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Big Win Protects Vast Swath of Alaska Wilderness

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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/Mindenpictures.com

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/SeaPics.com

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: www.SaveWhalesNow.org


Nature's Voice Spring 2013