Alaska's Teshekpuk Lake Saved!

Published: Jul 22, 2008
Washington, DC - 
The Interior Department recently announced its "Record of Decision" regarding leasing parts of Alaska for oil and gas development in the Northeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) for at least 10 years. According to the ROD, drilling would be deferred around Teshekpuk Lake for a decade. The decision came after a lawsuit filed by Audubon blocked a controversial September 2006 lease sale in that area.

According to Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska, "This decision acknowledges the international importance of the Teshekpuk wetlands. Audubon believes that the wildlife habitats north and east of the lake deserve permanent protection- and this decision falls short of that goal- but we are pleased that B.L.M. [the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the Interior Department] has removed any immediate threat of oil and gas leasing."

Eleanor Huffines, Alaska Regional Director for The Wilderness Society, said, "We thank Secretary Kempthorne for responding to the outpouring of public opposition to oil and gas leasing in the Teshekpuk wetlands. This decision lifts the immediate threat of leasing so that conservationists, subsistence users, scientists, sportsmen and others can work to secure permanent protection, which is part of a balanced approach to oil and gas development in the larger NPRA."

Conservationists have strongly advocated that the Teshekpuk wetlands should be closed to leasing, while the Secretary's decision only defers leasing in that area.

"The 10-year deferral of leasing in the Teshekpuk wetlands is only an administrative action, which can be changed by a future administration. Ultimately, it is our hope and goal that Congress will provide permanent protection for this unique, globally significant wildlife area," said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League in a statement last spring.

In September 2006, BLM had scheduled a lease sale in Northeast NPRA that opened previously closed areas around Teshekpuk Lake. This highly controversial action was opposed by many in the conservation community, sportsmen's organizations, Alaska Native organizations, and others. At the last minute, a federal district judge vacated BLM's Record of Decision because the agency had failed to consider the cumulative environmental effects of simultaneous leasing programs in Northeast and Northwest NPRA. In August 2007, BLM released a draft SEIS/IAP, which resulted in about 150,000 public comments, mostly in opposition to expanded leasing around Teshekpuk Lake.

The Teshekpuk wetlands provide breeding, molting and resting habitat for more than one million migratory birds. The Teshekpuk wetlands are the most important goose molting habitat in the entire Arctic. The Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd is a major resource for subsistence hunters from seven North Slope communities. Conservationists are concerned that oil and gas activities would fragment the landscape, and wildlife populations would decline when faced with the combined effects of widespread oil and gas activity (both on- and offshore) and global warming, which is already affecting the area.

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The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.

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