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
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT