In spite of sharp protests from scientists and locals alike, our furry and feathery friends in the north may soon be in grave danger as the Department of Interior prepares to open 389,000 acres of Alaskan tundra to oil exploration.
In a direct reversal of an 8-year-old accord to protect wildlife in the vicinity, the entire Teshekpuk Lake area, a zone that was previously off limits to energy development, is now available for leasing. The new policy could recover as much as 2 billion extra barrels of oil from the National Petroleum Reserve.
Bordering the Beaufort Sea, the wetland area surrounding Teshekpuk Lake serves as a vital habitat for migratory arctic animals. It is a major summer nesting ground for ducks, geese, swans and other fowl. A herd of 45,000 caribou raise their young near the shorelines. It is also an important region of subsistence for native Inuit populations, who use the land for hunting and fishing.
In 1998, then-Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbit created a plan to prevent drilling from taking place at most of Teshekpuk Lake. In 2003, the Bush administration made its efforts to eliminate this safeguard. Shortly, the Bureau of Land Management began making plans to lease the area.
The move drew fiery reactions from organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Wilderness Society and the Audubon Society.
The Bush administration’s past track record for environmental conservation is not exactly blemish-free, but subjecting innocent wildlife to the perils caused by the crude oil industry plunges the federal government to a new low.
Although developers insist that the animals’ habitat will not be encroached upon, such a promise is impossible when industry is involved. Interference is inevitable. A permanent industrial infrastructure means work, traffic and pollution. In turn, those things can mean disruption, disintegration and even death for these vulnerable animal populations.
Ecosystems are extremely fragile. They are the delicate balance in which varied species are able to depend on each other to coexist. Even the slightest mishap can spell disaster and the chances of such an accident occurring are almost certain when there is an oil field nearby.
The pristine, unhampered quality of the land will be ruined and this will have an extremely detrimental effect on the quality of life for those indigenous peoples living in the area.
By threatening the existence of a livelihood that has existed for thousands of years, the Bush administration has clearly shown where its priorities lay. Conservation and compassion have taken a backseat to corporate greed.
The wonders of nature are a fast-disappearing commodity in the industrial society that we live in today. It is extremely easy to dismiss all thoughts of the rapidly depleting ozone layer or the diminishing tropical rainforests when we all lead such busy lives.
However, the truth is that we cannot afford to treat the environment we live in with such careless disregard. The damage that could be inflicted is irreversible. As long as we remain silent and uncaring, we empower those who are part of the problem.
Venuri Siriwardane can be reached at email@example.com.