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
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT