A new announcement by the U.S. Department of the Interior sets out a balanced future for a vast tract of the Alaskan Arctic known for caribou, migratory birds and significant energy reserves.
The nearly 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska holds oil and gas reserves and nearly pristine habitat for two of Alaska’s migratory caribou herds. The vast lakes and wetlands serve as summer breeding season nurseries for an array of birds such as brant geese, ducks, and some of the world’s most remarkable long-distance migrants.
The plan from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar opens to energy development large portions of the petroleum reserve for the first time. In all, the plan opens more than half of the reserve – some 11.8 million acres – to oil and gas development. It also provides for the continued protection of several areas of critical wildlife habitat and respects the traditional caribou harvest areas of Inupiat residents of the region’s villages. Caribou that rely on NPR-A habitat is the region’s primary terrestrial subsistence resource for families in 40 Native villages.
“Alaskans have anticipated energy development in the NPR-A for many years and the resources found there will contribute to our nation’s energy independence. At The Nature Conservancy, we’re pleased to see that the Interior Department’s development plan shows the agency understands the balance necessary for Native subsistence traditions to continue in and around the reserve,” said Randy Hagenstein, Alaska state director of The Nature Conservancy.
In particular, the areas proposed for continued protection include the best shorebird and waterfowl nurseries in North America, including:
“The release of the development plan for the NPR-A demonstrates that energy can be developed on public lands for both people and nature,” said Mark Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “The Interior Department should be applauded for facilitating energy development on the National Petroleum Reserve while protecting high priority conservation areas.”
The NPR-A is one of the Arctic’s greatest migratory bird nesting and molting areas and is the summer home for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds, including critical molting areas for up to 30 percent of the entire population of Pacific Flyway brant goose. These populations are a subsistence resource for more than 40 northern and western Alaska Native villages.
Earlier this year, the Conservancy joined a research collaborative to identify key caribou calving habitat for the Teshekpuk Caribou Herd in the NPR-A. This research effort includes North Slope Borough, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Conoco Phillips, Bureau of Land Management, The Wilderness Society and Audubon Alaska. The work utilized caribou range data from global positioning system tracking and computer models to determine the likely range of calving caribou. Calving season, typically in early June, is the period when caribou are most sensitive to disturbance. The Interior Department’s proposed development scenario would largely avoid development in caribou calving range.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
Alaska State Director, The Nature Conservancy