Dozens of Alaskans are calling on the state's congressional delegation to protect Alaska wildlife after the U.S. Senate passed a budget that could open the door for development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Protect the Sacred, a coalition of indigenous groups, rallied outside of the Denai'ina Center as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) prepared to address a crowd at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention. 

"It's really a sneaky way to fit it in there because the standing, official recommendation to Congress is actually to protect the coastal plain as wilderness designation," said Princess Johnson, of Protect the Sacred, said about the Senate's budget bill. "To sneak it in to the budget process is really just undermining our democracy because these are public lands, and it's the further privatization of our air, land, water, etcetera, and this is a critical birthing and calving area for the porcupine caribou herd."

In her speech, Murkowski talked about climate change and protecting Alaska Native traditions. She did not make any mention of the Senate budget bill or the possibility of opening up ANWR. When pressed by reporters afterward, Murkowski said:

"Is ANWR one of the options on the table? Absolutely. Are we going to raise that in the committee? Absolutely. Will that be open and transparent and public? Absolutely. So, I don't think that there's any basis to quote "trying to sneak something in." This was the first step in a very multi-step process."


KTVA reached out to Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) for comment on Saturday's rally. Sullivan's office did not respond to the request.

In a statement Saturday, Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association said:

"AOGA agrees with the 70% of Alaskans who support developing a small section of ANWR.  Our state stands to benefit from more revenue, more jobs, and more throughout through the Trans Alaska Pipeline. We are confident drilling can be done safely, and with minimal impact on the surrounding area. 40 years of safe operations on the North Slope prove it can be done."