Protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

WHEREAS, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Arctic NWR), comprising 19,575,711 acres in northeastern Alaska, including the former Arctic National Wildlife Range, is the largest and northernmost refuge in the 94-million-acre NWR system, and represents one of the most spectacular landforms and assemblages of Arctic plants and animals in the world; and

WHEREAS, this refuge includes 8 million acres of designated wilderness, 3 designated wild rivers, habitats varying from tundra to taiga forests and mountains to wetlands, and supports an assemblage of plant and animal communities found nowhere else in the circumpolar region of the world; and

WHEREAS, the mammalian diversity of the Arctic NWR is rich, including all 3 species of North American bears (black, grizzly, and polar), approximately 150,000 caribou (Porcupine and Central Arctic herds), several thousand Dall sheep, several hundred muskoxen, and other mammals such as moose, wolves, wolverine, lynx, river otter, marten, red and arctic foxes, ermine, least weasels, snowshoe hares, and lemmings; and

WHEREAS, the Porcupine caribou herd (approx. 130,000), currently one of the continent's largest, migrates through and summers in large numbers on this refuge, and a majority of the calving grounds for this herd are on the coastal plain (1002 area) within the refuge, making it critically important for the herd; and

WHEREAS, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) submitted to Congress in 1987 concluded that oil and gas development and production in the Arctic NWR's coastal plain would negatively impact the Porcupine caribou herd; and

WHEREAS, the Arctic NWR is the most important onshore denning habitat in the United States for the Beaufort Sea population of polar bears; and

WHEREAS, many species of marine mammals, including ringed seals, spotted seals, bearded seals, walrus, harbor porpoise, narwhal, killer whale, beluga whale, gray whale, and the endangered bowhead whale are found in refuge waters, and

WHEREAS, recent federal energy policy recommendations propose oil and gas development in the coastal (1002) area of the Arctic NWR; and

WHEREAS, the US Geological Survey recently estimated that there is no more than a 50% chance of finding 5.3 billion barrels of oil in the 1002 area, only enough to meet the energy needs of the United States for 6–9 months, and with current technology, it would take anywhere from 7–10 years to see the first drop of crude oil from this location; and

WHEREAS, current federal government claims are that, by limiting oil and gas development activities to winter only, they can significantly reduce environmental impacts; however, this time of the year coincides with such important activities as polar bear denning and muskoxen feeding (precalving period) where the cost of disturbance is greatest; and

WHEREAS, oil and gas development already is widespread on the coastal plain of Alaska's North Slope and the Arctic NWR is the only area on Alaska's North Slope where oil and gas development is specifically prohibited by Congress; and

WHEREAS, despite technological advances in oil and gas exploration, production, and transport, these activities remain intrusive industrial processes requiring extensive infrastructure including roads, drilling platforms, pipelines, power plants, processing facilities, loading docks, dormitories, airstrips, gravel pits, utility lines, landfills, and huge amounts of water; and

WHEREAS, water resources are severely limiting on the Arctic NWR, and any oil and gas development would require a significant increase in infrastructure including desalinization plants and/or melting large volumes of ice and snow, which could result in an alteration of the Refuge's aquatic resources and water regime; and

WHEREAS, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation records, there is over one spill a day in Alaska's North Slope, averaging over 400 spills/year since 1996; these spills total over 1 million gallons and include releases of crude oil, diesel fuel and other refined products, and other hazardous substances such as ethylene glycol used in antifreeze; and

WHEREAS, the ecosystems of the Arctic NWR are highly sensitive to, and recover very slowly from, the types of physical impacts likely to occur as a result of oil and gas development, most likely leading to a wide diversity of negative impacts to the fauna and flora within the Arctic NWR; and

WHEREAS, the whole process of exploration, extraction and transport of oil and gas, even on a relatively small area, would significantly devastate the Arctic NWR ecosystem and negatively impact fish and wildlife species that it was specifically created by law to protect;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the American Society of Mammalogists, assembled at their 81st Annual Meeting at the University of Montana, Missoula, on 16–20 June 2001, strongly opposes oil and gas exploration and production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge until such time that an independent scientific review by the National Academy of Sciences determines that exploration and production techniques are compatible with maintaining the ecological integrity of the refuge. Further, we call on the current administration, the House of Representatives, and the United States Senate to carefully craft a national energy policy that emphasizes conservation, fuel efficiency, research and development of renewable energy resources (e.g., solar, geothermal, wind, etc.), and long-term sustainability, thereby reducing the likelihood that the Arctic NWR will need to be considered for future oil and gas development.