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Where the caribou roam

By imrdkl in News
Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 01:23:46 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

Late last month (March 2002), it was reported that the US Geological Survey (USGS) had released a report which stated that oil exploration and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), as advocated by the Bush Administration in their Energy Plan, could harm wildlife. Very early in April, the USGS reconsidered their view, and said that limited drilling won't harm the wildlife, after all.

Now that's what I call thinking on the run. Or perhaps it's just herd mentality. Either way, the grass seems to be looking a bit greener for the wildlife of the Alaskan tundra. Read on for more details.

The revised and complete report from the USGS, including the letter from the director which clarifies the views of the USGS regarding the impact upon caribou and other Alaskan tundra wildlife is now available. The USGS director, in his letter, emphasizes that:
any impact on the (caribou herds) from oil development would depend on the type of development and where the development is located.

In spite of the whippings and browbeatings which seem to be going on behind the scenes at the USGS, the revised report doesn't seem to be changing the opinion of the legislators who are considering overriding the restriction against oil exploration contained in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANICLA). The ANICLA was signed in 1980 by then President Jimmy Carter, and created the ANWR. The authorization must be approved by congress before exploration or drilling can start. Congressional support for the amendment seems now to be waning to the point where the administration is considering abandoning the idea altogether, due to lack of sufficient votes to cut short an anticipated Democratic filibuster. The Bush administration's energy plans seem to be falling short of needed support quite frequently lately. See my previous article for more news about their woe and sadness.

There are many distinct species of animals in the ANWR, of course, but those which have given rise to the most concern, w.r.t. oil exploration, are the caribou. In particular, the Porcupine Caribou Herd (pdf). These caribou, it seems, are using key parts of the proposed oil exploration area for weaning and early development of their calves. The exploration plan has already been revised once to avoid impacting the caribou calving area near the coast, but they are not able to avoid the "early development" area, and there are few models which could assess impact for this area. The complete list of individual species studies, including the caribou reports, are available with the complete report, linked above.

The petroleum assessment created by the USGS in 1998, estimates the potentially recoverable oil of the ANWR at between 4.3 and 11.8 Billion barrels, depending on the price of a barrel at recovery time, and several other factors. Thats about six months worth, for the US.


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o US Geological Survey
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Where the caribou roam | 29 comments (23 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Very interesting link (4.00 / 5) (#3)
by Sanityman on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 12:16:23 PM EST

Here about a map-maker who was fired for accidentally exposing the lies told about the environmental impact (this was a year ago). Hugely well researched - I wish Unblinking did stuff more often. Very interested to see the story kept alive (even if nothing much seems to have happened in the interim). +1 Section.


If you don't see the fnords, they can't eat you.
"You can't spray cheese whiz™ on the body of Christ!"

No, not true. (5.00 / 5) (#6)
by Ken Arromdee on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 01:00:14 PM EST

See the urban legends reference pages.

[ Parent ]
Yes, pretty true (none / 0) (#20)
by fhotg on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 08:10:23 PM EST

This is not an urban myth. Reading the WP article, which might be an attempt for spin-control, gives a more detailed view, but the essentials of the story (fired because of publishing a caribou-distribution map of ANWR) are TRUE.

[ Parent ]
Urban Legend (5.00 / 1) (#26)
by Sanityman on Thu Apr 11, 2002 at 06:37:08 AM EST

I love and repect the Urban Legend Reference Pages, and my first response to this was 'OMG, IHBT!'

Then I read the page again.

I was about to repond to the points given in the article, but a subsequent trawl of google revealed that not only had k5 been in at the beginning of this story (my original link quoted this too), but that your observation has been made before. Some very good refutations of the spin in the UL report were made here, including pointing out that the washington post article in question was not as dismissive as snopes would have us believe.

I love the UL reference pages. But I think they're spreading their own 'Revenge of the Lying Mapmaker' UL here. The truth is more complex.

BTW, isn't it cool, when researching a news item on-line, to find that it links back to k5, a year ago?


If you don't see the fnords, they can't eat you.
"You can't spray cheese whiz™ on the body of Christ!"

[ Parent ]
An unconsidered solution? (4.00 / 9) (#4)
by kuran42 on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 12:47:25 PM EST

(Inspired by this article) It seems like no one has even looked at some kind of compromise; the oil-camp staunchly claims no harm will come of this, while the environmentalists shout that what little we will gain isn't worth the significant and undeniable damage that will be done to a national wildlife refuge. Why isn't anyone trying to compromise?

Well, here's what I propose: Gather up a portion of the caribou; train them as beasts of burden (they aren't terribly well suited for this, but bear with me) and ship them down to the lower 48 states. Offer a tax credit to any individual who takes one of these trained animals into their home (figuratively speaking) and uses it as their means of transportation. The benefits are threefold:

  • the caribou, formerly aimless slackers, are now trained with a skill that can be brought back to their home community and used to better the lives of all caribou
  • demand for gasoline falls, lowering the price for those who choose to continue using their motor vehicles, and removing the need to drill for oil in the ANWR
  • harmful, environmentally damaging emissions are reduced (caribou, while not technically zero-emissions vehicles, are remarkably clean, and their waste can be used in the family garden).

kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
What's the fuss about? (2.75 / 12) (#5)
by myfreedoms on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 12:58:34 PM EST

Animals do not have any rights. They are mindless creatures driven by natual instincts. Even the smartest among them (dolphins, chimps, etc.) have only limited capacity for reason.

Humans, on the other hand, do not survive by natual instincts. None of us have an inate knowledge of how to provide for ourselves. As the only exclusively rational agents, only humans have rights.

(Summary of above: screw the animals!)

Moreover, the federal government should not own the land anyway. A poor care-taker of parks, governments ought to sell "public" land to private owners who could actually make a profit from wildlife preserves. Additionally (and no less important), all national parks and preserves are in strict violation of the Constitution (most notably the 10th Amendment).

Screw the animals indeed (3.66 / 6) (#11)
by kuran42 on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 01:12:50 PM EST

Just not in public.

Seriously, I agree. I don't particularly empathize with the animals. Some of them are cute and fun to pet, feed, look at, whatever, though, so I'd prefer if they weren't all dead. Similarly, wide open spaces of undeveloped land are nice. They're beautiful to look at, fun to hike through, and generally a good thing that should be protected. The government does not maintain them for profit because the government already has a source of profit - your tax dollars. The government preserves them so they will continue to be there. Hand them over to private owners and I guarantee within a generation 90% of them will be ruined, for hundreds of years at least, by commercial development.

You did not create these lands, and neither did the government or some private corperation who is in to and out of the deal only for the money that can be made. Just because we're here now and future generations haven't yet been born shouldn't (but in reality does) give us the right to trash these resources for our own short-term gain.

kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Parks (3.50 / 6) (#12)
by myfreedoms on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 01:23:17 PM EST

The federal government has done major damage to Yellowstone and is now trying to fix it (something to do with eliminating the wolves and throwing off the natual balance). Years ago, there was a beautiful forest with giant trees owned by a private individual who let people visit for a fee. Eventually, the city took over the park (I think the owner died) and began selling the trees as lumber because of their poor management.

The city of Houston (particularly the suburbs) has exponentially more trees now than it did 50 years ago due to that hated "urban sprawl." Trees and value to land and as a result, people plant trees. The selfish profit-motive encourages people to preserve and even create "natural" areas.

Privatized national parks would be cleaner and more friendly to visitors. Remember that there is no point in "saving it for future generations" if none of us are allowed to actually see it. It does me no good to know that there is an ecological preserve that I am forbiden do visit.

[ Parent ]
Good points (3.00 / 2) (#13)
by kuran42 on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 01:35:00 PM EST

The government certainly isn't infallable. I believe the wolf problem you are refering to was mostly due to the park's inability to keep the animals on federal lands, and numerous problems arouse when they strayed onto the private property surrounding the park. The officials did the only thing they could, which was obey the ill-considered will of the voters. But I digress.

How long would it be before private parks sported benches with Coca-Cola advertisements on them, or camp areas housing a McDonalds? Perhaps these problems could be avoided with proper legislation, and it would be admirable if a private entity could turn a profit without despoiling the land, but I an skeptical. People do what they can get away with, doubly so when money is involved, and in the light of recent cases such as Enron, I don't think I trust my government to keep a close enough eye on matters. At least when the lands are federally controlled the damage done to them is through incompetence instead of willful neglect and malicous profiteering.

kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Motive (2.66 / 3) (#16)
by myfreedoms on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 02:05:17 PM EST

If a person destroys their property, it loses value. The desire to make money promotes the preservation of the parks (if privately owned).

I am glad to see that you are considering the issues and you bring up good potential problems. However, most of these problems are easily eliminated or unlikely to actually arise.

It does not make sense to destroy your source of income (and private parks can and are often profitable).

What is so wrong with Coca-Cola benches? Would a McDonalds really spoil the atmosphere? If so, the owners would not have one (although I doubt one could get enough business at a park so it's really a moot issue).

It really comes down to two points: (1) Government control does not guarantee quality or adequate preservation and (2) private organizations can adequately preserve the environment when properly motivated, viz. by $$$.

[ Parent ]
Hrm (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by kuran42 on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 02:17:45 PM EST

What I guess it comes down to is which "atmosphere" is prefered by the most people (or dollars). I would say that benches with corperate advertisements and fast food restaurants in a supposed natural preserve ruin the atmosphere, and I think a lot of people would agree, but I don't necessarily think that the majority of people would agree. Unfortunately for me, I have no alternatives if McDonalds are put in all the parks - my potential experience has been destroyed; on the other hand, anyone who wants a happy meal but can't get one in the middle of their campgrounds can simple buy one before entering or after leaving the park.

I suppose someone would recognize the niche market of completely pristine parks and keep theirs in such a condition, but that reduces the number of parks I can enjoy, and for selfish reasons I am obviously against that ;) I think it is also questionable as to whether such parks could survive for long before they were bought out by the suppliers of the more mainstream commodity of cheeseburgers and chipmunks.

kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

Rights (3.33 / 3) (#23)
by myfreedoms on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 09:40:51 PM EST

The important point is that you do not have a right to enjoy pristine parks. It simply does not exist. No one is obligated to provide anything for you.

I, on the other hand, do have a right to my money which I do not want to see wasted on ANWR. I would rather buy cheap gasoline. (Let me add that I do not have a right to buy gas but the government does not have a right to prohibit it. I may buy it only because someone is willing to sell it to me.)

[ Parent ]
Damn, you're good (3.33 / 3) (#24)
by whojgalt on Thu Apr 11, 2002 at 12:25:59 AM EST

Thanks for saying these things so I don't have to spend half the day posting them myself.

If you can't see it from the car, it's not really scenery.
Any code more than six months old was written by an idiot.
[ Parent ]

Atlas Shrugged (none / 0) (#29)
by myfreedoms on Sat Apr 13, 2002 at 06:44:37 PM EST

I looked at your name again and realized what it was: "Who is John Galt?"

No wonder we agree!

[ Parent ]
Not really (5.00 / 2) (#27)
by kuran42 on Thu Apr 11, 2002 at 11:00:02 AM EST

While I may not have the right to enjoy pristine parks, I do have the right to participate equally in the government of my country. In the past, I and my fellow citizens have chosen to make certain portions of this country off limits to commercial, industrial, and residential development. As you say yourself, no one is obliged to provide me with anything, but implicit in your argument is that oil companies have the right to take whatever they want. Why should we be obliged to provide oil companies access to that which we have already decided to be a protected resource? They do not have the right to it, nor will they until a majority of the citizens of the country says that they do. Last I checked, conservationists were still more numerous by nearly a factor of 2.

Of course, all this presupposes that we live in either a democracy or a republic where the decisions of the leaders reflect the will of the people. As neither of these presuppositions applies to the United States, perhaps I'll just shut up about it.

kuran42? genius? Nary a difference betwixt the two. -- Defect
[ Parent ]

more on rights (none / 0) (#28)
by myfreedoms on Fri Apr 12, 2002 at 05:31:09 PM EST

Oil companies are not asking to TAKE the land; they want to lease it (since they cannot buy it). The government does not have a right to preserve it or even own it in the first place.

[ Parent ]
Long term vs short term profit. (4.66 / 3) (#18)
by Hillgiant on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 03:09:02 PM EST

Yes, it does not make sense to wantonly destroy your source of income. However, if the short term profit is high enough and the long term profit is uncertian, then your private parks may be in danger. If a forest is more valuable as paper for today's Wall Street Journal than it is as tommorrow's nature preserve, then you will be hearing chainsaws in short order. Corporate entities have no reliable sense of public interest.

Your points have elementary rebutals: (1) Corporate control does not gaurantee quality or adequate presurevation and (2) governemntal oganizations can adequately preserve the enviroment because they are ultimately resposible to the people, i.e. corporations have no oversight.

"It is impossible to say what I mean." -johnny
[ Parent ]

Public Interest (2.50 / 2) (#22)
by myfreedoms on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 09:37:23 PM EST

There really is no such thing as "public interest." I am interested in seeing all national parks abolished or privatized. Am I not a part of the public too? Am I not taxed to pay for this waste?

Four words: The Public Be Damned!

Your rebutal is totally valid but doesn't change my contention. Neither is (in a broad, abstract sense) fit for preserving the environment but I don't see that as a problem. If you care so much, donate money to an eco-group that can purchase land to preserve. It is wrong to promote government preservation, however, because it violates my property rights and the Constitution.

[ Parent ]
We are animals (4.85 / 7) (#15)
by daedal on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 01:50:10 PM EST

"Humans, on the other hand, do not survive by natual instincts."

When was the last time you thought about breathing? Or any of the other billions of things you've never noticed your body doing? I suppose you don't call these natural instincts? How convenient.

"None of us have an inate knowledge of how to provide for ourselves."

While in our society we do not all have to be primary producers to survive, we do need to know how to provide for ourselves. The difference is most importantly in the environment and in the structures of these societies. I doubt a solitary ant could provide for itself.

"As the only exclusively rational agents, only humans have rights."

So you've *never* done anything irrational in your life? You've never looked back on something you've done and thought "didn't think about that before I did it, did I?". You amaze me. As well as having perfect and complete control over your physical actions you have perfect and complete control over all of your mental decisions.

"Animals" aren't like us. That doesn't mean they're less important. We can do some things they can't. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be protected. [I'm not going to speak about "rights" because I dislike the term and don't feel things -- not me, not you, not the caribou -- have "rights".]

We can survive without Alaskan oil, they cannot survive without their Alaskan habitat. Perhaps with all our "ration[ality]" we can recognize that.

[ Parent ]

interesting rebuttal to criticism (4.00 / 1) (#9)
by khallow on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 01:07:06 PM EST

In response to negative comments from Senator Liberman and others:

"That's a predictable criticism that simply ignores the facts," said Interior Department spokesman Eric Ruff. "This new information demonstrates once again that we can protect wildlife and produce energy in an environmentally responsible way."

Stating the obvious since 1969.

We're too dumb to understand this (4.60 / 5) (#19)
by bill_mcgonigle on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 03:27:54 PM EST

Our models are too weak to predict the impact either way.

When we put the Alaskan Oil Pipeline in a few decades back we predicted a negative effect on the caribou herds because of the interruption in their habitat. The extremists predicted the exinction of the herd.

Instead, some of the kenetic energy of the oil moving through the pipeline is lost as heat, which creates an unnaturally warm area around the pipes. The caribou gather here, eat lots of greens, and make lots more caribou. The net effect of the pipeline has been to increase the caribou herd.

Nobody thought of that when they made their model.

regarding the USGS (5.00 / 2) (#21)
by infinitera on Wed Apr 10, 2002 at 08:14:36 PM EST

Sorta offtopic, but.. a few weeks ago, I was researching where in the US I can move to if I want clean, uncontamined water. Finally, I thought, something my government is useful for. And indeed, the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology was great research data. Then, I go to their homepage.. turns out Bush got rid of all their funding. Just that project, none of the other ones. Which is.. suspicious. But not quite so, if one considers who is on his cabinet. And why they would want to protect their pesticide/organochlorine producing buddies. GOD DAMN IT. The site I wanted to link to for the cabinet info, opensecrets.org, seems to be down. Hope this isn't permanent.. :(

the links (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by infinitera on Thu Apr 11, 2002 at 02:12:15 AM EST

Gale Norton, Interior Secretary
Ann M. Veneman, Agriculture Secretary
Tommy G. Thompson, Health and Human Services Secretary

I couldn't find Christine Todd Whitman (Head of the EPA), but this article has what I'm talking about.

Nothing to see here, move along. ;) So says the media, in their noncoverage. Business as usual. Don't worry about the toxins in the system. Capitalism will take care of you. Have a nice day.

[ Parent ]
Where the caribou roam | 29 comments (23 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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