Obama Administration proposes to fully protect much of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including rich coastal plain which oil drillers covet.
President Obama has proposed that the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and large areas of the refuge to the south be protected as Wilderness. Wilderness designation is the strongest protection from development, roadbuilding and mineral extraction available under law, and must be conferred by Congress. The coastal plain along the Arctic Ocean is rich with wildlife including migratory birds and polar bears, but also is known to have petroleum deposits similar to Prudhoe Bay to the west. It has been under contention for decades since the Refuge was first declared by President Eisenhower.
When a swath of the Refuge in the Brooks Range Mountains and Arctic coast was proposed for Wilderness designation in 1980 (hatch marks in map below), petroleum interests persuaded Congress to leave out the western coast of the Refuge — that area, called the 1002 from the section of the bill passed by Congress, was removed from the full protection and only administratively restricted from oil drilling. Since then oil interests their Congressional supporters have often tried to open the 1002, but each time Congress voted to continue restrictions. Members of the Alaska Congressional delegation and others immediately decried the Obama proposal and the idea may be doomed in the Republican-controlled Congress. Any official proposal for Wilderness designation carries a strong mandate not to violate the land while the proposal is being written and submitted to Congress.
Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post, who broke the story, wrote that the Interior Department is likely also to "put part of the Arctic Ocean off limits to drilling as part of a five-year [oil drilling area] leasing plan it will issue this week and is considering whether to impose additional limits on oil and gas production in parts of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska,” (NPRA) in the NW part of Alaska’s north slope (see map above).
The almost 20 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to the most diverse wildlife in the arctic, including caribou, polar bears, gray wolves, and muskoxen. More than 60 percent of the refuge, including huge sections of mountains and forests south of the Brooks Range, is not official Wilderness even though it is very wild land, among the most pristine and sublime in the nation. More than 200 species of birds, 37 land mammal species, eight marine mammal species and 42 species of fish are found in the Refuge. The proposal to add the land to the National Wilderness Preservation System, announced January 25, 2015, will also ask that four rivers – the Atigun, Hulahula, Kongakut, and Marsh Fork Canning – be added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System by Congress.
Gary Braasch has spent weeks photographing and exploring the Arctic Refuge since 1983, including the coastal plain and Canning River. His photographs of the Shell oil rig Kulluk very near the coastal plain made news in 2012 and some photographs appeared on the cover of the NY Times Magazine in January 2015.
Part of the World View of Global Warming journey to Peru was a visit to a weaving community at 13,000 feet in the Andes above the Urubamba River near Cusco. Thanks to the vision of Nilda Callanaupa Alvarez, her sister Flora and other artisan weavers at the Center for Traditional Textiles, the village of Accha Alta has been encouraged to return to very traditional dyes and patterns in weaving with the fine wool of the region. This area of the highlands also is seeing less snow, changes in stream flow, and a need to grow potatoes in fields higher up the treeless slopes. More on Peru's environment as it reacts to climate change, from World View of Global Warming's 2014 coverage, here.
Sunrise over the Amazon, part of new journeys and science reporting by Gary Braasch and World View of Global Warming.
Summer travel by Braasch Photography and World View of Global Warming spanned from Peru to Europe. In Peru we documented a glacier in the Andes completely melted away, migrating trees in the Amazon cloud forest, and how the richness of the tropical forest links with rapid climate change. In the photo above from Manu National Park, we gathered with scientists Miles Silman and Ken Feeley and their Peruvian colleagues to see the sun rise over the Amazon from Tres Cruces. Here at more than 3600 meters / almost 12,000 feet one can view down across the entire range of Amazonian biodiversity, from cloud forest to the lowland jungles across Brazil. Moisture in the air usually obscures the long view -- but provides intense optical effects as sunlight is bent, reflected, refracted and revealed through clouds.
In Europe, we rephotographed science and shrinking glaciers in the Alps -- seeing great changes in only a decade since we first imaged these landscapes in 2004. Changes in the energy landscape across Europe are also apparent. We had a photo used in the Venice Biennale of Architecture -- and opened a 30-print exhibition on climate change in Munich. Reports on all this coming soon to World View of Global Warming.
For more time series visualizations of how climate change is altering the face of the earth right now, try the new App for the iPad and the iPhone -- Painting With Time: Climate Change. Created by Red Hill Studios and World View of Global Warming, and available now at your Apple App Store -- where it is "What's Hot" in the Weather section. With a sweep of your finger, see glaciers melt, sea ice disappear, coasts erode, reservoirs dry up, and world temperatures soar, along with information about the science of climate change from leading researchers. For more information, please see the App developer's facebook page.
Gary Braasch is a leading environmental photojournalist who creates remarkable images and reports about nature, environment, biodiversity and global warming around the world. More...