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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | chapter wide

Bush administration abandons long-standing protections for critical wildlife habitat on Alaska’s North Slope - Oil leasing plan ignores public opinion


Ignoring vocal opposition from Alaska natives, scientists, and hunters, the Bush administration opened for oil leasing 100% of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area in Northwestern Alaska in mid January. The decision repeals the last remaining protections for critical waterfowl and big game habitat around Teshekpuk Lake. The repealed protections were first established by Reagan administration Interior Secretary James Watt, who is not usually noted for conservation achievements.

"It is clear that this administration cares much more about doing favors for the oil industry than conserving wildlife for future generations," said Betsy Goll, Sierra Club's Alaska Regional Representative. "Even James Watt protected Teshekpuk Lake, yet the Bush administration can't deem one acre of this magnificent region worthy of protection."

The Teshekpuk Lake area is one of unparalled big game and waterfowl habitat. One in four of the world's population of Pacific black brant utilize the area. Approximately 37,000 black brant, 30% of the entire population, utilized the Teshekpuk Lake area for molting in 2001. Other waterfowl that rely on the area include lesser snow geese, white-fronted geese and long-tailed duck that find critical nesting and molting habitat in the Lake's environs. Spectacled and Steller's eiders, both listed as "threatened species" under the federal Endangered Species Act, use the area for nesting.

BLM's draft plan, released in June 2004, elicited more than 220,000 comments from across the nation with the vast majority opposed to oil drilling in the area. Other federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also raised concerns.

Congress and three Secretaries of the Interior have recognized the ecological importance of the area around Teshekpuk Lake. Former Secretary of Interior James Watt closed an area of more than 200,000 acres north of Teshekpuk Lake to oil and gas leasing. In 1998, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt established an oil and gas leasing plan for the northeast Reserve, which protected much of the sensitive habitat around Teshekpuk Lake from leasing for oil and gas facilities.

In early 2004, the Bush administration announced its intent to alter the 1998 plan, and in June 2004 the BLM released a draft plan that proposed opening 96% of the entire Northeast Planning Area to oil leasing. BLM Alaska Director Henri Bisson acknowledged BLM's plan to dismantle long-standing rules that had set core wildlife habitats in the area north of Teshekpuk Lake off limits to drilling since the Reagan administration.

"Despite the administration's spin, 100% of the Teshekpuk Lake area will ultimately be open to oil leasing, and not a single acre will be permanently dedicated to conservation. The bottom line is that one of North America's best remaining waterfowl habitats will be fragmented by roads, pipelines, air strips, gravel mines and industrial sprawl," said Goll, representing the Sierra Club.







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