Alaska’s Western Arctic
Our Work in Alaska: Protecting the National Petroleum Reserve
At almost 23 million acres, the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska (the Reserve) is our country’s largest contiguous piece of public land. Roughly equivalent in size to the state of Indiana and ten times the size of Yellowstone National Park, the Reserve is a vast, largely undeveloped landscape little known to those outside of Alaska. From towering peaks bordering Noatak National Preserve on the Reserve’s southerly flanks to the complex and expansive coastal wetland on the Northern coast, the Reserve is the most biologically and culturally significant piece of public land without one acre of permanent protection. The Conservation Lands Foundation and our partners have been working to change that.
Though its size is impressive, its what’s within the Reserve that makes it so special. The Western Arctic and Teshekpuk Lake caribou herds migrate, seek relief from insects and calve in the Reserve. At over 350,000 in number, the Western Arctic Herd is one of the three largest in North America. The Teshekpuk Lake Caribou herd is unique in that in some years roughly half of the herd winters north of the Brook’s Range, weathering the brutally cold Arctic winters. Other wildlife, including wolves, arctic fox, wolverines, musk oxen, beluga whales, spotted seals and one of the larger densities of Grizzly Bears in North America, also make the Reserve home. Millions of migratory birds and waterfowl spend time in the Reserve. The impressive flocks that number in some cases in the hundreds of thousands, breed, molt and build their strength in the Reserve before making their way south for the winter. These brave travelers utilize all four North American flyways and several international flyways and make their way as far as to the southern tip of Chile and to the islands of the south Pacific. Yet many start their life in the Reserve’s complex of coastal wetlands, of which the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area forms the core.
The Alaska Native communities in the western Arctic have maintained a subsistence lifestyle for thousands of years based on the region’s natural resources. The native Inupiat communities of the Arctic Slope have relied on the Reserve’s native wildlife for food, culture and spiritual rejuvenation. Central to these subsistence needs are the Reserve’s two caribou herds. While oil and gas activities have a place in the Reserve, the areas of highest conservation value must be kept off limits to development to protect this incredibly important human value.
In early 2013, the Obama Administration finalized the Final Integrated Activity Plan for the Reserve. This first-ever comprehensive management plan was announced after an almost three-yearprocess. The result is a plan the Conservation Lands Foundation, Alaska Natives, sportsmen, biologists and over 400,000 Americans believe is a balanced approach toward managing this globally significant landscape. Half of the Reserve will be available for oil and gas drilling, while the other half will be protected as five “Special Areas” totaling over 11 million acres. Protections for the Teshekpuk Lake, Peard Bay, Utukok Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Colville River Special Areas ensure that the most critical areas within the Reserve will be protected from oil and gas drilling and non-subsistence infrastructure. Moving forward, the Conservation Lands Foundation will continue to work with the Bureau of Land Management, Alaska’s native community, sportsmen and other conservation groups to ensure the Reserve’s wildlife and subsistence value are protected.
To learn more, contact Ben Greuel, Alaska Program Director