NPR-A’s Special Areas are worthy of protection

Mar 30, 2012

The future of Teshekpuk Lake and other Special Areas in the western Arctic’s National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska are at stake today as the Bureau of Land Management releases its draft environmental impact statement for the NPR-A and opens a 60-day public comment period.

This 23.5 million acre reserve is nearly the size of Indiana and is the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States. It contains one of the largest wetlands complexes in the Arctic and provides critical habitat for polar bears, caribou herds, and countless migratory birds and waterfowl, in addition to being vital to the subsistence needs of Alaska Native people. But the 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 to the east.

Congress recognized the need to protect important areas of the NPR-A when it transferred these lands from the 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, and every presidential administration for the past 35 years has recognized the need to protect the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area from oil and gas development. That’s a tradition that should continue.

“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 Nicole Whittington-Evans, The Wilderness Society’s regional director for Alaska. “We need a balanced management plan for the NPR-A, where the extraordinary ecological and subsistence values of its Special Areas are granted maximum protection while allowing for responsible energy development in other areas.”

“As public review of the DEIS gets underway, all Americans should recognize the need for balancing development and conservation in this unique and irreplaceable Arctic landscape,” Whittington-Evans added.