Guest writer : Conserve and protect
BY NICHOLAS R. BROWN SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Posted on Saturday, October 18, 2008
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a unique, diverse collection of ecological systems and the home to caribou, muskoxen, sheep, foxes, moose, wolves, black bears, brown bears, polar bears, and over two dozen other species of mammals. It’s one of the largest, most ecologically intact wildlife refuges in the world.
Recently, columnist Bradley R. Gitz described ANWR as an “uninhabited, pestilence-ridden wasteland.” This thoroughly anthropocentric view of the world—that there are no important existing values if they are not of immediate economic benefit to humans—is the very kind of thinking that has led us to a wide range of environmental problems. As Albert Einstein said, we cannot solve our problems with the same type of thinking that created them.
Our planet, whether you think of it as the Creation, Gaia or simply the third rock, is driven by ecological processes that may or may not be observed and valued by our industrial culture. To assume that an ecosystem is “wasteland” just because there’s no perceived economic value is human arrogance of a very dangerous sort. Political and economic decisions should be made with a biocentric view, which serves human interests and conserves ecological values over a long term.
All ecological systems have values that relate to the continuing healthy existence of the planet, whether we understand the importance of those values or not. This is a general statement that may be discomforting to economists and industrial developers, but it’s just a paraphrase of the well-known and well-understood axiom, everything’s connected to everything else. Ecology, which is the study of interactions among species and between species and their environments, inescapably leads us to this conclusion, though as a science it is silent on its meaning and importance.
Ecological thinking dictates that we assume that there are connections of which we are oblivious and that we accordingly manage ecosystems with precaution. It embodies respect for nature.
ANWR’s selection as a location for a wildlife refuge isn’t accidental. It’s a unique and biodiverse boreal region. One hundred ninety-five species of birds, 36 species of fish and 36 species of land mammals are found in six ecological regions of ANWR.
Section 1002 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act provides for the possibility that 1. 5 million acres of ANWR could be opened for oil production, and that area is, therefore, known as the 1002 Area. A study of the 1002 Area reveals 16 land-cover classes or types of ecological systems. Grasses, sedges, shrubs, willows and other vegetation of riparian zones each offers critical ecological values to porcupine caribou, arctic caribou, muskoxen, grizzly bears, wolves, golden eagles, polar bears and snow geese that use the 1002 Area.
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has written that the 1002 Area contains “an unusually diverse assemblage of large animals and smaller, less appreciated life forms tied to their physical environments and to each other by natural, undisturbed ecological and evolutionary processes.” Let’s not consider the home of wolves, grizzly bears, polar bears and golden eagles a wasteland.
It is not as though no petroleum exploration is allowed in Alaska under current rules. Twenty-three million acres of Alaskan land are currently in production in the National Petroleum Reserve there, which is located west of ANWR on the North Slope and Arctic Coastal Plain. Current production is about 750, 000 barrels of oil per day from about 300 gas and oil leases.
The most optimistic estimate of oil production from the 1002 Area is 900, 000 barrels per day, about 4 percent of our national demand and 1 percent of global demand. By comparison, we could save a million barrels per day if the efficiency of our national fleet improved by five miles per gallon or 2 million barrels per day if we all simply drove five miles per hour slower on our highways. The Energy Information Administration of the U. S. Department of Energy estimates that addition of ANWR’s oil to existing supplies would reduce the price of oil by 50 cents per barrel. It’s five to 10 years from flowing through pipelines if we started work tomorrow. The extent to which additional oil drilling is a necessary part of our bridge to a sustainable energy future can be debated. But it is clear that ANWR’s boreal ecosystems contain unique ecological values that we should conserve and protect.
—–––––•–––––—Nicholas R. Brown, a native of Helena, is the executive assistant for sustainability at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
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