Oil Drilling: Western Arctic

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Oil Drilling: Western Arctic
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Bob Wick, BLM

Oil development and fragile habitat don’t mix

It’s no surprise that the Western Arctic is an internationally important bird destination. This vast area in northern Alaska is full of extraordinary rivers, lakes and wetlands, all of which attract millions of migratory birds every year.

Parts of the Western Arctic are open to oil and gas drilling. But in years past, Congress recognized certain special areas as too fragile for oil development and set them aside. Those protections were further expanded during the Obama era. Today many of these important habitats are in danger of being turned over to oil and gas leasing under the Trump administration.

Why this place matters

The Western Arctic is made up of some of the best bird habitat in the country. Millions of migratory birds from every continent on Earth hatch and raise their young in here. The reserve's massive size (22.8 million acres) also supports tens of thousands of caribou and populations of wolves, musk oxen, grizzly and polar bears.

Migratory birds
Thousands of acres of wetlands provide habitat for birds from all over the world.
Largest caribou herd
America's largest herd of caribou uses this area as its main calving ground.
Our largest parcel of public land
The Western Arctic is the largest area of public land left in our nation.

The threat

The Western Arctic is in danger of being opened to oil and gas leasing. In 2013, we won a major victory for this area by persuading the Obama administration to create a land-management plan that set aside special areas of the Western Arctic. These prime habitat areas were to be protected from oil and gas leasing. All together, they spanned about 11 million acres. Areas with critical wildlife habitat, such as Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River and Utukok Uplands, were to be protected among them. Now the Trump administration plans to revise this plan and put the protected areas back in the crosshairs of oil and gas development. Industrial development and new infrastructure could damage habitat and disrupt age-old migration, birthing and nesting patterns for the Western Arctic’s caribou, migratory birds, fish and other animals.

What we're doing

  1. Influencing policy

    We’re working with government agencies to ensure that oil development in the Western Arctic happens responsibly, and not in sensitive special areas.

  2. Banding together

    We’re working closely with local, regional and national conservation groups and local indigenous communities to bring more power to the fight to protect the Western Arctic.

  3. Advancing scientific research

    We’re researching and publicizing the habitat importance of places like the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area to keep them off-limits to drilling.

What you can do
Tell lawmakers to support the Western Arctic. Sign up for WildAlerts to make your voice heard.