“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is our nation’s only conservation unit spanning an intact ecosystem from the Arctic Ocean to south of the Brooks Range,” said John Schoen, Senior Science Advisor, Audubon Alaska. “The Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge represents only five percent of Alaska’s Arctic Coastal Plain—most of which is already open for industrial development. Managing the Arctic Refuge for its wildlife and ecosystem values and as a baseline for monitoring climate change will be important for increasing our scientific understanding of Arctic ecology and for achieving balance between conservation and development across America’s Arctic.”
Scientists and natural resource managers believe that the impacts of climate change and oil and gas development and exploration have not been adequately considered for the Arctic Refuge. In their letter, they state they are not “philosophically opposed” to oil and gas development in Alaska; however, they cite the need to ensure balanced resource management to protect the biological diversity and ecosystem integrity of the Arctic Refuge.
“The American public has fought for decades to keep oil companies from drilling in America’s last great wilderness, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to preserve it as part of our natural heritage for future generations. Now President Obama has the historic opportunity to declare the Coastal Plain of the Refuge, the place which is the focus of oil companies, a National Monument with a stroke of his pen under the Antiquities Act of 1906. This would be an act of social responsibility and patriotism, one that the nation would forever honor him,” said George B. Schaller, Wildlife Conservation Society and Panthera.
The combination of climate change and oil and gas development poses a “double threat” to America’s Arctic wildlife and wildlands. Climate warming is already causing significant ecological changes in the arctic while industrial oil and gas development poses an additional threat to species such as the iconic polar bear and migratory caribou.
“The Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge provides some of the best polar bear denning habitat on the entire North Slope, is a key calving area for the critical Porcupine caribou herd, and is one of the wildest and most remote landscapes within the United States. With the heavily industrialized Prudhoe Bay just around the corner, it is time to provide some balance by permanently protecting a meaningful portion of the Arctic coastal plain,” said Nils Warnock, Executive Director, Audubon Alaska.
“The Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a narrow corridor important for caribou calving, snow goose feeding, and polar bear denning,” said Steve Zack, Conservation Scientist, Wildlife Conservation Society. “Permanent protection has long been needed to ensure that these and other key Arctic wildlife species aren’t displaced in a critical region where there is no other place to go.”
When President Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960, the letter states, he had the “foresight and wisdom” to include lands both south and north of the Brooks Range, encompassing the biologically rich Coastal Plain along the coast of the Arctic Ocean which is considered the “biological heart” of this ecosystem. However, the 1.5-million acre Coastal Plain was omitted from Wilderness protections; the scientists and resource managers call this an “oversight” that “remains a significant conservation concern.”
“No region more effectively encapsulates the biological diversity and ecosystem complexity of the entire Arctic than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Dave Klein, Professor Emeritus at University of Alaska Fairbanks. “The unique adaptations to the extreme seasonality of the Arctic found in the plants and animals that inhabit the Arctic are brought together in the Arctic Refuge. The Arctic Refuge has played an essential role in sustaining the health of the Earth's biosphere, and with continued protection, it should continue to do so in the future.”
On this historic 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, scientists and natural resource managers are asking President Obama to take administrative actions to ensure that the Refuge, including the biologically rich Coastal Plain, is permanently protected for future generations.
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