Washington— An oil and gas development scheme on Wild and Scenic Beaver Creek, a Yukon River tributary, threatens clean water, wild salmon, recreation, Alaska Native culture, and one of the nation’s last truly wild rivers. This threat landed Beaver Creek in the number eight spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers: 2009 edition.
“Instead of handing our last wild places over to the oil and gas industry, we should be investing in 21st century energy solutions and ensuring these priceless lands and waters are protected for future generations,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.
To get around the incompatibility of oil and gas development within protected areas, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the Bush administration proposed transferring 200,000 protected acres in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge to Doyon Ltd., a private corporation, for oil and gas development. The land trade poses an unacceptable risk to Beaver Creek and the Yukon River downstream. It would also set a dangerous precedent as a back-door means to obtain development rights within other national conservation areas in Alaska and make a mockery of the intent by which Congress established them.
American Rivers and its partners called on the USFWS Alaska Regional Director Geoff Haskett and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to halt any further progress on the final Environmental Impact Statement and land exchange agreement.
“Clean waterways like Beaver Creek and the Yukon River are what sustain us,” said Mike Peter, tribal Chief in Fort Yukon, Alaska. “We are trying to protect our way of life and traditions. We can’t eat oil. Our tribe opposes the land trade and oil and gas development.” The Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in tribe in Fort Yukon and dozens of Alaska Native communities depend on the area for subsistence hunting and fishing.
“We’re already seeing evidence of global warming like lakes drying up and changed animal migrations, and this oil and gas development would make those impacts even worse,” said Pamela Miller, Arctic Program Director at the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. “And oil and gas extraction would lead to even more global warming pollution.”
“The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge constitutes the largest, most biologically productive boreal forest wetlands in North America,” said Fran Mauer, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “This proposed land trade will destroy the integrity of this unique ecosystem and violates the most fundamental purposes of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.”
The proposed oil and gas development project would require construction of at least 600 miles of roads and pipelines, airstrips, drilling pads, and gravel mines along Beaver Creek. Expected oil industry impacts include 300 crude oil and other spills, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS notes that a significant summer oil spill in Beaver Creek would travel 148 miles to the Yukon River in two days, contaminating soils and vegetation much of the way. Additionally, vast amounts of water would be required from the Beaver Creek watershed to sustain the industrial activity. The USFWS estimates more than 275 million gallons of surface water would be required for exploratory wells and development wells.
Healthy Alaska ecosystems generate more than $33 billion in economic value for the state. Fisheries, tourism, and associated commercial activity produce $2.6 billion in income to workers annually and account for 26 percent of all Alaska jobs -- twice as many as those in oil, mining, and construction combined.
Beaver Creek, designated as a Wild and Scenic River in 1980, boasts pristine waters and abundant wolves, bears, and salmon. The Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in tribe in Fort Yukon and dozens of Alaska Native communities depend on the area for subsistence hunting and fishing. Beaver Creek is a popular destination for anglers, boaters, skiers, and hunters.
About America’s Most Endangered Rivers
Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures rather than those suffering from the worst chronic problems. The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.
Rebecca Wodder is available for interview, both pre and post embargo. Please contact Caitlin Jennings, American Rivers, 202.347.7550 x3100 for booking.
Reporters wishing to direct readers to the report online may use the following link*: www.AmericanRivers.org/EndangeredRivers
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.