The new threat to birds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The new threat to birds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Editor’s Note: In the May/June 2018 issue of BirdWatching magazine, we published “America’s Serengeti,” a photo essay by Malkolm Boothroyd featuring birds (and other wildlife) from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge , the vast 19.6 million-acre wilderness of northeast Alaska. It is the largest wildlife refuge in the United States and is home to more than 200 species of birds. Part of ANWR has been the target of the oil industry for decades. The 2017 tax law included a provision allowing drilling, and since then the Trump administration has been moving toward allowing drilling. Here, Malkolm takes stock and suggests an action birders can take to oppose the latest plan.

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to spectacled eiders, snowy owls, red-breasted sandpipers, and dozens of other breeding bird species. It is also the birthplace of the Porcupine caribou herd, essential calving habitat for polar bears, and sacred land for the Gwich’in people. The U.S. government is pushing to drill for oil in the Arctic refuge and, after an Oct. 23 announcement, is close to approving a three-dimensional seismic study. Investigations are planned to begin in December.

Until November 6, you can submit your concerns to the Bureau of Land Management. It is important that opposition to seismic testing be made public. You can send your concerns directly to: [email protected]

Here are some things to consider when writing:

1. Three-dimensional seismic testing is intrusive. Convoys of heavy machinery would crisscross more than 500,000 acres of coastal plain, blasting the tundra with 60,000 pounds. by force. Damage from seismic testing in the 1980s is still visible in the Arctic refuge, and this study could leave scars that could last for generations.

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2. The coastal plain provides essential denning habitat for polar bear populations in the southern Beaufort Sea. The best technology for detecting polar bear dens is only about 50% accurate, meaning there is a high probability that a seismic survey will disturb undetected dens.

3. In the summer, a helicopter flew over the Arctic refuge in search of discarded waste. It could land and take off up to 600 times, harassing countless birds and caribou.

4. The seismic plan includes camps for up to 180 people and crew changes twice a week, but the seismic plan makes no mention of Covid-19 or health protocols.

5. The Bureau of Land Management should curb its reckless push for seismic testing in the Arctic refuge. The Bureau should prepare a thorough environmental impact study, hold robust public comment periods, and consult with each affected community.

Below is a slideshow of Malkolm’s photos of some of the Arctic refuge’s iconic birds and other animals.

Pacific Loon

Pacific Loon

CREATING A FAMILY: A Pacific common loon incubates its eggs along a small pond near where the Turner River meets Demarcation Bay in the northeastern part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Slowing down the drilling rush

Here are three organizations that defend the birds and other wildlife of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

Audubon Alaska

Defense of Arctic Refuges Campaign

Sierra Club