* This post was updated Dec. 19 to reflect breaking news from Alaska.
Secretary of the Interior Salazar today announced a comprehensive plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and Teshekpuk Lake which will protect critical bird habitat for birds and other wildlife. These are protections that Audubon has fought to win for years. The NPR-A is the largest single piece of public land in the United States, roughly the size of Indiana. The biggest gem in the preserve is Teshekpuk Lake, where millions of birds from across the Pacific Flyway spend their spring and summer. Learn more about the lake in this video:
For years Audubon has led the fight to protect the preserve and Teshekpuk Lake. This new plan protects nearly all of the important wildlife habitat Audubon recommended, while striking a balance with resource development. It substantially expands the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, making most of it off-limits for leasing and oil drilling including the globally-significant Teshekpuk Lake Important Bird Area (IBA).
This management plan for the Reserve calls for leasing and development of the vast majority of the NPR-A’s oil resources (72 percent), specifically allowing for development of pipelines and infrastructure that may be needed to support offshore oil and gas development, while also protecting sensitive areas that Congress itself has directed should have “maximum protection” under the law.
Congress has long recognized the area’s extraordinary ecological resources. In 1976, President Gerald Ford signed into law legislation that transferred management of the NPR-A from the U.S. Navy to the Department of the Interior with a unique dual mandate to provide for both future energy production as well as protection of special areas within the NPR-A.
Congress charged the secretary of the interior with managing the NPR-A to provide for “maximum protection” of areas with “significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife, or historical or scenic value”. Congress has directed that the secretary “shall include or provide for such conditions, restrictions, and prohibitions as the secretary deems necessary or appropriate to mitigate reasonably foreseeable and significantly adverse effects on the surface resources” of the NPR-A (42 USC § 6506a).
As recognized in the very first land management plan prepared for the NPRA in 1998, the fundamental purpose “is to determine the appropriate multiple use management” of the area; federal law “encourages oil and gas development in NPR-A while requiring protection of important surface values.”
You can find the official plan documents from the BLM-Alaska website at www.blm.gov/ak.