Alaska scientists among those calling for protection of ANWR

Posted: Thursday, November 02, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- More than 50 scientists from Alaska were among the nearly 250 scientists who signed a letter Wednesday to President Clinton asking him to prohibit oil development in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The signers even included a few people who work as biologists for the state, which officially opposes such a move.

Among them are John Wright and Stephen Arthur, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks, who said their signatures reflect their personal views and not the state's.

Arthur is the state's biologist for the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Wright manages the Creamer's Field Wildlife Refuge, but has worked with caribou in the past.

Speculation that Clinton would designate the coastal plain a national monument has been reported for months, but the administration has denied any such plan is in the works.

Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, said he thought the Alaska scientists who signed the letter have a ''mind-set'' that wrongly views oil development as incompatible with wildlife.

During a speech at the National Press Club, he said there is no scientific evidence that the caribou herd would be ''decimated'' by oil development, as some have claimed.

Arthur, the state's Porcupine caribou biologist in Fairbanks, didn't necessarily disagree.

''Talking about the science rather than the aesthetics of the situation, I would say that it's really difficult to predict the effect of development on the herd because it's hard to say what kind of development would take place,'' Arthur said.

But Arthur said that doesn't change his view.

''I didn't base my personal opinion on the effects on the caribou herd,'' he said. Rather, he judged the issue using his perception of ANWR's ecosystem and wilderness values -- ''the things that are harder to define,'' he said.

Arthur has worked on the Porcupine herd for the past 2 1/2 3/8 years but first visited the North Slope in 1991 when he was a researcher with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage. He has also visited the area on his own for recreation.

Wright, also with Fish and Game in Fairbanks, worked on the North Slope in 1971 before Prudhoe Bay was developed, testing caribou reactions to simulated pipelines. He also worked for a private biological consulting firm that contracted to oil companies in the early 1980s.

''I saw the impact of just an isolated drill rig on caribou and saw how our work was misinterpreted in advertisements by the oil companies,'' Wright said.

The scientists' letter says cumulative changes from development of the coastal plain might erode caribou and other wildlife numbers.

''Extensive research on the Central Arctic Caribou Herd at Prudhoe Bay indicates appreciable losses of preferred calving and summer habitats in response to petroleum development and the possibility of an associated decline in reproductive success,'' the letter states.

Murkowski said again Wednesday that he believes the footprint left by oil development in ANWR would be too small to cause such problems.

Other Alaska scientists who signed the letter to Clinton include retired Fish and Game caribou researchers Ken Whitten, Ray Cameron and Jim Davis, retired marine mammal biologist Lloyd Lowry and retired habitat biologist Roger Post. Others signing included state marine mammal biologist Kathy Frost and state bear biologist Harry Reynolds.

Jim Dau, the department's Kotzebue area biologist, also signed.

The 54 Alaskans who signed the letter were employed by or retired from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Pacific University, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

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