By Dan Ritzman, Arctic Wild Guide, Sierra Club Organizer and Avid Wolverine Watcher
I am headed up to Fairbanks this weekend with my family for the annual Arctic Wild end of the season party, to see my Fairbanks friends, tell some lies, and try to one-up everyone. Wait until I tell them about my four wolverines this summer. Speaking of wolverines I saw three of them while floating the Kokolik River in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA). And speaking of the NPRA, that is actually the topic of this conservation post.
The 23.5 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on Alaska’s North Slope, also known as the Western Arctic Reserve is the largest tract of public land in the United States. The vast reaches of the western Arctic are home to a dizzying display of wildlife – polar bears, musk oxen, wolves, caribou, brown bears, foxes, and birds – millions of birds.
From the rugged De Long Mountains in the south across the Utukok Uplands and the broad Colville Basin clear to the Chukchi Sea the Western Arctic teams with wildlife. The area is the calving grounds of two caribou herds, one of which, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, is the largest in Alaska. The area also supports the highest concentration of grizzlies in the Arctic and quite possibly the highest concentration of wolverines in the world. The Western Arctic really is one wild and rich landscape.
This region was set aside in the 1930’s as a petroleum “reserve” and has seen little development up to the Bush Administration. Over the past 10 years we have seen some increased pressure to throw open the NPRA to oil and gas development which has resulted in more exploration and several exploratory wells. Now the Obama Administration is taking a smarter path, stepping back and looking at the NPRA as a whole and working on a plan that will determine where to drill, and where not to.
The Obama administration recently launched a new planning process for the entire Western Arctic Reserve, giving us a chance to protect the migratory birds, caribou, grizzly bears, and wolverines in the Western Arctic from potential coal mining and oil and gas development.
As they kickoff this plan, this is your first chance to weigh in a speak up for this wild country, let them know that the special places of the NPRA are worth protecting for our future generations.