As the federal Bureau of Land Management works to create the first land-use plan for the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the agency has a historic opportunity to protect some of the world’s most significant wildlife resources that sustain many communities in the western Arctic, according to The Wilderness Society.
“When Congress transferred these western Arctic lands from the Navy to the BLM, they recognized the need to balance protection of special ecological values while at the same time providing opportunity for oil and gas development,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. “Many administrations from both sides of the political aisle have since recognized this need, and the Obama Administration should take this historic opportunity to do all it can to safeguard important wildlife and subsistence resources while providing opportunity for responsible energy development.”
In its recently released Draft Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, the BLM is considering a range of options that include making some percentage of special areas with high ecological value unavailable for oil and gas leasing and opening the entire reserve to oil and gas development.
The Wilderness Society supports the draft plan’s “Alternative B” option because it protects ecologically important areas with exceptional wildlife and subsistence resources, such as Teshekpuk Lake, the Utukok Uplands and Kasegaluk Lagoon, among others, while allowing responsible oil and gas development in much of the reserve. The plan also allows for the possibility of a future pipeline to carry offshore oil across the NPR-A, known to many as the Western Arctic Reserve.
“Alternative B is the only option that provides reliable protection of Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd habitat,” said Whittington-Evans, basing her position on The Wilderness Society’s extensive modeling of development impacts in the reserve. The results of this modeling effort will be provided to BLM before the close of the public comment period on June 1.
The BLM will be holding a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in Anchorage’s Campbell Creek Science Center to allow the public to comment on the draft management plan. An open house will begin at 6 p.m.