New Plan Strikes Balance Between Wildlife Protections and Oil Development in Alaska

Pacific black brant geese with goslings. Photo: Jeff Wasley/USGS


Birds, caribou, and oil companies will share vast Alaskan wilderness. “[It’s] a victory for birds, wildlife, and America’s future,” Audubon president and CEO David Yarnold said of the first-ever management plan for the 22.8 million acre reserve in northern Alaska. “It says that some places really are too precious to drill.”

Today Interior Secretary Ken Salazar finalized the plan, which puts in place wildlife protections and also allows oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Conservationists applauded the move.

“This plan fulfills the congressional intent for the reserve by protecting vital wildlife, waterfowl, and fish habitat; safeguarding subsistence opportunities; and allowing for extraction of the majority of the area’s oil,” Joshua Reichert, who leads the The Pew Charitable Trusts’ environmental work, said in a statement. “It is a model for sustainably managing our Arctic resources, both onshore and off.”

Some 11 million acres of important wildlife habitat will be protected. That includes coastal areas where walruses haul out, stretches of tundra that are critical birthing grounds for caribou, and Teshekpuk Lake and surrounding wetlands—where hundreds of thousands of birds from five contents nest each summer, including tens of thousands of molting snow, cackling, greater white-fronted, and Canada geese, and up to one-third of the world’s Pacific black brants, nearly 40,000 individuals. The plan will also help safeguard vulnerable species such as the spectacled eider and yellow-billed loon. (Click here for a slideshow of gorgeous images from the area.)

The 11.8 million acres that will be open for development are estimated to hold 549 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of economically recoverable natural gas.

“By protecting 11 million acres of Arctic wetlands and wildlife nurseries, this decision proves that sound energy policy and conservation can go hand in hand,” said Yarnold. “And not only that, they must.”

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