The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) lauded U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s announcement of a final management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) that balances wildlife conservation and energy development in the biggest public landscape in the country. The Integrated Activity Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final IAP/EIS) issued today by the Bureau of Land Management is the first comprehensive land management plan ever developed for the NPR-A.
By protecting extensive coastal plain habitat around Teshekpuk Lake, and the foothills around the Utukok uplands, the plan ensures that the most important Arctic wetlands and migratory corridors for caribou and migratory birds will be protected from development. Recent federal studies have reassessed the oil potential in this region to be but 10 percent of what was originally estimated.
“It is critical that we save the world’s last great wild places, and the areas protected today certainly qualify,” said WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper. “We’ve found that special places like Teshekpuk Lake are important to wildlife populations local to the area and to migratory species from around the world. Today’s announcement from the U.S. government is one of global proportions.”
Western Arctic Alaska is one of the most important regions for wildlife in all the Arctic. Critical habitat exists within the NPR-A for many species. This includes nesting grounds for millions of migratory birds and calving grounds for two of Alaska’s largest and most important caribou herds. Over a decade of conservation science by WCS in the region has shown that wildlife in the NPR-A will benefit from a development approach that balances conservation interests and responsible oil and gas leasing.
WCS Chief Conservation Officer John Robinson said, “Today marks the culmination of many years of hard work and dedication to conservation and science-based discovery. By uncovering the ecologically critical nature of Special Areas of the NPR-A, and showing how development would negatively impact those areas and its resident and migratory wildlife, those impacts were avoided. The end result is a durable victory for wildlife conservation.”
Data generated by WCS has helped to inform Bureau of Land Management decision-making throughout its assessment process. In addition, WCS submitted comments on Draft Environmental Impact Statements, held a Congressional briefing on NPR-A in the U.S. Capitol that featured WCS conservationists Steve Zack and Joe Liebezeit, and led a public advocacy campaign that resulted in 36,168 people submitting comments to the Bureau of Land Management. WCS spearheaded a letter sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Salazar from nearly 150 scientists across a variety of disciplines unanimously encouraging a balanced approach to management in the NPR-A, allowing for both conservation and oil and gas development.
WCS Senior Conservation Scientist Steve Zack said, “In our decade of wildlife studies in this remote region, we and other scientists have found the wetland environs around Teshekpuk to be the most important in all the Arctic. This balanced plan means that international populations of migratory birds and of migratory caribou have an immense nursery free from development into the future.”
The Bureau of Land Management began the IAP/EIS process in July 2010 and provided several opportunities for public input through comment periods and public meetings. The Record of Decision adopting the IAP will be issued 30 days after the Final IAP/EIS is published in the Federal Register on December 28, 2012.
Image courtesy Wildlife Conservation Society