When Audubon published “Cry of the Loon” in March 2004, readers rallied in droves to the cause of saving the western Arctic from oil and gas development. More than 300 of them wrote personal notes to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, urging her to protect the Teshekpuk Lake area in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA). After the NPRA was created in the 1920s for military emergencies, 12 successive presidents largely left alone its pristine lands, which support a wide range of wildlife, including grizzlies, a 26,000-member caribou herd, and the threatened yellow-billed loon.
While the Clinton administration succumbed to industry pressure in 1998 to allow access to part of the reserve, much of it remained off-limits, particularly the Teshekpuk Lake area—habitat so sensitive that even James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s controversial Interior Secretary, deemed it inviolable because of its importance to tens of thousands of molting geese, including a large share of the world’s population of Pacific brant. Nonetheless, the Bureau of Land Management, ignoring the voices of scientists, environmentalists, and Native people, is now forging ahead with plans to hold a lease sale for full-scale oil development that would create a spider web of drilling pads, pipelines, roads, airstrips, and gravel mines, severely compromising the future of wildlife that has thrived there for millennia. “Given that 87 percent of the northeast NPRA is already open for leasing, by any standard of balance the area north of the lake should be given permanent protection,” says Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska. “Anything less will harm resources of great importance to Alaska Natives, waterfowl hunters, and people on three continents who love wildlife.” You can help by sending a handwritten or typed letter (valued more than e-mail) to Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240, or to your U.S. representative. Mail (Editor, 700 Broadway, New York, NY 10003) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) us a copy of your letter, and we’ll post it on our website to turn up the heat and create a historical record. For updates, visit the Save Teshpuk Lake website and Audubon's online campaign.