This year, the Bureau of Land Management’s annual call for lease sale nominations in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) appears poised to affect the future management of the Teshekpuk Lake special area. Stakeholders and concerned citizens may not realize that this obscure “call for nominations” is likely a first step toward lifting existing protections to Teshekpuk Lake. The lands and waters around Teshekpuk Lake exhibit extraordinary surface value, including tens of thousands of caribou, over half a million shorebirds, and tens of thousands of molting geese, which offer harvest and enjoyment opportunities to Alaskans, Americans, and people around the globe. See a map of wildlife values in the NPRA.
The acres around Teshekpuk Lake are designated as “unavailable for leasing” under the current land management plan. The BLM’s stated reason for requesting lease nominations in these unavailable areas is simply to gather information, not to actually offer those areas during this year’s lease sale in December. But this begs the question of why the agency is using a narrowly-drawn managerial process that most people have never heard of to gather information on such an important topic.
The nominations process is appropriate for planning lease sales in available tracts. But something as profound as possibly opening Teshekpuk Lake to leasing should require a whole new planning process, including a formal comment period. This perplexing use of the nominations process strongly suggests that the Trump administration is laying the preliminary groundwork for opening up the Teshekpuk Lake special area for leasing.
The North Slope environment is already experiencing the weight of cumulative impacts from development and climate change. Maintaining the integrity of the Teshekpuk Lake special area will help protect globally-important wildlife values for Alaskans and our national and international neighbors.
The NPRA’s current management plan already provides the balance required by law between development and surface values. Even if parties were to disagree on that point, the current plan came to its conclusion only after a lengthy public process taking into account many perspectives. A similarly fair process should be used to make changes to the plan in place.
Audubon Alaska believes that BLM should clarify that the “call for nominations” process is seeking comments both in favor and comments opposed to opening the Teshekpuk Lake special area for leasing, and should better explain what role these comments will play in the agency’s future management decisions. Without such explanation, using the call for nominations in this way threatens to erode not only a fair and balanced plan, but also a fair and balanced public process.
Public comments on BLM's call for lease sale nominations must be received by September 6th, but comments must be physically mailed to “State Director, Bureau of Land Management Alaska State Office 222 W. 7th Ave, #13 Anchorage AK 99513.” Audubon Alaska is currently working out a way to help facilitate the public to contribute comments to this unwieldy process. Stay posted!