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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 20, 2001
11:32 AM
CONTACT:  Defenders of Wildlife
Brad DeVries 202-772-0237
Nearly 500 Scientists Call On White House To Halt Plans To Drill In Arctic Wildlife Refuge
 
WASHINGTON - March 20 - Nearly 500 leading U.S. and Canadian scientists called on President Bush today to stop trying to change the law that prohibits oil extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The letter urged President Bush to "support permanent protection of the coastal plain's significant wildlife and wilderness values."

The scientists said oil development could seriously harm caribou, polar bears, muskoxen and snow geese -- among other wildlife. They warned it could disrupt the fragile ecosystem of the coastal plain, which they said could lead to even more widespread injury to wildlife and its habitat.

"Nearly the entire Arctic Coast of Alaska north of the Brooks Range is available for oil and gas and gas exploration or development. The 110-mile-long coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 1.5 million acres of key wildlife habitat vital to the integrity of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We urge you, Mr. President, to permanently protect the biological diversity and wilderness character of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from future oil and gas development," the letter concludes.

The signers are experts in the fields of ecology, wildlife and conservation biology, resource management and cultural anthropology. They include George Schaller, world-renowned as the greatest naturalist of the 20th century; Edward O. Wilson, winner of the National Medal of Science and two Pulitzer Prizes for his landmark books on social biology; and David Klein, professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, noted Arctic scientist and winner of the prestigious Aldo Leopold Award for lifetime distinguished service to the profession. More than 50 of the signers are Alaskan scientists.

The letter was organized by Defenders of Wildlife, the Alaska state office of the National Audubon Society, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"This letter poses a stark choice for this administration. Will they stop ignoring an overwhelming scientific consensus and large majorities of the American people that support protection for the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, or keep listening only to oil corporations that want to exploit the last protected five percent of Alaska's north coast?" said Robert Dewey, vice president for government affairs of Defenders of Wildlife.

Text of the letter to President Bush follows; list of signers is available upon request.

Defenders of Wildlife is a leading non-profit conservation organization recognized as one of the nation's most progressive advocates for wildlife and its habitat. With more than 425,000 members and supporters, Defenders of Wildlife is an effective leader on endangered species issues. To stay current on hot topics in wildlife conservation, subscribe to DENlines, Defenders of Wildlife's electronic update and action alert network. To subscribe to DENlines, or for more information on Defenders of Wildlife projects, visit www.defenders.org  

March 20, 2001

The Honorable George W. Bush President of the United States The White House Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As scientists and natural resource managers from the United States and Canada with many years of experience in ecology, wildlife and conservation biology, resource management and cultural anthropology, we encourage you to reconsider plans for exploring and developing the potential oil and gas reserves of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain. Instead, we urge you to support permanent protection of the coastal plain's significant wildlife and wilderness values.

The wildlands of the Arctic Refuge include the barrier islands and estuaries of the Beaufort Sea, the Arctic coastal plain, the Brooks Range, and the boreal forest within the upper Yukon River watershed. First set aside by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960, this is the United State's only conservation unit that encompasses an intact arctic ecosystem. Combined with the adjacent Ivvavik and Vuntut national parks in Canada, the Arctic Refuge represents one of the largest protected landscapes in the world. Moreover, the Arctic Refuge's coastal plain is a rare example of an ecosystem where ecological and cultural processes continue to interact much as they have for thousands of years. Unlike the adjoining refuge lands, that are designated Wilderness, the coastal plain is not permanently protected from development.

When President Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Range, he had the foresight and wisdom to include the entire ecosystem both south and north of the Brooks Range, encompassing the biologically rich coastal plain considered essential to the integrity of this ecosystem. In 1980, Congress enlarged the range to encompass additional wildlife habitat and designated this unique area the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge mission was broadened to include international research and management, as well as support for subsistence uses that form the basis of Native cultural values. Most of the original wildlife range was designated as a Wilderness. Only the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain was omitted. And today, this oversight remains a significant concern.

Five decades of biological study and scientific research have confirmed that the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge forms a vital component of the biological diversity of the refuge and merits the same kind of permanent safeguards and precautionary management as the rest of this original conservation unit. In contrast to the broad (greater than 150 mi.) coastal plain to the west of the Arctic Refuge, the coastal plain within the refuge is much narrower (15-40 mi.). This unique compression of habitats concentrates the occurrence of a wide variety of wildlife and fish species, including polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, caribou, muskoxen, Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, snow geese, and more than 130 other species of migratory birds. In fact, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Arctic Refuge coastal plain contains the greatest wildlife diversity of any protected area above the Arctic Circle.

The coastal plain provides essential calving and post-calving habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the largest (at about 130,000 animals) international migratory caribou herd in the world. The United States and Canada share the immense responsibility of managing this herd and protecting the key habitats on which the herd depends. In 1987, the two nations signed an international agreement to protect the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Since then, the calving grounds on the Canadian side of the border have received full protection, while the United States has not yet taken similar steps to adequately protect this essential habitat within the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, where most calving occurs. The Gwich'in Nation of Alaska and Canada depends upon the sustained productivity of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, for their subsistence economy and cultural identity, and are justifiably concerned about its security. Extensive research on the Central Arctic Caribou Herd at Prudhoe Bay indicates appreciable losses of preferred calving and summer habitats in response to petroleum development. Although the Central Arctic Herd has recently increased associated with mild weather conditions, we cannot be certain that even current state-of-the-art mitigation measures will guarantee access to critical habitats for the much larger, more densely aggregated Porcupine Herd. Displacement to new calving areas from developed oil fields, as has occurred with a portion of the Central Arctic Herd, does not appear to be an option for the Porcupine Herd because of the lack of suitable adjacent terrain.

Biologists also have identified conservation concerns with other wildlife populations in the Arctic Refuge, including polar bears, muskoxen, and snow geese. Although many polar bears den on the pack ice, the refuge's coastal plain is the most important land denning area for Beaufort Sea bears in Alaska. Muskoxen are year-round residents of the coastal plain, and disturbance from industrial development, particularly in winter, holds the potential to increase energetic costs and result in decreased calf production. Also, snow geese might be displaced from important feeding and staging habitats prior to autumn migration, increasing energy expenditure and reducing their ability to accumulate the fat needed for migration. The coastal plain serves many biological functions, including nesting habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and other migratory birds.

The Interior Department has predicted that oil and gas exploration and development would have a major effect on water resources. Fresh water already is limited on the refuge's coastal plain, and direct damage to wetlands will adversely affect fish, waterfowl, and other migratory birds. These potentially disruptive effects to fish and wildlife should not be viewed in isolation, however. Arctic ecosystems are characterized by many complex interactions, and changes to one component may have secondary but significant effects on other parts of this fragile ecosystem. Based on our collective experience and understanding of the cumulative effects of oil and gas exploration and development on Alaska's North Slope, we do not believe these impacts have been adequately considered for the Arctic Refuge, and mitigation without adequate data on this complex ecosystem is unlikely. Oil exploration and development have substantially changed environments where they have occurred in Alaska's central Arctic. Since the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated about 800 square miles of Arctic habitats have been transformed into one of the world's largest industrial complexes. Oil spills, contaminated waste, and other sources of pollution have had measurable environmental impacts, in spite of strict environmental regulations. Roads, pipelines, well pads, processing facilities, and other support infrastructure have incrementally altered the character of this ecosystem.

Please understand that we are not philosophically opposed to oil and gas development in Alaska. Indeed, we all clearly recognize the need for balanced resource management. But we also recognize the importance of maintaining the biological diversity and ecosystem integrity of our nation's Arctic. Nearly the entire Arctic Coast of Alaska north of the Brooks Range is available for oil and gas exploration or development. The 110-mile-long coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 1.5 million acres of key wildlife habitat vital to the integrity of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We urge you, Mr. President, to permanently protect the biological diversity and wilderness character of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from future oil and gas development.

Thank you for considering our concerns and recommendations.

Sincerely,

Arctic Refuge Science Letter Signatories:  

cc: Members of Congress Sincerely,

Arctic Refuge Science Letter Signatories:  

cc: Members of Congress

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