Department of Interior is planning to assess Alaska’s National Petroleum
Reserve for energy development. Spanning 37,000 square miles across western Alaska, the NPR-A is the
biggest piece of public land in the United States. For now, this Arctic landscape is
mostly undeveloped and home to
caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, and a wide variety of birds, among other northern wildlife.
public comments to the Bureau of Land Management, WCS has asked the government
to permanently protect certain places within the NPR-A that are vital to wildlife. WCS also urged the BLM to form a
scientific advisory panel for evaluating how to manage the land in the face of
energy development and climate change.
Arctic Alaska has the largest wetland complex in the entire polar world,
hosting a truly international assemblage of migratory birds that come to breed
in huge numbers," said Dr.Steve Zack, a scientist who has led WCS studies of Arctic
wildlife for the past decade. "We feel that there is room for balancing wildlife protection
with energy development in this landscape rich in many resources, including
wildlife. By protecting the existing Special Areas from all future
development, that balance can be achieved and wildlife conservation secured.”
Permanent “no lease” provisions for the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok River Uplands, and Colville River Special Areas would offer protection for some of the world's last great wildlife spectacles. Teshekpuk
Lake surrounds caribou calving grounds and wetland habitat that draw waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, and loons from across the globe. The Utukok River Uplands shelter wolves, bears, wolverines, and the calving grounds of Alaska’s largest
caribou herd. And the Colville River protects the Arctic’s biggest populations of
breeding birds of prey, including gyrfalcon, prairie falcon, and golden eagles.
summer, WCS CEO Dr. Steven Sanderson, Zack and other WCS scientists traveled up the
Utukok River to determine which scientific studies were needed to inform our government of policies that could balance development and wildlife protection in the area. (Read a daily blog of their expedition.) In the past, WCS
collaborative studies have shown how oil development can affect wildlife
indirectly by attracting predators to areas with garbage and development
to the three Special Areas, WCS hopes Peard Bay, Dease Inlet, and the Kasegaluk
Lagoon will also provide safe habitat for wildlife into the future. Despite their high levels of biodiversity, these wetland areas are not currently protected by the BLM.
is internationally important for wildlife populations, which are threatened by
energy development and dramatic climate change,” said Dr. Sanderson. “As stewards of our planet and its fragile ecosystems,
we need to conserve these large Special Areas to allow the magnificent wildlife
here to thrive for generations to come.”