The wetlands around Teshekpuk Lake are among the most important in the Arctic and attract millions of migratory birds. (Photo: Steve Zack/Wildlife Conservation Society)
The Bureau of Land Management hopes to lease the last untouched part of Alaska’s North Slope to oil and gas drilling companies. Host Bruce Gellerman speaks with Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska, about Teshekpuk Lake, which is a critical nesting and mating ground for migratory birds and other species, and could soon be developed.
GELLERMAN: Alaska is also where you’ll find Teshekpuk Lake. It’s on the North Slope 300 miles above the Arctic Circle, and it’s famous for two things: One is oil; the other: birds. It’s got a lot of both. Teshekpuk Lake lies in the National Petroleum Reserve –where it’s estimated there are two billion barrels of oil buried beneath the freshwater lake and marshy wetlands. It’s enough oil to fuel the U.S. economy for three months. As for birds—according to one expert—"it’s got a million of ‘em." In the spring, when the frozen Arctic wetlands begin to thaw, things really heat up as migratory waterfowl turn Teshekpuk Lake into party central. So far, the area is protected and the petroleum off-limits to drilling, but the Bush administration wants to lease the lake to oil companies.
The Bureau of Land Management—under federal court order—recently issued a report on drilling in the area and the agency is now accepting public comments. Stan Senner, executive director for Audubon Alaska in Anchorage, has visited Teshekpuk Lake many times.
GELLERMAN: Some people are going to think, you know—there’s oil, there’s gas there and there’s birds. I’m getting my oil from the Middle East and Iraq and it’s troubled and people are dying there. You know on balance—I need my oil. And well, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Okay, so we lose the birds.
GELLERMAN: Have you ever seen bird behavior changed around the developments on the North Slope?
SENNER: Well, what we usually see is when birds are displaced out of a prime nesting area it ultimately results in a smaller population and so this idea- that if they’re pushed out of one place and that they have the chance to go somewhere else- doesn’t really hold water. The geese for example, that use the area north of the lake for their annual molt, which is to replace their feathers, they’ve been coming there for many many hundreds or thousands of years. If they’re not able to go there they just may not be returning at all in the future.
GELLERMAN: Well, Mr. Senner, thank you very much.
SENNER: You’re welcome. I’m glad to be here.
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