The Pew Environment Group issued the following statement today in support of the final plan issued by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management(BLM) for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). The 23-million-acre site is the largest contiguous expanse of unspoiled public land in the nation.
"The Interior Department and BLM have exhibited effective leadership by responsibly balancing conservation of important ecological and subsistence areas on Alaska's North Slope with energy development," said Ken Rait, who directs Pew's efforts to identify priority conservation areas on BLM lands. "The final NPR-A plan protects globally important wildlife, waterfowl and fish habitats while providing certainty for industry by allowing for extraction of almost three-quarters of the region's developable oil and gas."
"The administration's plan meets the mandate to wisely manage all the NPR-A's many values, including its vital role in providing subsistence opportunities for Alaska's Arctic communities," said Eleanor Huffines who manages Pew's work on sustainable development in the U.S. Arctic. "This approach is a model for managing natural resources in the Arctic environment, both on shore and off."
The Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (NPRPA) of 1976 gave the BLM a mandate to manage Alaska's western Arctic. In establishing NPRPA, Congress explicitly recognized that the reserve contained a number of important values—subsistence, recreational, fish, wildlife, historical and scenic—that should be protected. It directed the secretary of the interior to establish "conditions, restrictions, and prohibitions" to protect significant surface resources of the reserve. NPRPA expressly cites Teshekpuk Lake and the Utukok River as examples of areas that warrant "maximum protection" under the law.
The Final Interagency Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement will protect approximately 11 million acres of some of the highest-value habitats found in America's Arctic. Protections include vital habitats for birds (Teshekpuk Lake, for example) that migrate coast to coast, including large numbers of waterfowl important to subsistence users, bird-watchers and waterfowl hunters. The B-2 alternative, advocated by Pew, will also protect core area of caribou calving and migration routes of two of the state's largest caribou herds—the Teshekpuk and western Arctic caribou (Utukok River Uplands, for example), which provide a vital subsistence resource for more than 40 communities in northern and western Alaska. Coastal area protections (e.g., Kasegaluk Lagoon) will benefit polar bears, walrus, beluga whales and other marine mammals.
At least 27 resolutions representing 90 Alaskan villages have been adopted in the region. These call for protection of critical areas, wildlife and the subsistence way of life in the reserve. Approximately 400,000 public comments were submitted supporting strong conservation protections from several sportsmen's and conservation organizations.