Alaska Under Attack Again

800px-A_mother_and_a_cub_bearsI haven’t always been the liberal nutjob that I am now. There was a time when I was right behind Bush for trundling in to Iraq, and found the idea of protecting animals very much the picture of “hippie” idiocy.

But, with age came wisdom, and with wisdom came a shift in my view of the world.

I say that, because in an MSNBC article entitled ‘Yukon Flats wildlife refuge eyed for its oil,’ this sentence appears; “A controversial land swap proposal could open portions of an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil drilling, dividing Alaska natives and stoking opposition from environmentalists seeking to protect the bears, moose and birds that live there.”

The moment I read “moose,” I knew that my perspective on the world had changed. A part of my mind, long since dormant, by instinct reared up and said “It’s a moose! Who cares?!” But it was immediately overridden by the new me which realized the overall importance of sustaining various ecosystems and species.

The plan is a land trade, which would give 110,000 acres of hydrocarbon-prone uplands within the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, plus mineral rights to another 97,000 acres, to Fairbanks-based Doyon Ltd. The Refuge lies just south of the ‘always-in-the-news’ Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In exchange, and definitely a plus to the deal, the Refuge would acquire 150,000 acres of bird-friendly wetlands, currently owned by Doyon, as well as 56,500 acres on which Doyon currently has pending land claims.

The bad news is the possible disruption to one of the most unique ecological locations in the US. The Refuge is located in eastern interior Alaska, cradling the Arctic Circle and bisected by the Yukon River. It lies between the White Mountains National Recreation Area and Steese National Conservation Area to the south, and ANWR and Venetie Indian Reservation to the north. It is the third largest national wildlife refuge, and is large than the states of Maryland and Delaware combined.

A total of 35 mammal species wander the park, including Black and Grizzly bears, moose and beaver. The refuge also is home to the highest density of breeding ducks in Alaska, as well as more than 160 other species of bird. Additionally, a songbird banding station has found that some 15,000 common, Pacific and red-throated loons spend summers among the lakes, rivers and wetlands on the refuge.

And, for me, possibly the most important life inhabiting the area, are the fish. The Yukon River, along with ten other rivers that flow through the refuge, is home to three species of salmon and 15 species of freshwater fish. The salmon that traverse the rivers come from the Bering Sea, through the Yukon Flats, all the way to Canada, a total of 2,000 miles upstream, all so that they can spawn their young.

Supporters of the plan, backed by Doyon, owned by Athabascan Indians of interior Alaska, view the land swap as beneficial to everyone. “You can have both the subsistence lifestyle and the protection of that lifestyle, and you can have oil and gas exploration,” said Norm Phillips, Doyon’s resource manager.

But not everyone agrees, including local residents – also Doyon shareholders – believe that they will be the ones to lose out. “Usually, the indigenous people are at the losing end of any sort of oil development,” said Dacho Alexander, first chief of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribe in Fort Yukon, a village of 600 near the proposed exchange parcels.

Those behind the plan hope that the Bush administration will approve the plan before they are kicked out of office. “The window is the election,” Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young, a staunch backer of the plan, said at an Anchorage news conference. “We’d like to have an executive order out of the administration before they leave office.”

This isn’t so much a surprise as a ridiculous plea to get it done before Democrats enter and all hope is lost. Why wait for the will of the people when you can get the most environmentally unfriendly President to do your dirty work for you before the people can get involved.

The worst bit of it all? The Yukon Flats basin holds only an estimated 173 million barrels of oil, or, approximately 9 days of U.S. consumption at current rates. In addition there is 5.5 trillion cubic feet of gas and 127 million barrels of natural-gas liquids (this all according to the U.S. Geological Survey).

But, regardless of whether the land swap goes through, according to Norm Phillips, Doyon is still going to move forward with exploration out there.”

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