Introducing Alaska Program Director Ben Greuel

The Conservation Lands Foundation welcomes Alaska Program Director Ben Greuel and his work to protect the Western Arctic with this question and answer about his efforts.

Why did the Conservation Lands Foundation create an Alaska Program?

Ben in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – Photo: Sean Babbington

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers approximately 75 million surface acres of land in Alaska. The Western Arctic’s National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), at 23 million acres, is the largest single block of publicly-managed land in the United States. Located along Alaska’s North Slope, this land is ecologically spectacular and contains four “Special Areas,” including Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok River Uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon and the Colville River.

With the upcoming release of BLM’s final plan for the Reserve, opportunities for land conservation in Alaska’s Western Arctic are now at a turning point. The Conservation Lands Foundation is uniquely positioned to fully realize this opportunity, and initiated an Alaska Program to accomplish a number of strategic objectives, including:

  • Advocate for development of the Reserve using less invasive alternatives, including ice roads, extended reach drilling, and helicopter transport
  • Ensure the BLM endorses the strongest possible alternative to the final plan for the Reserve, offering the best balance between conservation and resource development
  • Work with coalition partners to put in place a long term strategy to enhance and protect the standards put forward for the Special Areas
  • Highlight the national stature and ecological importance of these lands to the public, so that their conservation values are better known and understood.

Ultimately, the Alaska program is a realization of the Conservation Lands Foundation’s mission on a grand scale: protecting and expanding the National Conservation Lands by working to preserve this important place.

So Ben, tell us a little about yourself.

After five years of working on wild lands protection campaigns in Pacific Northwest, I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the CLF team, board and the Friends Grassroots Network around the West to advocate for the protection of biologically critical BLM lands in the Western Arctic. The position brings me back home as my initial foray in the conservation community was with the Alaska Wilderness League as a Midwestern Organizer working to prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve always been passionate about protecting really wild places and the Western Arctic is arguably the wildest region in the United States.

Despite its outstanding ecological and subsistence value, the BLM lands in the Western Arctic have exactly zero acres of permanent protection. I’m excited to utilize the tools CLF brings to the table to advocate for the permanent protection of these ecologically significant lands. CLF and its network of friends groups around the west are respected voices within the Obama administration and Department of Interior. I am honored to have the opportunity to work them to help advocate for this incredible resource.

How did the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska get its unusual name?

Western Arctic caribou herd

The National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A) was created by President Warren G. Harding in 1923 as Naval Petroleum Reserve # 4 during a time when the United States was converting its Navy from coal to petroleum power. In 1976 the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act renamed the Reserve the “National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska” and transferred it from the Navy to the Department of the Interior.

Despite its name, the Reserve is far more than a place for energy development. When congress transferred ownership to the Department of Interior it did so with a dual mandate by recognizing that the Reserve contains “subsistence, recreational, fish, wildlife, historical, and scenic values” that should be protected and directed the Secretary of the Interior to establish “conditions, restrictions, and prohibitions” to protect the significant surface resources of the Reserve.

Why should someone in Nevada or Colorado or anywhere else in the lower 48 care about this place?

Spanning over 22 million acres, roughly the size of Indiana, the Reserve is the largest contiguous piece of public land in the United States. But it’s not just its size that makes the Reserve so special. The Reserve contains unique and valuable habitat for wildlife populations important to all Americans. Two Caribou herds, the largest density of grizzly bears in the United States, threatened polar bears, walrus, wolves, wolverines and many more species make the Reserve home. Millions of migratory birds that use the Reserve for nesting, molting and staging migrate throughout much of the United States and winter in nearly every state. It is quite possible a bird in your back-yard feeder was born in the Western Arctic. In short, the Reserve is home to world-class habitat unparalleled in North America and will be a wonderful addition to the National Conservation Lands.

How could the Friends Grassroots Network support CLF’s efforts in the Western Arctic?

In the very near future, the Department of Interior will be releasing its final and first-ever comprehensive management plan for the Reserve. A Friends Grassroots Network sign-on letter in support of the administration’s actions would go a long way toward showing the Obama administration and Department of Interior that a network of educated, engaged and conservation minded voices around the West appreciate the efforts the administration is putting into finding balance in the Western Arctic.

Posted by David in Blog & Videos, Western Arctic
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