lease terms and rights proposed for the sale show that there is immediate threat to Arctic lands, animals, and communities if leases are issued.  

“This administration has cut corners, ignored public input and turned a blind eye to Indigenous rights,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “Development of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will forever harm Indigenous culture and the irreplaceable wildlife values the refuge was created to protect. This is an injustice that must be stopped.”  

The motion requests the court to rule on the injunction by Jan. 6.  

“This attempt to sell-off the Arctic Refuge is destructive to human rights, the climate, public health, the health of wildlife, and the integrity of the public process,” said Brook Brisson, senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska. “Every action leading up to this scheduled January lease sale has demonstrated a dangerous disrespect for public interest and transparency, from the way the law got tucked into a tax bill, to the disregard of science and engagement with those most impacted, to this lame duck effort to hand over sacred land to oil and gas interests on the way out of office. This administration has not paused once to listen, to be thorough, or to fix what’s broken in this appalling leasing plan, so we have asked the court to stop it from issuing leases.”

Law firm Trustees for Alaska represents 13 clients in the lawsuit: Gwich’in Steering Committee, Alaska Wilderness League, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society-Yukon Chapter, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment America, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, National Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Watch.

Read the memorandum in support of the motion here.