WCS Commends Protection for Alaska's Ecologically Sensitive Areas in Oil and Gas Leasing Map

Balanced Approach to Leasing in NPR-A Must Consider Both Development and Wildlife Habitat Protection

NEW YORK (November 1, 2011)
– The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) broadly supports a balance between conservation and energy development in the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska (NPR-A), as outlined by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in its oil and gas leasing plan. In public comments delivered recently, WCS applauded proposed protections in the draft leasing map of Teshekpuk Lake Special Area and westward in the world’s biggest Arctic wetland.

WCS has been active in conservation science in the NPR-A since 2002 and has strongly pushed for the need of development that balances conservation needs, such that key areas including the delineated Special Areas (critically that of Teshekpuk Lake) remain free from development to protect essential international wildlife resources. WCS urged full protection of critical wildlife habitat in the Colville River Special Area where raptors nest in high density, an issue remaining unclear in the plan. WCS has engaged BLM throughout its many assessments of the largely undeveloped NPR-A, which is located in Western Arctic Alaska, in an effort to balance secure wildlife protection in advance of energy development. Four existing Special Areas in NPR-A, surrounding Teshekpuk Lake, the Utukok River Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon and the Colville River, are biologically important for massive numbers of caribou, migratory birds and other Arctic species.

Dr. Steve Zack, a WCS conservation scientist who has led studies of Arctic wildlife for the past decade, said, “Western Arctic Alaska hosts an unrivaled international assemblage of migratory birds that come to breed in huge numbers and must be protected. Our challenge is balancing wildlife protection with energy development in this landscape rich in many resources, including wildlife, and we believe it can be done without endangering these vital habitats and breeding grounds. By protecting the most ecologically sensitive areas from future development, that balance can be achieved and wildlife conservation secured.”

The four 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. Kasegaluk Lagoon is Arctic Alaska’s most important interface of terrestrial and marine wildlife.  

“We know how energy development can detrimentally impact wildlife because of our studies within the oil fields and in remote areas of the Alaskan Arctic,” said WCS Conservationist Joe Liebezeit, who has been the senior author on several wildlife studies in Arctic Alaska. “And we know from our field work in the Teshekpuk Lake area how important and distinctive it is for breeding bird populations. The Teshekpuk Lake Special Area is of singular importance to wildlife.”

WCS’s involvement in wildlife protection in the Arctic dates back to the 1950s. Then known as the New York Zoological Society, it funded surveys by Olas and Mardy Murie and George Schaller that led to the eventual creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2001, WCS began a large-scale collaborative study with oil companies (BP and ConocoPhillips), federal agencies (USFWS), and non-governmental organizations that assessed the indirect effects of existing oil development in the Prudhoe Bay region. Most recently, a 2011 WCS study in the NPR-A near Teshekpuk Lake scientifically substantiated the tremendous importance of western Arctic Alaska for wildlife, specifically for high densities of nesting birds and overall high levels of nest productivity.

WCS continues to monitor wildlife in the NPR-A Special Areas, establishing the science that may help the BLM permanently protect the most valuable and vulnerable areas.

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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