Feds OK First Permanent Road in Western Arctic

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Conservation groups call for balancing oil and gas development with strong management of protected area as BLM approves first drilling plan for Western Arctic that includes a permanent road through sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitat. * Alaska Wilderness League * Conservation Lands Foundation * Northern Alaska Environmental Center * Pacific Environment * Sierra Club * The Wilderness Society*

caribou in Western Arctic Reserve

caribou in Western Arctic Reserve

We are disappointed that BLM’s final decision fails to prioritize proceeding in the most environmentally sensitive way possible...

Today, the Alaska Office of the Bureau of Land Management issued its Record of Decision for the first commercial development project, Greater Mooses Tooth Unit 1, within the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska (Reserve). This decision allows for construction of a permanent, 8-mile road through the Reserve’s sensitive wetlands and tundra, including the protected Fish Creek setback, which will cause lasting impacts on the region’s wildlife and subsistence values.

As the Bureau moves forward with permitting oil and gas development within the Reserve, it should also be allocating equal resources toward proactively managing the five designated Special Areas for conservation and wildlife values. In response to the final Record of Decision on GMT-1 permitting and the permanent impacts that will be caused by the project, the conservation community calls on the Bureau to commit all necessary resources for a landscape level planning process that will ensure the strongest future protection possible for each of the Reserve’s Special Areas.

The GMT-1 project represents a significant piece in the growing cumulative impacts associated with oil and gas development in the Arctic. The Obama administration’s 2013 Integrated Activity Plan allows for leasing access to 72 percent of the Reserve’s economically recoverable oil while also setting aside Special Areas to protect wildlife, subsistence and wilderness characteristics. Lands outside of Special Area boundaries include important wildlife corridors, so it is essential that GMT-1 and future projects set the highest standards for development by requiring best available technologies and the smallest-possible footprint to minimize impacts to this fragile, wildlife-rich landscape.

Statements from conservation groups:

"We are disappointed that BLM’s final decision fails to prioritize proceeding in the most environmentally sensitive way possible, as Greater Mooses Tooth will set the tone for all future development in the Reserve and its cumulative impacts will be felt throughout the Reserve and surrounding communities,” said Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of Alaska Wilderness League. “This development will take place just a short distance away from the Teshekpuk Lake and Colville River Special Areas, lands set aside for conservation because their wildlife and subsistence values make them simply too precious to drill, so it is critical that any development within the Reserve ensures the values of the Reserve’s Special Areas remain protected.”

“The final decision for Greater Mooses Tooth will allow permanent impacts to the landscape and wildlife resources in the region, which is not exemplary of industry’s best practices or least invasive technologies,” said Lindsey Hajduk, Alaska Program Director for the Conservation Lands Foundation. “Going forward, the Department should balance this decision with permanent conservation in the Reserve’s Special Areas for future generations to enjoy.”

"This decision puts the fragile and important wetlands of the western Arctic at risk from the growing cumulative impacts of oil development. To offset this the administration needs to put in place permanent protections for the special places of America's Arctic," said Dan Ritzman, Alaska Program Director for Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "The importance of these areas for wildlife, subsistence traditions, and Americans sense of wild should not be subsumed by the drive to develop dirty fuels."

“The decision to allow a permanent road in the western Arctic sets a terrible precedent for our public lands,” said Kevin Harun, Alaska Program Director for Pacific Environment. “This landscape should be managed to protect wildlife and their movements, but instead allows permanent damage to fragile Arctic ecosystems.”

“The Integrated Activity Plan that was approved in 2013 established a management plan for the western Arctic that balanced conservation and energy development,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. “But it is crucial that BLM maintain strong conservation standards as development moves forward, and ensures protection of designated Special Areas and special values. Wildlife species inhabit all of the reserve, so we must hold industry to the highest possible standards.”

Contacts:

Corey Himrod, Alaska Wilderness League, (202) 266-0426, corey(at)alaskawild(dot)org
Lindsey Hajduk, Conservation Lands Foundation, (907) 360-3320, Lindsey(at)conservationlands(dot)org
Elisabeth Dabney, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, (907) 452-5021, dabney(at)northern(dot)org
Kevin Harun, Pacific Environment, kharun(at)pacificenvironment(dot)org
Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, (804) 225-9113 x 1002, virginia.cramer(at)sierraclub(dot)org
Tim Woody, The Wilderness Society, (907) 223-2443, tim_woody(at)tws(dot)org     

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