FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE by Audubon Alaska
November 21, 2019
Joint statement from: Alaska Wilderness League * Audubon Alaska * Center for Biological Diversity * Defenders of Wildlife * Earthjustice * Northern Alaska Environmental Center * Conservation Lands Foundation * The Wilderness Society * Sierra Club * Native Movement * Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition
Teshekpuk Lake Wetlands. Photo: Kiliii Yuyan
Another federal agency action threatens the health of Arctic land, water, wildlife, and people already suffering the consequences of industrialization and climate change. The Bureau of Land Management took the next step toward undercutting protections for designated Special Areas including the Teshekpuk Lake wetlands, one of the most ecologically important wetlands in the entire Arctic; in the Western Arctic’s National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) by releasing a new draft Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) today.
BLM’s proposal would potentially open some of our nation’s most vital natural places to oil and gas exploitation: millions of acres of wilderness-quality lands with critical habitat for migratory birds, brown bears, caribou, threatened polar bears, walrus, whales and more. The Alaska Native communities that live in the region have maintained a subsistence way of life for thousands of years based on the Reserve’s living resources.
The administration’s proposal ignores local needs and input and could make large swaths of currently protected Western Arctic lands available for exploitation, regardless of the profound negative impacts for water, land, animals, and people in the region.
The existing Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) was completed in 2013 after years of extensive research and broad public involvement. Communities within the Reserve contributed information about land use and traditional knowledge of ecological patterns, and the Interior Department under President Obama spent years working with tribal communities, local governments, the state of Alaska, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group and the public on the science-based protections ultimately adopted in the 2013 IAP.
The areas protected under the current land management plan, including Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, Utukok Uplands, Peard Bay, and Kasegaluk Lagoon, reflect this greater understanding and awareness that people, animals and plants depend on interconnected natural ecosystems, not fragmented migratory routes and watersheds. New information since the IAP was adopted, including increasing threats from climate change, underscores the critical importance and sensitivity of this landscape and demonstrates a need for increasing, not decreasing, protections.
Unfortunately, the administration remains focused on making as much of Arctic Alaska available for exploitation as possible, regardless of the profound negative impacts. Our coalition remains committed to defending and expanding the protections for Arctic lands, waters, and communities.
PUBLIC COMMENTS DUE BY JAN. 21, 2020: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage¤tPageId=174096