Yet oil and gas development jeopardizes one stretch of the Arctic Refuge, its coastal plain. When
Congress enlarged the refuge in 1980, they placed protections from energy
development on most of it. Unfortunately, the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain was left
out. WCS now calls for permanent protection of this critical coastal area.
Having been instrumental in the
refuge’s creation in 1960, WCS went on to conduct numerous ecological studies in the Alaskan Arctic. Containing some of the most important habitat for wildlife
in the refuge, the coastal plain provides essential
calving habitat for around 100,000 caribou. These enormous herds migrate across the Brooks Range
from nearby Canada. As many as 300,000 snow geese fuel up for their seasonal trips here, too. The birds forage on the plain’s rich cotton grass before they head south.
"We were delighted by the fact
that our work had led to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Range,
and we were naïve enough to believe that protection would be forever,"
said Schaller. "Instead, the American public has fought for decades to
preserve our natural heritage by keeping oil companies from drilling inside the
refuge. President Obama would be achieving one of the great acts of social
responsibility and patriotism of our time by permanently protecting the
refuge's coastal plain and America's greatest wild place."
The concentration of wildlife within the plain’s
narrow footprint (40 miles at its widest), leaves little room for development. These lands, coldly dubbed “Area 1002,” hold the highest density
of denning polar bears in Arctic Alaska. The bears, already dealing with sea ice reductions from climate change, need these sites to raise their young.
“While WCS is not opposed to extraction
efforts in the Arctic, direct extraction can and should be directed away from
areas of high wildlife value,” said WCS-North America Director Jodi Hilty. “The coastal
plain provides critical habitat, breeding grounds, migration passage, and more
to rare and iconic wildlife.”
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