US President Joe Biden’s administration will suspend oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pending an environmental review.
The move reverses former President Donald Trump’s decision to sell oil leases in the refuge to expand fossil fuel and mineral development.
The giant Alaskan wilderness is home to many important species, including polar bears, caribou and wolves.
Arctic tribal leaders have welcomed the move but Republicans are opposed.
In January, Mr Trump pushed ahead with the sale for the rights to drill for oil on around 5% of the refuge, just days before his presidential term ended.
Covering some 19 million acres (78,000 sq km) the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is often described as America’s last great wilderness.
It is a critically important location for many species, including polar bears.
During his campaign, Mr Biden pledged to protect the habitat.
“President Biden believes America’s national treasures are cultural and economic cornerstones of our country,” White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said in a statement.
“He is grateful for the prompt action by the Department of the Interior to suspend all leasing pending a review of decisions made in the last administration’s final days that could have changed the character of this special place forever,” she added.
Arctic tribal leaders praised the decision.
“I want to thank President Biden and the Interior Department for recognising the wrongs committed against our people by the last Administration, and for putting us on the right path forward,” Tonya Garnett, special projects coordinator for the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, said in a statement.
“This goes to show that, no matter the odds, the voices of our Tribes matter.”
The Biden administration’s move was criticised in a joint statement by Republican senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski along with representative Don Young and Governor Mike Dunleavy.
“This action serves no purpose other than to obstruct Alaska’s economy and put our energy security at risk,” Ms Murkowski said.
Mr Dunleavy added that the leases sold by the Trump administration “are valid and cannot be taken away by the federal government”.
The first sale of parts of the refuge received little interest from the oil and gas industry and generated high bids of around $14 million (£10 million).