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If I said to you that South Carolina must remain untouched, there can be no development, no homes, nothing but wilderness, your answer would be: "That is ridiculous. In each state there must be a balance between protected areas and development."
Yet the nation is saying to Alaska that even though the state contains 61 percent of all America's wilderness area it isn't enough. Alaska has 192 million acres of parks, refuges, preserves and conservation system units, including 58 million acres of designated wilderness. Less than 1 percent of the entire 365 million-acre state has any development.
The issue at hand is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the possibility of oil and gas development there. The ANWR is made up of 19 million acres, roughly the size of South Carolina. Eight million acres of that is in wilderness and can never be disturbed. An additional 9.5 million acres is in a wildlife refuge again, untouchable.
But Congress, at the time it designated the ANWR, set aside 1.5 million acres for possible oil and gas development. It is a narrow sliver of land on the Coastal Plain, near an existing oil field at Prudhoe Bay. The U.S. Geological Survey says there is oil there possibly 16 billion barrels. To put that number in perspective, Prudhoe Bay has provided 20 to 25 percent of domestic oil production over the last 23 years, and that has equaled almost 13 billion barrels of oil.
If there were development on the Coastal Plain, it would be kept to about 2000 acres. Here is the issue: During some years the porcupine caribou herd travels to the Coastal Plain in summer. It is an area that has cotton grass to feed the newborns and help fatten the mothers for their return to Canada for the winter.
In any legislation to open the ANWR, there has been a guarantee that the secretary of the interior could halt any exploration or development during the caribou calving season. In any case, the caribou herd around Prudhoe Bay has grown from about 6,000 to more than 19,000 animals.
When winter sets in, most wildlife abandon the Coastal Plain area, save for a few polar bears, five species of bird and the lemmings who burrow under the snow. The temperature drops to dangerous negative digits and for 56 days it is completely dark.
It is in this hostile environment that any exploration or development would take place. Ice roads bring equipment and ice platforms hold it. If there is no discovery, the equipment is removed, the ice melts and there is little sign that exploration occurred.
But the Clinton-Gore administration has said no exploration, no development. It seems in our current energy situation that it would at least make sense to determine what might be under the tundra.
There are no endangered species listed for ANWR. Alaskans have always protected the land and the animals that help provide sustenance to the natives. Let's find out what is there.