The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which serves as the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd, has long been a high-profile location in the debate over energy development versus wildlife conservation. To the west of the Arctic Refuge, however, is a less well known but even more biologically diverse area critical to birds and other wildlife: the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA), the largest single tract of public land in the United States. The NPRA is home to two large caribou herds; exceptional densities of raptors; millions of migratory shorebirds; tens of thousands of molting geese; polar bears; and beluga whales, walruses, and other marine mammals.
In 1976 Congress directed the Department of the Interior to provide “maximum protection” for the area’s significant fish, wildlife, recreational, and other “surface values” in balance with oil production in the NPRA. To date the Bureau of Land Management (which manages the NPRA) has designated four regions as “special areas” for their exceptional biological values: Teshekpuk Lake, the Utukok Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and the Colville River. The BLM is currently preparing the first-ever comprehensive area-wide plan to systematically assess all of the reserve’s values. This planning process presents an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill the Congressional mandate to balance oil exploration with wildlife preservation by protecting the designated special areas as well as other areas of exceptional ecological significance. Audubon Alaska, in the effort to safeguard Important Bird Areas and other special places in balance with responsible energy development, is pursuing permanent wilderness designation for the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge as well as the protection of important ecological areas within the NPRA.
Audubon believes sound policy can serve our energy needs without jeopardizing areas of critical importance to birds and other wildlife. This can mean limiting oil and gas drilling in sensitive or critical habitat areas (for example, goose molting, caribou calving) and carefully siting needed infrastructure with wildlife habitat requirements in mind.
Theory of Victory: Audubon will work to secure the permanent protection of both the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a series of identified special areas within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.