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Alaska's Final Frontiers

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

All over Alaska, big companies are trying to make money and in doing so are proposing the destruction of the environment. There are many beautiful wonders that are at risk and need to be saved. I hope to educate you about some of these conflicts and raise awareness about the horrors that people are proposing on wildlife.

In northern Alaska, the tundra is open for drilling, which will be very harmful to the native habitat. The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) is the largest privately-owned piece of land in America, and the Trump administration is rolling back some of Obama’s drilling restrictions. These oil fields are below the breeding grounds of 30% of the world’s 100 million breeding shorebirds. The wet, mushy tundra these animals rely on is already changing due to climate change and is expected to dry up. If oil and natural gas wells are drilled and huge pipelines are built, it will only accelerate the process and add oil spills to the equation. Teshekpuk Lake, the largest lake in the arctic, is home to 40% of the birds that visit Alaska’s North Slope. It is completely surrounded by the NPR-A and will suffer greatly from the effects of drilling. This lake and some of the surrounding tundra are protected by the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which makes it harder for big oil companies to start drilling. There are still ways of getting around the protection laws and these companies are trying to reduce the size of the special area. If this area is not properly protected, millions of seabirds will die. The caribou and foxes living around Teshekpuk Lake are also at risk. If big oil companies increase drilling, there will have to be a lot more development. The foxes tend to follow development like roads and pipelines while hunting because they think the roads are natural trails and that there will be food at the end. This would be disastrous because foxes could walk along roads for days on end to find only oil wells, not food, thus starving the foxes. Caribou tend to avoid development and stay in the untouched land. More development will destroy their habitat and give them no place to go. Many more animals, including bears, and lemmings, will be affected by this unless we can stop the drilling. If we do not succeed in preserving these habitats, one of the world’s last natural, open places will be destroyed.

Teshekpuk Lake is not the only Alaskan habitat threatened by big businesses that just want profits. A proposed Pebble Mine near Katmai National Park threatens the local wildlife. Bears will be greatly affected by this mine if it is built. Somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 brown bears (a fifth of North America’s total brown bears) live around Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet, areas with habitats that will be damaged by the mine. The proposed Pebble Mine, which would tap into the world’s largest unexploited deposit of gold and copper, would drastically change this undeveloped region and affect the behavior, and even survival, of its unique brown bears. Most of the residents around Bristol Bay oppose the mine, but they have very little power. The bay and its waterways comprise the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, which provides jobs for 14,000 people. If one of the mine’s tailing dams were to collapse, it would release hundreds of millions of tons of mining waste into the water which would greatly alter the cleanliness and the flow of the water systems. This would drastically decrease the salmon population and affect the whole food chain. Thousands of brown bears would not be able to fatten up for the winter and would die of starvation in hibernation. A massive natural gas pipeline and 80 miles of roads would have to be built for the mine, further polluting the environment and interfering with bear movement. The roads would also cause more bears to be hit by cars and they would make hunting the brown bears much easier. There are also plans to build a docking station that will destroy coastal wildlife. The proposed Pebble Mine will destroy the environment of one of the most stunning places on the planet unless we can stop it from being built.

Alaska is one of the places that is already starting to suffer from the effects of climate change. On the island Little Diomede, sea-level rise is threatening people’s homes, the permafrost is melting, the walruses and seabirds moved further north, resulting in less food for the locals, the natives now need boats to hunt because the ice they used to walk on has melted, and last summer it got up to 70ºF. The impacts are in plain sight, yet the big companies do not care and are not backing down from their big projects. These developments will hurt countless species and they need to be stopped. Please raise awareness about this issue as that is the best way for us to help. Some local environmental groups are fighting these companies, but they have almost zero power. If we can get a large movement going, there is a chance we can save these magnificent places. The more people that know about this issue and are fighting these companies, the better.

Photo Credit: National Geographic

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