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Big Win Protects Vast Swath of Alaska Wilderness A laska’s Western Arctic Reserve is one of the largest campsite). “Polar bears, grizzlies, caribou, walrus, bowhead expanses of wilderness left in North America, and whales, beluga whales, seals,” he says, ticking off some of now a staggering 11 million acres of it — an area the variety of wild species he’s seen there. “And there are bigger than Connecticut and Massachusetts combined — millions of waterfowl and shore birds, some of which migrate have been put off-limits to oil and gas development. from as far as Africa and Antarctica.” Following more than a decade The Western Arctic Reserve was of campaigning and litigation set aside in the 1920s as an oil by NRDC, Interior Secretary reserve (later known as the Ken Salazar has announced the National Petroleum Reserve– Obama Administration’s plan Alaska), but it has remained to safeguard some of the most largely untouched by Big Oil. In critical wildlife habitat within the recent years the oil industry has reserve, including vital calving clamored for leases in the reserve, grounds for America’s largest targeting some of its most caribou herd and summer habitat sensitive habitats. Although the Snowy owl © Michio Hoshino/ for threatened polar bears. Snowy owl. decision by Salazar is a milestone in wilderness conservation, it “The Western Arctic Reserve is less well-known than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, will be up to Congress to make the protections permanent, but its wildlife populations are every bit as important and and a number of smaller yet still important areas within the endangered,” says Chuck Clusen, director of NRDC’s Alaska 23-million-acre reserve remain vulnerable. “We ultimately Project. Clusen has visited the remote wilderness numerous want to see all critical habitat within the Western Arctic times (once, a dozen musk oxen walked right into his Reserve protected for future generations,” Clusen says. Agency Set to Approve Navy’s Threat to Whales T Dolphins © Michael S. Nolan/ he federal agency charged with protecting marine mammals wants to green-light a U.S. Navy training plan that will harass or injure whales and other marine mammals more than 31 million times. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is preparing to approve the Navy’s five-year plan to use high explosives and deafening mid-frequency sonar in its training and testing exercises throughout enormous swaths of ocean off America’s coasts. Bombardment with extreme noise — up to 236 decibels in the case of mid-frequency sonar — can cause fatal hemorrhages in the lungs and other vital organs of marine mammals. The Navy’s own environ­mental review concedes the jaw-dropping harm it could inflict with sonar and explosives: more than 1,000 deaths, 5,000 serious injuries and millions of cases of temporary hearing loss. This unprecedented toll is three times higher than the impacts of any previous Navy plan. Apart from killing and injuring whales, sonar and explosives can force the animals to abandon vital feeding areas, interfere with their ability 6 to find mates and cause calves to separate from their mothers. “There are simple, common-sense steps the Navy Spinner dolphins. could take to drastically reduce these staggering numbers without sacrificing military readiness, but it’s failed to seriously consider any of them, and the Fisheries Service has just rolled over,” says Zak Smith, attorney with NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “We’ll see them in court if that’s what it takes to block this senseless assault on whales.” Tens of thousands of NRDC Members and online activists have already filed comments protesting the agency’s controversial decision, and you can join the fight. Take action at:

Nature's Voice Spring 2013

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