It looks like Bush's disregard for the environment is increasing to an even worse level. With a new congress, Bush is pressing ahead with drilling up in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil. The problem is that the ANWR is one of the last remaining places in the United States that has not seen major development of its land. As seen in the map below, the ANWR is a very isolated place and relatively undisturbed.
The ANWR is home to numerous species that depend on the undisturbed land, including over a hundred bird species, caribou, and polar bears. The birds use the land for feeding, migrating, and raising their young. Many birds migrate over thousands of miles during the winter/summer seasons. Wetlands are one of their favorite resting sites, as over half of all birds use wetlands. If huge drills are moved into the wilderness and the land developed, wetlands will disappear and the birds will have to find other places to feed and rest. Here's a huge list of all the birds that have been spotted in the ANWR.
Polar bears are also found in the ANWR. Polar bears use the ANWR for migrating purposes as it is where they raise their young. Nowhere else is there a higher population of polar bears that rest or den in Alaska (or the U.S.) than in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The pregnant females move onshore in late fall. When and where they go depends on weather, formation of sea ice, and snowdrift patterns. The pregnant bears dig their dens in November, then give birth to one or two tiny cubs in December or January. The mothers nurse and care for the young until March or early April, when they emerge from the dens. After several days getting used to the outside environment, including short trips to strengthen the cubs, the families leave the dens. They move back to the sea ice to hunt ringed seals and other prey. The cubs stay with their mothers, learning to hunt, for about the next two and a half years.
Without these dens, polar bears would be forced to look elsewhere for dens, potentially splitting the population up to a point when they would have hard times looking for a mate. Drilling in the area would increase the chances of this occurring.
Caribou travel in herds, always looking for food. Studies have shown that caribou shy away from areas where oil pipelines are situated, which would be the situation if Bush got his way and allowed drilling of the area. The ANWR is a place where the caribou can not worry about roads made for equipment to get to sites or the risk of contamination from a spill (remember the Exxon Valdez?). Drilling would force the caribou into larger herds as they migrated away from development. Eventually, starvation would set in, killing a large number of caribou as there would be less and less places to go for food.
Caribou also use the coastline for breeding. They return to the coast to give birth, staying there several months as they forage for food and raise their young. A good summary of a typical year for a caribou:
Sometime in April, the caribou head north toward the traditional calving grounds on the arctic coastal plain, 400 miles away. The route they take depends on snow and weather conditions.
By early June, the pregnant females reach the calving areas and give birth. Shortly thereafter, most, and often all, of the herd joins the cows and calves to forage on the coastal plain of the Refuge. In late June and early July, when hordes of mosquitos hatch, the caribou gather in huge groups numbering in the tens of thousands. Seeking relief from the insects, they move along the coast, onto ice fields, and to uplands in the Brooks Range.
The herd leaves the coastal plain by mid-July, heading back east and south toward its fall and wintering areas. Just as no one knows in advance precisely where most of the caribou will drop their calves in the spring, no one knows until it happens whether the majority of the herd will winter on the south side of the Refuge or in Canada. Wandering across remote areas, individual caribou may travel more than 3000 miles during their yearly movements.
The coastal plain comprises only 10 percent of the Arctic Refuge. Yet from May to July, it is the center of biological activity on the Refuge. For centuries, animals from the Porcupine caribou herd have used the coastal tundra to calve, obtain nourishment, avoid insects, and escape predators.
The calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd include the northern foothills of the Brooks Range and the arctic coastal plain from the Tamayariak River in Alaska to the Babbage River in Canada. The most often used calving area, however, is on the Refuge coastal plain between the Katakturuk and Kongakut Rivers. Commonly, one-half to three quarters or more of the calves are born within this area.
As seen, the coastline is immensely important to caribou. If drilling there occurred, the coastline could become dotted with ports of ships, shipping oil out of the area to be refined. Seeing dozens of oil tankers would surely disrupt the caribou population and could possibly put them in danger. It only takes one oil spill to devastate the coastline.
These are just a few of the animals that depend each and every day on the ANWR. Without it, the landscape would dramatically change.
Besides benefiting the wildlife, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to breathtaking landscape. It is only accessible by airplane since no highways go through it. Oil companies would need to build roads through the wilderness, almost certainly causing harm to the ecosystem and environment. Without roads, much of the land is unable to be developed, thus preserving the land.
What Bush is proposing is opening up the ANWR to development, disrupting the balance that has been in place for thousands of years. But is it worth it? Studies have shown that it would not be worth it economically.
The United States Geological Survey has done studies of the ANWR, with the department releasing a study in 1998. In their opinion, there are 7.7 billion barrels of oil that are recoverable. With the United States consuming about 19 million barrels per day, the math works out to being about 405 days use of oil.
Wow, about a 13 1/2 month supply of oil for our country. We'd better get there quickly.
Basically, Bush wants to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for just over a year's worth of oil. He's willing to risk everything the Refuge has to offer just so his buddies in the oil business can get their hands on what they've been after for years. Oil companies have demanded access to the ANWR over and over, seen in their contributions to Bush and the GOP during the election cycle.
No worries about permanetly ruining the land. No concerns for displacing millions of birds that depend on the land to breed. No worries over spills that potentially could occur. One spill leaves its mark for decades. But none of this means anything to the Bush. "You give me money, I give you access to oil. No strings attached."
Damn shame too. Let's hope Congress rejects the proposal for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Preserving the Refuge now will allow future generations to enjoy it.