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
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT