Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Alaskan oil and wildlife: It's not either/or

By Rebecca Rimel and Dale Hall, Special to CNN
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Rebecca Rimel and Dale Hall say animals like these Arctic muskoxen can be protected under a new oil and gas leasing plan.
Rebecca Rimel and Dale Hall say animals like these Arctic muskoxen can be protected under a new oil and gas leasing plan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rebecca Rimel, Dale Hall: National Petroleum Reserve has abundant wildlife and oil
  • New plan would open half the Alaska reserve (11.8 million acres) to oil, gas leasing
  • Writers: Wildlife such as caribou, bears, eagles, whales, polar bears would be protected
  • They say the plan balances energy exploration needs and conservation concerns

Editor's note: Rebecca W. Rimel is president and chief executive officer of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Dale Hall is CEO of Ducks Unlimited, Inc. and was director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 2005 through 2009.

(CNN) -- Who says we can't strike a balance between energy exploration and wildlife protection? For years, a false either/or argument has stalled progress in Washington on energy development. But now we have a chance to both develop and protect one of our nation's natural treasures.

Lying west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and roughly the size of Indiana, the nearly 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska supports a stunning diversity and abundance of wildlife considered globally significant by scientists. The region also contains hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. Given today's polarized politics, is it possible to protect these lands while tapping their resources?

Emphatically yes. For proof, look no farther than the August 13 announcement by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of a strategic plan that provides a responsible and equitable approach to managing the reserve.

Opinion: Next global warming worry: Thawing tundra

Rebecca Rimel
Rebecca Rimel
Dale Hall
Dale Hall

The new guidelines would make 11.8 million acres -- roughly half the reserve -- available for oil and gas leasing, while protecting important wildlife and waterfowl habitat in the remaining half. As Salazar said, the plan "will provide a road map to help facilitate the transition from leasing and cautious exploration to production and smart development" and "builds on efforts to help companies develop the infrastructure that's needed to bring supplies online."

This plan is great news for the caribou, grizzly bears, wolves and dense populations of peregrine falcons, golden eagles and other nesting raptors that live and breed on these lands. The offshore and coastal areas also provide important habitats for seals, beluga whales and polar bears.

The Teshekpuk Lake area is one of the most important goose molting habitats in the circumpolar Arctic, used by tens of thousands of Pacific brant, white-fronted, snow and Canada geese. Rare yellow-billed loons, spectacled eiders and millions of other migratory birds from the Pacific, Central, Mississippi and Atlantic flyways, and from as far away as South America, journey each year to the wetlands, ponds, lakes, streams and rivers on the reserve's coastal plain. The region has also sustained Alaska Native communities for thousands of years.

The reserve was originally established by President Warren G. Harding in 1923 when the U.S. Navy was converting its fleet from coal to oil, and has been managed by the Bureau of Land Management since 1976.

Opinion: Why we should look to the arctic

Although this spectacular area was set aside as a "petroleum reserve," the secretary of interior was given the legal authority and responsibility to ensure the protection of the environmental, fish and wildlife, and historical or scenic values there. About 1.5 million acres is already leased for oil and gas development. Salazar has publicly committed to pursuing a policy of accelerated development by offering annual lease sales in the reserve, the next in November, while also protecting ecologically important and sensitive areas.

Beyond protecting these irreplaceable lands, this plan demonstrates that energy and environmental policy need not be in conflict. We see this balanced, responsible approach unfolding around the world, from the protection of the vast Canadian Boreal forest to the creation of the Coral Sea marine reserve off the coast of Australia, both of which preserve critical but fragile resources while strengthening standards for sustainable use.

But this way of thinking is not really new. It harkens back to President Theodore Roosevelt's vision for sustainable and achievable conservation to protect the environment while still enjoying the economic benefits of our natural resources.

The proposed National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska plan is an important step in the right direction for all Americans, including Alaska natives, sportsmen and other conservationists who want to balance energy exploration with wildlife protection. But it's not a done deal; a final decision is expected in December. By dropping the old debate, Washington can demonstrate that a new era of compromise over conflict is possible. Instead of either/or, this is a win-win.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT