“The secretary's plan shows that Americans can protect nature even on lands designated for energy production. It would be a great victory for birds, wildlife and common sense. And it says that some places really are too precious to drill, and there’s no better example than the Teshekpuk Lake area, one of the planet's most prolific bird nurseries,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “Now let’s apply that same vision and common sense to America’s Arctic Ocean, where drilling is about as safe as a tickle fight with a polar bear.”
Audubon experts are available to discuss the implications of today’s announcement. And as Secretary Salazar’s self-imposed Aug. 15 deadline for a decision on Shell’s arctic drilling permits approaches, Audubon experts are available to discuss the impact of that decision as well.
Background on the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska
The Department of the Interior is in the process of preparing a first-ever comprehensive land management plan (Integrated Activity Plan or “IAP”) for the nearly 23-million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve) on Alaska’s North Slope.
The Reserve is the nation’s largest public land management unit. It is home to two large caribou herds, musk oxen, grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, and dense populations of nesting raptors (peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, and rough-legged hawks). The wetlands of the Reserve support millions of nesting birds that migrate along all four of the nation’s major flyways and overwinter from coast to coast. Coastal areas of the Reserve provide vital habitat for various marine mammals including beluga whales, walrus, ice seals, and polar bears.
President Harding established the Reserve in 1923, and Congress transferred management of the Reserve from the Navy to the Department of the Interior under the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (NPRPA) of 1976 with a statutory mandate to balance future energy development with protection of the Reserve’s special ecological, recreational and subsistence values.
Under NPRPA, the Secretary of the Interior is charged with striking a balance to include both production and protection in the Reserve. This mandate was stated clearly in the first IAP adopted for the Northeast portion of the Reserve in 1998. The fundamental purpose of an IAP “is to determine the appropriate multiple use management” of the reserve; NPRPA “encourages oil and gas development in NPR-A while requiring protection of important surface values.”
In NPRPA, the Teshekpuk Lake and the Utukok River uplands areas were specifically mentioned as deserving “maximum protection” under the law.
- The Teshekpuk Lake area has been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) of Global Significance in recognition of its waterfowl values which include an internationally-important “molting” area where geese annually lose and regrow their feathers leaving them temporarily flightless and extremely vulnerable to disturbance. This area is unique and there are no other known places that support large numbers of four species of molting geese in the circumpolar Arctic. Birds migrate to molt at Teshekpuk Lake from Canada, Russia, and other parts of Alaska. Up to 100,000 Pacific Brant, Canada Geese, Snow Geese, and White-fronted Geese molt their flight feathers in the vicinity of Teshekpuk Lake each summer. Each fall waterfowl migrate south from the Teshekpuk Lake area along all major U.S. flyways from coast to coast as they return to wintering grounds, awaited by bird-watchers and sport hunters alike.
- Recent research indicates that Teshekpuk Lake may have the highest shorebird breeding densities in the entire circumpolar Arctic. Some shorebird species migrate to the area from far-flung locations including Chile, New Zealand, Japan, and Russia. More than two dozen species of shorebird breed in the Reserve and the Teshekpuk Lake area supports globally significant populations of at least three of these species: Black-bellied Plover 10%; Dunlin (Calidris alpina arcticola subspecies) 19%; and Semipalmated Sandpiper (western population) 10%.
- The Teshekpuk Lake area also provides the concentrated calving grounds and insect relief area for the approximately 60,000-animal Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd (TCH), a critical subsistence food resource for several Native communities including Barrow, the largest on the North Slope. The TCH is unique, compared to the other herds that calve on the North Slope, as it is the only herd with a large portion of the population that overwinters on the coastal plain. Barrow, Atqasuk, and Nuiqsut are almost exclusively dependent upon the TCH which provides about 95% of the caribou harvested by the communities of Barrow and Atqasuk and about 85% of the caribou harvested by Nuiqsut.
- Teshekpuk Lake caribou show high fidelity to the calving area surrounding the Lake; caribou that calve in this area have much higher success than caribou outside the area. Disturbance, displacement, and reduced reproductive success due to industrial development have been well documented.If the TCH is displaced from its calving area or if caribou are impeded from reaching the calving area, calving success would likely be reduced.
Where do Birds from the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Go?
- North American waterfowl migration from the Reserve (39-second video map created by Audubon Alaska using locations from the US Geological Survey's banded bird research data): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4lGR8RzjU4&;feature=youtu.be
- North American waterfowl migration from the Reserve (map): http://ak.audubon.org/sites/default/files/documents/attachment_a_-_npra_migration_map_press_ready.pdf