"We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope."
The National Petroleum Reserve Alaska is unlike other parcels of federal land in America, and much dissimilar to the easily accessible national parks, monuments and wilderness areas in Utah.
Its vast 23 million acres is not a place that will attract weekend recreationists. On the Arctic Sea at the far northern point of Alaska, the area once reserved as a source of oil for the military has few human inhabitants except for those searching for underground and undersea fossil fuel reserves.
But it is home to some of the last remaining great wildlife flocks and herds in America. And those vast animal habitats are worth protecting.
The U.S. Department of Interior is about to adopt a plan that would provide that much-needed protection for parts of this unique landscape while also allowing extraction of oil and gas, and even offering space for a pipeline from a busy off-shore oil field in the Chukchi Sea to the west, and connecting to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields to the east.
The proposal designated as the Bureau of Land Management's preferred B-2 plan should be adopted. It would leave half of the area about 12 million acres open to exploration and development of oil and natural gas. About 72 percent of the known deposits of those fuels are within that large parcel.
It would designate as "special areas" the Utukok Uplands, a vital raptor nesting area and part of the range for a herd of 350,000 caribou. They require such expanses for migration. Receiving a like designation is the region around the Teshekpuk Lake, which is home to polar bears and an important calving area for caribou. It is also a critical nesting, molting or staging area for water birds, including swans, ducks, geese, terns, loons and sandpipers, to name a few.
Although this distant region might seem to have little impact on Utahns, it is a part of the intercontinental migratory bird flyway, which also encompasses the Great Salt Lake and other Utah wetlands. The waterbirds we treasure need this land.
The proposal would protect these areas only temporarily. The entire region needs permanent safeguarding, for it is among the last truly wild lands on Earth, and we need them.
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