The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is a vast tract of federal public land in the U.S. Arctic, bounded by the Chukchi Sea to the west and the Beaufort Sea to the north. More than ten times the size of Yellowstone National Park, the Reserve provides habitat for an astounding array of wildlife, including an abundance of marine mammals and seabirds. Indigenous residents of Alaska’s North Slope use areas within the Reserve to hunt, fish and gather subsistence resources.
Currently, the Reserve is governed by a 2013 management plan. That plan calls for a balanced mix of uses, with a little more than 50% of the Reserve open to oil and gas leasing and the rest protected from leasing and development.
Last week, the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior unveiled a new management plan that, if adopted, will slash protections and open more than 80% of the Reserve to oil and gas operations. Among other flaws, the proposed plan threatens important habitat along the Beaufort Sea coast.
The Reserve is the largest single tract of public land in the nation. By law, management of this tract must be balanced. Some portions of the area may be leased for oil and gas operations, but the law requires managers to protect the Reserve’s other values, such as its exceptional wildlife habitat and subsistence use areas.
Instead of protecting those values, the Trump administration proposed a lopsided management plan that opens the vast majority of the Reserve to the oil and gas industry.
The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is perhaps best known for the enormous caribou herds that range through the area, including the Western Arctic Caribou Herd and the Teshekpuk Caribou Herd. Terrestrial areas of the Reserve are also used by wolves, grizzly bears, wolverines, muskoxen and moose—as well as a wide variety of bird species.
Less well known are the Reserve’s important coastal and estuarine areas. These portions of the Reserve are used by marine mammals including bowhead, beluga and gray whales; bearded, spotted and ringed seals; polar bears and walrus. Millions of migratory birds rest, feed, stage and molt in the Reserve’s coastal waters, or nest on the barrier islands or inland wetland habitats. Fish species, including Dolly Varden, broad whitefish and Arctic cisco, swim in both freshwater and estuarine waters.
Some coastal areas—including Peard Bay and Kasegaluk Lagoon Special Areas along the Chukchi Sea coast—will continue to be protected even under the new proposed management plan. However, much of the Beaufort Sea coast would lose its protections and could be leased to oil and gas operators. This includes the Dease Inlet/Meade River area, which provides important habitat for seabirds, waterfowl, loons and shorebirds, haul-out areas for spotted seals and denning habitat for polar bears. This region is currently closed to oil and gas leasing, but would be opened up to oil and gas operators under the Trump administration’s proposed management plan.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s plan to open up the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to oil and gas leasing is just the latest example of its rush to open our ocean to energy development, erode protected areas, weaken regulations designed to promote safety and environmental protection and do away with opportunities for public participation in decision-making.
Take action, be a champion for the ocean. Tell the Department of Interior not to open up the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to oil and gas leasing. Urge them to protect the Arctic coast.
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