Reports Detail Threats to National Wildlife Refuges

Energy exploration endangers refuges, including ones in Texas

Two new reports call renewed attention to the vulnerability of U.S. national wildlife refuges. Defenders of Wildlife, a 475,000-member nonprofit conservation organization that works with federal, tribal, state, and local agencies; private organizations; and landowners to protect America's national wildlife refuges, released a yearly report on Oct. 5 entitled "Refuges at Risk: America's Ten Most Endangered National Wildlife Refuges 2005." The report discusses how border policy, Western water management, energy development, air pollution, suburban encroachment, and other threats are "eroding the largest system of protected lands in the world dedicated to wildlife conservation." It lists 2005's 10 most endangered national wildlife refuges as the Arctic (Alaska), Browns Park (Colorado), Buenos Aires (Arizona), Florida Panther (Florida), McFaddin (Texas), Mingo (Missouri), Moapa Valley (Nevada), Oyster Bay (New York), Pocosin Lakes (North Carolina), and Sonny Bono Salton Sea (California).

Texas' McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge, at risk thanks to large-scale oil and gas exploration, protects the state's largest freshwater marsh and boasts the densest concentration of alligators in Texas, while serving as an important migratory-bird resting area on the journey to and from Central and South America, according to Defenders. The report describes how a massive oil and gas exploration project last summer at McFaddin NWR, located on Texas' southeastern Gulf Coast, sent tanklike "marsh buggies" over the refuge's valuable marshes searching for oil, trampling habitat in their wake. Such exploration inevitably leads to full-scale energy development, the report concludes. Rodger Schlickeisen, Defenders' president, called in a press release for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency that oversees America's refuges, to adopt rules to regulate private oil and gas development, "just as the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service have done on their lands. It is time the Fish & Wildlife Service gives its refuge managers the tools they need to protect these national treasures."

A new report by the Texas Public Interest Research Group focuses on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, debunking claims that drilling in the refuge can be done with little impact on the environment. "Saving America's Arctic: Dispelling Myths About Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," reports that oil spills on Alaska's North Slope, drilled for over 30 years, have increased sharply since 2000. "An industry that averages one oil spill every 16 hours should not be allowed to get its hands on one of America's last wild places," said TexPIRG's Kim Frusciante.

According to the report, 550 oil spills occurred in 2004 on the North Slope, and an average of 504 spills annually since 1996. TexPIRG notes the refuge supports a wide array of wildlife and is sacred to the area's Gwich'in Native Americans. The report also says that oil from the Arctic Refuge would reduce the price of gas by less than a penny and a half in 2025, at estimated peak production. Instead of drilling in the Arctic Refuge, Frusciante advocates an energy policy of stricter fuel economy in the nation's vehicles. "In fact, increasing the average fuel efficiency of cars and trucks by a mere 2% per year would save at least twice as much oil as is found in the coastal plain," the report states. Read the full reports at www.defenders.org and www.texpirg.org.

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