Teshekpuk Lake, located on Alaska’s North Slope, teems with birds in the spring and summer and is one of the most ecologically important wetlands in the entire Arctic. Part of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, this sensitive area provides habitat for tens of thousands of molting geese, threatened species such as the Spectacled Eider, nesting shorebirds and waterfowl galore, and the 40,000-head Teshekpuk Caribou Herd.
Consequently, the area around Teshekpuk Lake has been spared from oil and gas development for more than 40 years. Multiple Secretaries of the Interior from Cecil Andrus under President Carter to Bruce Babbitt under President Clinton have recognized the necessity of balancing development and conservation in NPRA and have prohibited oil and gas leasing in this most critical habitat.
Importance to Birds
The Teshekpuk Lake area is one of the most important goose molting habitats in the circumpolar Arctic. When geese molt, they replace old, worn flight feathers, becoming flightless and vulnerable to predators and human disturbance. The areas north and east of Teshekpuk Lake provide ideal conditions for molting geese: a remote location that’s free of development, large lakes where flightless birds can escape from predators, and tender sedges to fuel their high energy demands. It is no accident that geese gather annually near Teshekpuk Lake by the tens of thousands; as many as 35,000 Greater White-fronted Geese and 37,000 Brant molt at Teshekpuk Lake, plus thousands of Canada Geese and Snow Geese.
The geese are not alone. More than a dozen Alaska WatchList species nest, molt, or rest near Teshekpuk Lake, including threatened Spectacled Eiders, King Eiders, Red-throated Loons, Dunlins, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Of special concern is the Yellow-billed Loon, which nests on deep, fish-bearing lakes in the area and has been considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Teshekpuk Lake area is also one of the most important shorebird sites in the entire international Arctic, and a portion of this area was recently designated as the Qupaluk Flyway Network Site for the East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership.
Management of Teshekpuk Lake
The current area-wide management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska places several designated Special Areas, such as the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, off-limits for oil and gas leasing (see map below). This plan provides a responsible balance that protects ecologically sensitive areas while still allowing energy development to occur in less-sensitive areas.
Concerns have been raised recently that the Administration could potentially try to expand oil and gas activity into the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed a Secretarial Order in May 2017 calling for a renewed planning process for oil and gas leasing in the NPRA, the implication being to open the Teshekpuk Lake area to leasing. However, the wildlife values and scientific rationale for protecting the Teshekpuk Lake wetlands remain accurate and relevant to any future decision-making process.
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