WCS Tells BLM to Permanently Protect Alaska's Special Areas While Balancing Development Needs

Wildlife Habitats Around Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok River Uplands and Colville River Face Double Threat of Development and Climate Change 

NEW YORK (October 13, 2010) – The Wildlife Conservation Society, in public comments delivered to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, urged full protection of critical wildlife habitat in the Special Areas of the largest single piece of public land in the United States, the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska (NPR-A). The BLM solicited public comments in advance of a new assessment of the largely undeveloped NPR-A which is located in Western Arctic Alaska.

Three existing Special Areas, surrounding Teshekpuk Lake, the Utukok River Uplands and the Colville River, are biologically important for massive numbers of caribou, migratory birds and other Arctic species. The WCS recommendations would establish permanent No Lease provisions in these areas to ensure the longevity and survival of threatened wildlife populations.

“The NPR-A is internationally important for wildlife populations, which are threatened by energy development and dramatic climate change,” said Dr. Steven Sanderson, WCS President and CEO.  “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.”

Dr. Steve Zack, a WCS conservation scientist who has led studies of Arctic wildlife for the past decade, said, “Western 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. 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.”

The three large Special Areas provide for critical protection of important Arctic habitats. The Teshekpuk Lake Special Area surrounds wetland habitat important to waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds and loons, as well as caribou calving grounds. The Utukok River Uplands Special Area contains the calving grounds of Alaska’s biggest caribou herd and grizzly bears, wolves and wolverines.  The Colville River Special Area protects the Arctic’s largest populations of breeding birds of prey, including gyrfalcon, prairie falcon and golden eagles.  

Sanderson, Zack and other WCS scientists embarked on an expedition this summer on the Utukok River in the Arctic. The purpose of the expedition was to determine what science was needed to inform policy in the Arctic relating to the balance of development and wildlife protection. WCS collaborative studies have shown how oil development can affect wildlife indirectly through predators attracted by the garbage and structures of development.  

In its recommendations, WCS asks the BLM to evaluate the potential for the establishment of new Special Areas and protection around Peard Bay and Dease Inlet, in addition to protection of the Kasegaluk Lagoon, which are important wetland areas of high biological diversity not currently protected by BLM.  

Finally, WCS recommended that an independent science advisory panel be convened to assure that the best science possible is integrated into the wildlife conservation decisions on critical public lands.  Such a panel would evaluate the sufficiency of the Special Areas in the face of new developments associated with climate change and development.  The panel could also develop a thorough cumulative effects analysis of the proposed development in the NPR-A, a long-needed and required assessment of the long-term effects that can often transcend protected area boundaries.

Chip Weiskotten: (202-624-8172; cweiskotten@wcs.org)
Mary Dixon: (347-840-1242; mdixon@wcs.org)

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide.  We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo.  Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony.  WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

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