North

Obama creates 'resilience area' off Alaska, to protect Bering ecosystem

U.S. President Barack Obama used his executive powers Friday to add protections to waters off Alaska's west coast. The area covers 290,855 square kilometres and supports the annual marine mammal migration of bowhead and beluga whales, Pacific walrus, ice seals and migratory birds.

Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area will focus 'locally tailored' protections on marine resources

U.S. President Barack Obama in Kotzebue, Alaska, during his historic 3-day trip to the state in 2015. The trip aimed at showing solidarity with a state often overlooked by Washington, while using its glorious but changing landscape as an urgent call to action on climate change. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

U.S. President Barack Obama took action Friday to give Alaska Native villages more of a say in the federal management of marine resources in the Bering Sea.

The White House announced Friday that Obama had used an executive order to create a Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area that will focus "locally tailored" protections on marine resources.

The order permanently bars oil exploration in 104,370 square kilometres of Norton Basin and St. Matthew Island, two areas already recognized as important hunting areas. It also will boost federal consultation with Alaska tribes and 39 communities that line the west coast of Alaska.

The area within the newly created resilience area covers 290,855 square kilometres. It supports what may be the world's largest annual marine mammal migration of bowhead and beluga whales, Pacific walrus, ice seals and migratory birds.

Residents of coastal villages dependent on marine resources have urged that that their views be heard as the Arctic is affected by climate warming, expanding ship traffic and possible offshore petroleum drilling.

The newly created resilience area supports what may be the world's largest annual marine mammal migration of bowhead and beluga whales, Pacific walrus, ice seals and migratory birds. (Ryan Kingsbery/USGS via AP)

Elders Group thanks Obama

The White House executive order establishes a task force with village representation that will consult on federal management activities in the area and work to protect cultural and subsistence activities.

The order elevates Alaska Native comment on projects such as a port access route study nearing completion by the Coast Guard. With increased shipping, the agency is working on vessel traffic control measures through the Bering Strait, the choke point between North America and Asia.

The executive order directs the Coast Guard to give consideration to community recommendations regarding sensitive areas to be avoided because of their importance for hunting or other subsistence activities.

Harry Lincoln, a Yupik elder from Tununak, and the chairman of the Bering Sea Elders Group, thanked Obama in a release.

"It is the Native elders' vision that the northern Bering Sea and the resources that our people rely on be protected because they are the foundation of our culture and way of life," he said. "We have been here since time immemorial and it is our responsibility to pass our rich heritage on to future generations."

The sun glistens off the frozen Bering Sea in Nome, Alaska. (The Associated Press)

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