Teshekpuk Goes to the Birds

June 4, 2008

Birds and other wildlife score protection from energy exploration in Alaska’s Teshekpuk Lake region. At 23 million acres, Teshekpuk is the largest single piece of public land in the U.S.

As global energy demand soars, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took an important step recently to protect the heart of western Alaska’s Arctic coastal plain from commercial exploration. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) applauds the decision to grant permanent protection to the Teshekpuk region, a key nesting site for migratory birds and other wildlife in the Arctic.

Teshekpuk Lake is part of National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). Encompassing 23 million acres, it is considered the largest single piece of undisturbed public land in the United States.

“This represents a significant conservation victory for Arctic wildlife and demonstrates that there is room for both protection of key areas and for responsible energy development in the Arctic coastal plain rich in natural resources,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, WCS President and CEO.

WCS has been working in Teshekpuk for three years, collecting data on the nesting habits of breeding birds that gather from across the globe, as well as shorebirds that migrate there. WCS and other environmental organizations had been advocating for this region’s preservation.

“Protection from development was urgently needed,” said Sanderson.

Large populations of geese from Canada, Siberia, and other regions of Alaska travel to Teshekpuk for their “flightless molt,” when the birds temporarily shed their flight feathers before heading south. During this time, geese and their offspring are particularly vulnerable.

“We have found that the Teshekpuk Lake region is distinctive for its high diversity, abundance, and nesting productivity for these migrants,” said Dr. Steve Zack, WCS conservation scientist. “We are pleased to see protection afforded this important place and look forward to seeking full protection of those areas near Teshekpuk that now have deferred leasing. This area rich in wetlands may well be an important refuge in the future as the climate continues to change the Arctic in dramatic ways.”

Birds are not the only animals that will benefit from this new level of protection. The Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd migrates here to calve their young and to escape biting insects. For North Slope Inupiat residents, the waterfowl and caribou populations are very important subsistence resources.

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