The International Brant Monitoring Project
Brant in the News

The Issue:
Teshekpuk Lake PROTECTED!!! For now, anyway.

From: Scott Hed
To Maynard Axelson, Washington Brant Foundation

Dear Maynard,
We wanted to send a note of thanks for your efforts in the fight to protect critical habitats for Alaskan and world bird populations.  As a result of your public letter to Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on the impact of oil and gas development on the sensitive wetlands surrounding Teshekpuke Lake in the Western Arctic, Judge James Singleton Jr. of the US District Court of Alaska issued a decision on September 26, just one day before the Interior's proposed lease sale, barring the DOI from moving forward with their current plan to lease within this cornerstone waterfowl habitat.  This victory could not have happened without your ongoing support and efforts to both inform and educate the key decision makers on the impacts of development on world waterfowl and migratory birds.
We are attaching a few pictures of the wetlands that you took part in protecting, taken by famed Arctic photographer Subhankar Banerjee (below).  We, of course, will be watching the new EIS process closely and advocating for permanent protections for the most sensitive areas in and around Teshekpuk Lake and will keep you informed on the process.  Looking forward to continuing our work together to protecting crucial wild places for birds.
Thanks again for your amazing contributions and continued efforts!
Scott Hed, Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska
Becky Wynne, Alaska Wilderness League

September 26, 2006

Judge Blocks Leasing Plan for Alaska

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 — The Interior Department’s plan to sell oil and natural gas leases within 389,000 acres of shallow lakes and wildlife-rich tundra in northern Alaska was blocked Monday by a federal judge in Anchorage who ruled that the department had failed to do a sufficiently broad analysis of the plan’s environmental impact.

The ruling was the most recent in a string of legal setbacks for the Bush administration’s public-lands policies. In each case, federal judges said the government had failed to adhere to environmental requirements.

The decision, by Judge James K. Singleton Jr., affects an area in the northeastern part of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, 23.5 million acres set aside in 1923 by the government for future energy needs. The area between the Beaufort Sea and Teshekpuk Lake, which dominates a region speckled with hundreds of small lakes, is important to migratory birds from two continents.

It is also part of the range of a large caribou herd that spends its summers near the sea to escape Alaska’s aggressive insects.

The Audubon Society, the Alaska Wilderness League and other environmental groups had sued to block former Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton’s decision in January to lease parts of the Teshekpuk Lake area that had been placed off limits by earlier interior secretaries, from James Watt in the Reagan administration to Bruce Babbitt in the Clinton administration.

Their claims focused most closely on the potential damage to wildfowl, which use the area to molt and breed. When they have molted and are waiting for their flight feathers to grow, these birds are particularly sensitive, and the groups argued that the protections the Interior Department proposed for the area — including keeping 242,000 acres of the 389,000 off limits to any permanent surface structures other than pipelines — were insufficient.

Judge Singleton, however, was less persuaded by the environmental groups’ arguments about wildfowl protection than by the department’s failure to assess cumulative environmental effects, particularly on caribou, of energy development throughout the petroleum reserve.

He also rejected the department’s arguments that the final document allowing the lease sales was not, in itself, subject to full environmental analysis. Once sold, Judge Singleton said, the leases “may prove difficult, if not impossible, to change subsequently.”

Stan Senner, the president of Audubon Alaska, the lead plaintiff in the suit, said Monday, “Teshekpuk Lake is of critical international importance for migratory birds and other wildlife, and this decision gives us a reprieve and a chance to work for permanent protection of that very special place.”

Mayor Edward S. Itta of the North Slope Borough, whose 7,000 residents hunt and fish in the area, was not available for comment. His aides said he had gone whaling.

His spokesman, David Harding, said he was pleased with the decision, but, “We hope that there will be an opportunity to go back to the table and try to work out something that’s in everyone’s best interest.”

The other recent rulings blocked administration efforts to divert water from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a national park in Colorado; to allow some logging at Giant Sequoia National Monument in California; and, last week, to open some of the 49 million acres of roadless national forest to logging and mining.

For further information, contact the Brant Project International Coordinator


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