Terry J. Allen | 802.229.0303m
w| tallen@igc.org


Censoring the Arctic Wildlife Reserve

A koan for the new millennium: When there is no paper, is there still a paper trail? Answer: Not unless you vacuum the internet and print the download. Which is what Caroline Kennedy at Washington-based Defenders of Wildlife did in early January, right before George W. Bush took office. "I felt kind of paranoid about archiving the site," said Kennedy, until she checked again three weeks later, just after Bush assumed office.

Under President Clinton, the US Fish and Wildlife Service web site had documented how oil drilling on the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would devastate the environment. The Bush administration, however had made a campaign issue of its enthusiastic support for oil exploitation in the arctic sanctuary for polar bears, snow geese, muskoxen and vast herds of migrating caribou.


When Kennedy looked at the revamped site, she found that the scientific evidence was less conclusive. "They watered it down," she said, "to paint a rosier picture ofthe impact of oil drilling."

Unlike hard documents that can be collected through Freedom of Information requests or ferreted from musty files, postings on the web are as insubstantial as the internet itself. They exist only as long as they float in cyberspace and vanish forever like a cloud on a summer day. New versions not only disappear the past, they rewrite the present.


Officials at the Alaska Fish and Wildlife regional office say they revised the web site without any instructions from Washington. After making a phone call to Anchorage, Rachel Levin, a US Fish and Wildlife spokesperson in Washington concurred. "There was no communication between DC and Refuge specifically requesting anything be taken down,* she said. " They made changes to make it more neutral informational site."



Anne Morekill, acting deputy refuge manager in Anchorage defended the decision was "just word smithing. It didn't read quite right before. We just wanted to tighten it up." After being presented with specific examples she adds "We changed value-laden words like 'destroy' to 'impact.'"

But the Alaska office would have had to be snow blind not to see the web site, and the refuge itself, as a provocative target in the sites of the new Interior Department. In her previous stint at the Reagan Interior Department under James Watt, Norton had advocated opening ANWR to oil companies. Right after Bush nominated her the head Interior, "The Oil Daily," an industry trade paper described Norton as an "ANWR Veteran [who] helped open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration." It went on to say that "Norton's background hints that she is likely to be an advocate for producers." The changes on the web site, they assert, had far more to do with politics than science. But as the current controversy shows in black and white, the two are inseparable.


Karen Boylan, assistant director regional affairs at the Alaska Fish and Wildlife says her agency was "not directly intimidated by the administration." Instead the office held a series of meeting and, after circulating drafts of the new text, implemented a strategy of preemptive surgery: Amputate the most inflammatory parts of the website before Washington hacked out its heart. "We made in an honest attempt to keep it below the radar screen. ... We took down conclusions that were inconsistent with the new administration," she said, but "left the evidence for people to draw their own conclusions.

Conclusions are not part of sound science." Indeed, reluctant to admit openly that they censored the site to ward off political pressure, the Alaska officials fall back on "sound science"--a buzz phrase with which Washington justifies everything from not cutting allowable levels of arsenic in the drinking water and C02 emissions, to insisting that Europe buy America's hormone-laced beef.Defenders of Wildlife argues that the conclusions on the Clinton era web page that drilling will "destroy,""disrupt,"' diminish" and damage" the environment are not simply opinions. They are based on rigorous environmental impact studies and the fact that their accuracy cannot be proven unless drilling actually goes ahead and wreaks havoc, is no reason to dismiss them.

The changes on the web site, they assert, had far more to do with politics than science. But as the current controversy shows in black and white, the two are inseparable.The Bush-era version excises the whole section on conclusions. The original had featured these quotes:

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, a founder of the refuge: "This last American living wilderness must remain sacrosanct... This is - and must forever remain - a roadless, primitive area where all food chains are unbroken, where the ancient ecological balance provided by nature is maintained."

Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus, late 1970s: "In some places, such as the Arctic Range, the wildlife and natural values are so magnificent and so enduring that they transcend the value of any mineral that may lie beneath the surface. Such minerals are finite. Production inevitably means changes whose impacts will be measured in geologic time in order to gain marginal benefits that may last a few years."

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the most pristine unit in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Oil and gas exploration and development in the Refuge would permanently and irreversibly:
• Destroy the unique wildland Values of a world-class natural area.
• Disrupt ecological and evolutionary processes in one of the most pristine conservation areas in the North America arctic.
• Diminish the Refuge's scientific value as a benchmark for understanding these processes.
• Damage the biological and ecological integrity of the entire Refuge.

the Clinton-era site noted:
If sufficient amounts of oil were found, drilling would occur year-round from permanent gravel pads and oil would be transported by pipelines feeding into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System at Prudhoe Bay.

the Bush administration argues that the seasonal nature of drilling would mitigate environmental effects.

Both sites said:
135 species of birds are known to use the 1002 Area, including numerous shorebirds, waterfowl, loons, songbirds, and raptors.

Bush-era posting dropped:
Oil development in the Arctic Refuge would result in habitat loss, disturbance, and displacement or abandonment of important nesting, feeding, molting and staging areas.

Asked if she had any doubt that the excised text was accurate, Boylan responded: "No doubt whatsoever."
The Clinton version continues:
One species of bird that could be greatly impacted by oil development is the snow goose.
The Bush era version substitutes:
One notable example is snow geese

Then, after a few sentences on the habits of snow geese, the Clinton version notes:
Oil exploration and development would displace snow geese from areas that are critically important to them.

The later version omits that conclusion.
The Clinton version refers to the "damage" caused by seismic exploration which sends sound waves into the ground.

The later version refers to the "amount of impact" and omits the following:
Seismic exploration programs are intrusive and leave 'footprints.' ... Some sites will take decades to recover, if ever."

The Clinton version says:
The effects of oil field development in the Arctic Refuge would extend far beyond the "footprint" of gravel pads and roads, and would cause many cumulative impacts including:

blocking, deflecting or disturbing wildlife, resulting in decreased numbers of wildlife in the area

Later version substitutes:
Cumulative biological consequences of oil field development that may be expected in the Arctic Refuge include:

blocking, deflecting or disturbing wildlife
increased freezing depths of rivers and lakes as a result of water extraction (for ice road and pad construction and for oil well re-injection), killing overwintering fish and aquatic invertebrates. CUT
increased freezing depths of rivers and lakes as a result of water extraction (for ice road and pad construction and for oil well re-injection), killing overwintering fish and aquatic invertebrates. The Bush version omits a direct reference to the impact on fisheries and cuts the statement.