WASHINGTON – Representatives Jay Inslee (D-WA), Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) are expected to introduce legislation today in the U.S. House of Representatives that would permanently prohibit oil and gas leasing in Bristol Bay, Alaska and the surrounding waters in the Bering Sea.
On January 9, 2007, President Bush rescinded a long-standing presidential moratorium that prohibited drilling in Bristol Bay. In July, the Minerals Management Service will release a 5-year plan that is expected to recommend oil and gas development in Bristol Bay and other areas along our nation’s fragile coastlines.
“Congressmen Inslee, Gilchrest and Hinchey are coming to the rescue of Bristol Bay, and all the people who depend on it, at its time of greatest need,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. “Oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay is a risk we can’t afford to take. It would jeopardize the nation’s most important fishery, hundreds of communities reliant on fishing and a treasure trove of wildlife.”
Bristol Bay is the epicenter of the Bering Sea fishery whose commercial salmon, halibut, herring and crab fisheries generate more than $2 billion annually. Sport hunters and fishermen flock to the bay each year, pumping millions more into the economy. And the region’s spectacular wildlife supports scores of Alaskan natives who rely on a healthy ecosystem for food.
Bristol Bay is also home to five national wildlife refuges. It is a stronghold for many marine mammals including walruses, harbor seals, northern sea otters, and endangered species, including stellar sea lions, humpback and fin whales and the world’s most endangered whale species, the north Pacific population of northern right whales.
Bristol Bay had been protected from offshore drilling since 1989 through a Congressional moratorium. In 1990 President George H.W. Bush added to the protection by using his executive authority to withdraw the area from oil and gas development.
“This bill is a critical step towards protecting Bristol Bay,” continued Roberts, “but there is potentially a long, hard road in front of us before we can declare victory. Thankfully, a bipartisan group of lawmakers realize that Bristol Bay is simply the wrong place for oil and gas drilling,”
Conservation in the Bering Sea is a priority for WWF because the area is an unusually rich marine ecoregion, supporting hundreds of communities that are heavily reliant on the region’s resources. The area is also home to vast populations of fish, shellfish, birds and marine mammals such as polar bears, whales, dolphins, otters and sea lions.
Known in the United Statesas World Wildlife Fund and recognized worldwide by its panda logo, WWF leads international efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats and to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. Now in its fifth decade, WWF, the global conservation organization, works in more than 100 countries around the world.