Alaska is America’s last great, wild frontier. In Alaska you can still see caribou migrating through vast valleys, salmon streams running through ancient forests and polar bears roaming icy shores of the Arctic Ocean.
It teems with migratory birds, caribou, polar bears, wolves and other wildlife, but is cursed with what may be the ugliest and most ill-fitting name of any wild landscape: the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Arctic animals face a new threat that could severely exacerbate habitat stresses caused by climate change. In recent years, oil companies have targeted vulnerable waters in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas, hoping to create a new frontier for oil drilling.
Dr. Amy Vedder, senior vice president of conservation at The Wilderness Society, and I recently had this experience in Alaska’s Western Arctic region at a shorebird research field camp organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society.
Twelve short months ago, most Americans knew very little about offshore oil drilling and its dangers. Then, in a tragic accident that was both sudden and drawn out, the Deepwater Horizon unexpectedly exploded killing 11 crew members and beginning the worst oil spill disaster in U.S.