BLM can balance conservation and development in NPR-A

Jun 15, 2012

As the Bureau of Land Management closes the public comment period on its draft environmental impact statement for the western Arctic’s National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, The Wilderness Society and its members are urging a management strategy that will protect designated Special Areas within NPR-A.

“The Special Areas of the NPR-A contain globally significant resources, including some of the Arctic’s highest shorebird nesting densities in the world and sensitive habitat for molting geese, two of Alaska’s largest caribou herds, Pacific walrus and other marine mammals, as well as designated critical habitat for America’s polar bears,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, The Wilderness Society’s regional director for Alaska. “These areas also provide important subsistence resources that Arctic communities have depended on for thousands of years. BLM should take this historic opportunity to choose a balanced plan that ensures protection of these areas while allowing for future oil and gas leasing and development.”

This 23.5 million acre reserve is under pressure from Congress and the oil industry, both of which are eager to drill there despite the U.S. Geological Survey announcing in the fall of 2010 that the amount of oil in the reserve is only one-tenth of what was estimated in 2002, and more abundant oil resources exist in the Prudhoe Bay industrial complex.

The Wilderness Society endorses Alternative B of the BLM Draft Plan because it is the clear choice to effectively and reliably protect key, globally significant habitat areas in the reserve, while also allowing development.

Congress recognized the need to protect important areas of the NPR-A when it transferred these lands from the U.S. Navy to the BLM in 1976 and directed the agency to study and create Special Areas in the NPR-A. BLM has since established four such areas.

“Scientific research at The Wilderness Society has broadened our understanding of the critical importance of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, as well as other Special Areas of the NPR-A for caribou, migratory birds and climate change adaptation,” said Whittington-Evans. “We need a balanced management plan for the NPR-A.”