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Arctic Changes Force Adaptation

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    Fw: [WildlifeConservationDepartment] ... for the WCD Sweeping change reshapes Arctic by Craig Welch Seattle Times Note: Facing a fight for survival polar bears
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2006
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      Fw: [WildlifeConservationDepartment]

      ---------- Forwarded Message ----------
      for the WCD

      Sweeping change reshapes Arctic
      by Craig Welch
      Seattle Times

      Facing a fight for survival polar bears near the coast of the
      Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have increased tenfold since 1992 -
      most likely because they are stranded on land by receding ice, which
      exposes them to disease and threats from grizzly bears and people.
      The world's top polar-bear scientists predict that the worldwide
      population, now at about 25,000, will fall by one-third in the next
      35 to 50 years. Steve Ringman / Seattle Times

      BARROW, ALASKA - The hunter rose each day last summer from his bunk
      in a condemned wildlife lab, down the hall from where Inupiat
      villagers carve whale meat on a band saw.

      He slipped on hip waders and a furry white parka, slung a rifle over
      his shoulders and trudged onto the Arctic tundra. Through icy fog
      beneath a never-setting summer sun, Eric Seykora set out to earn the
      nickname given him by Barrow scientists: "The Fox Killer."

      Arctic foxes had been eating the eggs of rare ducks because their
      usual supper, tiny, mouselike lemmings, were dwindling from the
      drying tundra.

      So the government flew this former South Dakota hunting guide 330
      miles north of the Arctic Circle and paid him to spend his summer
      shooting foxes.

      Ecological change is so scrambling Alaska's Arctic that the
      government has hired gunslingers to recapture some balance.

      But with national debate so focused on the future of the Arctic
      National Wildlife Refuge, which some in Congress last month again
      tried and failed to open to oil drilling, a reality is only now being
      noticed in the Lower 48: Arctic Alaska is already undergoing a
      sprawling transformation, and life is fundamentally shifting in
      almost every way.

      The hunt for oil is moving to the ocean and across once-barren lands
      the size of Midwestern states, including some as ecologically
      valuable as ANWR.

      Birds are disappearing. Pollution is arriving. And nothing is having
      as much impact as climate change.

      Migrating whales, the backbone of Alaska's Inupiat culture, now
      arrive up to 45 days early, completely altering seasonal rhythms for
      Inupiat who harpoon them. Winter ice roads are collapsing months
      sooner than they did 35 years ago, prompting oil companies to ask the
      government to build highways across easily scarred tundra.

      Minute changes to plants and animals are unraveling intricate
      biological webs.

      And no one really knows how much stranger it's going to get.

      "It's hard, at times, trying to comprehend what's going on out
      there," said Eugene Brower, an Inupiat whaler and fire chief for the
      North Slope Borough, the municipal government for Arctic
      Alaska. "It's like we have no control over what's happening to us."

      For now, the best chance to understand the future rests with a motley
      band of respected scientists - adventurers and misfits, cowboys and
      computer geeks, paid by governments, universities and noted
      foundations - who flock each summer to a former Navy research lab
      outside Barrow.

      Life on the ice

      They live and work in old wooden buildings or concrete-and-metal
      Quonset huts, some surrounded by empty cages that once held wolves
      used in hypothermia experiments.

      Most are oblivious to the absurdity of their conditions. To erect a
      tower to measure carbon dioxide coming off the Arctic Ocean, one
      researcher carried 40-pound car batteries across a frozen island. To
      measure greenhouse gas flowing to and from the earth, another
      scientist actually built a lake on the tundra.

      On a blustery morning last summer, University of Washington professor
      Dick Moritz dragged a child's sled piled with scientific instruments
      through slushy blue ponds on hard-packed ice a half-mile out to sea.
      Behind him, graduate student Paul Hezel toted a shotgun, in the not-
      unlikely event they encountered a polar bear.

      Moritz and Hezel, of the UW's Polar Science Center, had been coming
      here for a week to test hundreds of core samples drilled from the
      ice. To them the Arctic's statistics were familiar.

      Average annual temperatures in the Arctic have risen as much as 7
      degrees Fahrenheit in 50 years - even more in Alaska - according to
      the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a report by the eight nations
      with land inside the Arctic Circle.

      The amount of ice covering the ocean in late summer has shrunk 15 to
      20 percent in three decades, and 2005 was the worst year ever. That
      shrinking contributed to a rise of about 8 inches in sea level,
      helping erode the shorelines of coastal towns such as Barrow. These
      changes, scientists agree, can't simply be explained by weather
      fluctuations. In fact, ice melt is now coming faster than some
      computer models projected. And a thawing Arctic can actually speed up
      warming across the globe.

      Already, ice-dependent animals, such as ivory gulls that fish through
      cracks in the ice, are struggling to find shelter and food. Walruses
      that haul out to rest on the floes sometimes find themselves too far
      from shore to feed on clams.

      "If they don't have ice they must swim, but it takes energy to swim,
      and life in the Arctic is about preserving energy," said Jesse Ford,
      an Oregon State University ecology professor.

      Inupiat, whose ancestors for thousands of years have camped on ice
      while hunting whales, suddenly find themselves bewildered trying to
      read the frozen sea.

      The ice now is increasingly unpredictable, "freezing up later,
      melting earlier, and generally confusing us," said Richard Glenn, a
      geologist, ice expert, Inupiat whaling captain and board president of
      the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, which offers logistic support
      for scientists.

      "The ice itself changes daily, which, in a way, keeps you alive. You
      don't just look at how it looks today, but how it looked yesterday.
      You have to keep a running inventory, or you'll end up floating away."

      On the slab where Moritz and Hezel were working, it was the time of
      year when the frozen sea, normally as stable as a wood floor, begins
      to crack and separate, threatening to carry researchers to the no-
      man's land of the Beaufort Sea.

      They had cut the season so close that when colleagues radioed to
      check on them, the pair lied rather than admit they were a half-mile
      from shore.

      "They're concerned about us being out here," Moritz said, gently
      placing a 3-foot-long tube of ice in a plastic tray. "Sometime -
      today, tomorrow, next week - they're going to say we can't come at
      all because the ice might start to move."

      For now, Moritz and Hezel are trying to figure out the precise ways
      the physical properties of ice affect how the sun's energy passes
      through it. That way they can better predict how fast the ice may
      disappear, and help other scientists gauge how the sea will adapt.

      Solid ice reflects sunlight, while standing water absorbs it. If too
      much ice melts, it may create what scientists call a feedback loop:
      Sunlight will heat more water, increasing Arctic warming, which will
      help melt more ice and accelerate the warming cycle.

      Hezel fished another crystalline sample from the ice and flipped it
      over in his gloved hand to reveal speckles of colored algae buried

      "You have brown, but there's orange in here too, a totally different
      kind of life," he said.

      Recent exploration of the depths of the Beaufort Sea revealed a
      surprising diversity despite frigid, dark conditions. In small
      volumes of water, thousands of tiny plants and animals teem -
      inchlong, shrimplike crustaceans, tiny worms and jellyfishlike
      creatures the size and color of oranges.

      Because no sunlight penetrates for most of the year, the organisms
      feed only during short periods in summer, when sun and melting ice
      produce algae, which is eaten by crustaceans. Crustaceans and tiny
      sand-flealike creatures foraging beneath the ice feed Arctic cod,
      which feed almost everything else, from ringed seals to seabirds.

      But as ice cover retreats, Arctic cod move father out to sea to chase
      crustaceans, making it difficult for other creatures to find food
      closer to land. And as warming produces more sunlight, other species -
      from salmon to warm-weather birds - are invading the Arctic.

      "The entire food web of the upper ocean is changing, and that could
      have disastrous impacts on many species," said Rolf Gradinger, an
      oceanography professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

      Few have been harder hit than the Arctic's top predator.

      As they collected ice samples, Moritz and Hezel stopped every few
      minutes for a slow, 360-degree scan for the telltale cream-white fur
      of a polar bear.

      Days earlier, Hezel and another colleague had stepped off their
      snowmobiles near a whale carcass, and turned to see a feeding bear.
      They fired a warning shot, dumped their instruments and fled.

      "It was pretty crazy," Hezel said. "And pretty scary."

      Increased rain has been collapsing polar-bear dens, and shorter
      summer-ice seasons have made it harder for the fearless omnivores to
      find food.

      While polar bears have adapted over thousands of years to life on the
      ice, they are more often now found paddling through the ocean in
      search of prey, or on land near shore gnawing on whales killed by

      Last year at least four bears, likely more, appear to have drowned
      while swimming between melting sheets of ice - an entirely new

      The University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center shows
      that the amount of ice on the Arctic Ocean during September is
      declining 8 percent each year. And many computer models suggest there
      won't be summer ice at all by century's end - if not sooner.

      Those trends led scientists this year to predict that the polar-bear
      population worldwide, now at about 25,000 - about 3,800 in Alaska -
      will drop by a third in 35 to 50 years.

      To survive, polar bears may have to learn to live on solid tundra,
      which means competing with grizzly bears and people and exposing
      themselves to new sources of disease.

      But life on the tundra has trouble of its own.

      Lessons from lemmings

      Mat Seidensticker gunned the engine of his four-wheel all-terrain
      vehicle and bombed down a muddy road into Barrow, waving to an
      Inupiat grandmother walking with a baby on her back.

      The 26-year-old owl biologist was on his way to check a nest for
      snowy owls, the stark-white, toddler-sized puffs of feathers that
      breed just outside Barrow, which in Inupiat is called Ukpeagvik,
      or "place where snowy owls are hunted."

      The owls help explain how small shifts in nature may be altering the
      entire ecosystem.

      Barely a mile outside Barrow, Seidensticker pulled off the road and
      tromped through a puddled field of lichen, moss and grassy plants
      with triangular stems. There, the 6-foot-6 scientist suddenly dropped
      to his hands and knees, chasing a tiny lemming that shot like a
      bullet through the moss.

      "Missed him!" Seidensticker shouted.

      Seidensticker, with the Owl Research Institute of Montana, once
      sifted through 4,000 bits of waste regurgitated by snowy owls to pick
      apart the tiny skulls of rodents they ate. He discovered that 97
      percent of their diet was lemmings, gerbil-sized critters that zip
      along through tiny "runways" carved in the tundra.

      "When you have lots of lemmings, you also have lots of owls," he
      said. "We haven't had lots of either in a while."

      Lemmings were so common in Barrow in the 1970s that they regularly
      scampered over people's feet. A researcher once caught 700 in a
      single day. And while lemming populations always fluctuate wildly,
      scientists say today's peaks don't appear as high, or as frequent, as
      they once were - a trend some scientists suspect is linked to global

      In the wintertime, lemmings travel through pockets between the snow
      and frozen ground, but mild snowfall and warm weather have been
      collapsing those corridors. In summer, lemmings like moist, damp
      tundra. But as the Arctic earth warms, it also dries out. Just last
      summer, scientists noted that 125 Arctic lakes had drained into the
      soil and disappeared.

      Little transformations like those can signal big changes.

      Shrubs are proliferating, as changes in temperature and moisture
      alter plant species.

      The nearest trees to Barrow are roughly 130 miles south, but warmer-
      weather tree species such as spruce have advanced onto the tundra six
      miles in a century. That adds to warming because forests absorb more
      sun than meadows.

      And while Arctic tundra itself accounts for roughly 8 percent of the
      planet's land mass, it holds a quarter or more of the carbon stored
      in the Earth. New evidence suggests melting permafrost may release
      more of that carbon as greenhouse gas to the atmosphere - another way
      the Arctic may accelerate global warming.

      Still other scientists suggest all this new vegetation means more
      plants will be there to convert greenhouse gases to oxygen.

      Either way, the change is so basic some Natives are convinced they
      can taste it in the meat of caribous and other animals that graze on
      tundra plants.

      "It's like if you've been eating at McDonald's for 20 years, and then
      suddenly you go to Burger King," said Leonard Lampe, a resident of
      the Inupiat village of Nuiqsut, near the central Beaufort Sea
      coast. "It tastes different, but you can't say how."

      As frozen rivers break up sooner, they are interfering with some
      wildlife migrations. Birds common to California or Connecticut now
      skitter near the shores of the Beaufort Sea. Ring-neck ducks, rarely
      seen in the Arctic before the mid-1980s, now number in the thousands
      in just one area of north Alaska.

      Such complex relationships have wildlife managers taking elaborate

      Back on the tundra, Seidensticker crouched low in the soggy field as
      a snowy owl circled in the distance, keeping an eye on a nest on a
      mound in the grass.

      Snowy owls will swoop down with outstretched talons to attack
      anything that comes near their eggs. Some waterfowl - such as ducks
      called Steller's eiders, which are protected by the Endangered
      Species Act - tend to build their nests nearby because the owls keep
      predators at bay.

      "Whether it's a fox, a gull, or me, owls will dive-bomb you and hit
      you and call loudly and do everything they can to keep you away,"
      Seidensticker said, fingering a tear in his jacket from an earlier
      owl encounter.

      But because fewer lemmings can also mean fewer owls to scare away
      foxes, the "foxes are going around eating all the eiders' eggs they
      want," said Nora Rojek, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist.

      So this year the agency tried something new: It stole eggs from nests
      and incubated them in a lab. And it hired a trio of fox killers,
      including Seykora, to trap and shoot predators skulking around the

      This summer, breeding success was unusually high.

      "I don't know if it's a cause-and-effect relationship," said Brian
      Person, a biologist with the municipal government of Northern
      Alaska. "Was it because of fox removal? I don't know ... but it sure
      was weird."

      * * *

      Drilling in ANWR: The battle continues

      Last year the United States again came close to opening a portion of
      the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil
      drilling. The battle is not over.

      After failing last spring to approve drilling as part of an energy
      bill, this fall Senate Republicans put the measure in a spending
      package, but it was defeated in the House. Last month Sen. Ted
      Stevens, R-Alaska, added drilling to a military-spending package, but
      the provision, which had been approved in the House, was dropped
      after a filibuster led by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

      The Bush administration says exploration would use environmentally
      friendly technology, would be limited to 2,000 acres and could lead
      to the country's greatest oil find in decades.

      Opponents say the 2,000-acre figure doesn't account for pipelines,
      gravel pits, pump stations and waste plants that would accompany the
      oil development. And they say even a large oil find would meet a mere
      fraction of the nation's needs while soiling the refuge.

      The North Slope's Inupiat, who own some oil rights inside ANWR,
      generally support drilling there, though many oppose offshore
      drilling or oil exploration in other wildlife-rich areas.

      The nearby Gwich'in Athabascans oppose drilling in ANWR because it is
      a popular hunting ground for caribous, which are as central to their
      culture as whaling is to the Inupiats.

      In the 1990s, Congress approved ANWR drilling, but President Clinton
      vetoed it.

      Stevens has vowed to continue pushing for drilling this year.

      * * *

      Pollution, reproduction and the food chain

      The industrial world's pollution is riding to the Arctic on wind, on
      ocean currents and in bird droppings.

      Nursing mothers in Arctic Canada pass mercury from coal burning in
      Asia to their children through breast milk. Pesticides and
      polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are causing reproductive problems in
      Greenland's polar bears. Radiation from nuclear accidents and old
      weapons tests has polluted reindeer in Arctic Russia.

      Yet partly because Alaska has different sea and air-circulation
      patterns, the U.S. Arctic appears to have avoided the worst of this -
      for now, scientists say.

      Instead, experts worry that Native Alaskans afraid of contamination
      may replace eating healthy, vitamin-rich wildlife with junk food.

      "How can you feel good about sharing a PCB sandwich with an elder?"
      asked Alaska researcher Henry Huntington.

      * * *

      Birds help connect the global ecosystem

      To understand how closely tied the Arctic is to the rest of the
      world, consider this: Bird species that summer in Arctic Alaska are
      disappearing because their winter homes elsewhere in the world are
      threatened by development, pesticides, hunting and other problems.

      Nearly 40 percent of migratory shorebird species that breed on
      Alaska's Arctic Coast are believed to be declining, according to a
      U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report to be released next year.

      Examples abound: Wetlands loss in South Korea is driving away
      dunlins. On Delaware Bay in the United States, red knots have fewer
      horseshoe-crab eggs to eat. In Argentina, overgrazing is ruining
      winter habitat for sandpipers.

      But it's a two-way street. So many millions of the world's birds
      summer in Northern Alaska that government studies have concluded that
      Arctic climate change, and perhaps even oil development, could alter
      ecosystems across the globe.

      * * *

      Buried greenhouse gases

      Carbon trapped in the tundra can be converted to greenhouse gases as
      the Arctic thaws. And there may be significantly more of it than
      anyone thought - in some cases 125 times more.

      In the 1990s, scientists dug a few inches into the high Arctic tundra
      and found billions of tons of carbon in the soil.

      In December, after three years of research in Greenland, University
      of Washington doctoral candidate Jennifer Horwath dug several feet

      She found, in some areas, at least nine times more carbon. In others
      she found 125 times more.

      The discovery is significant because as permafrost melts, "that
      carbon can be consumed by microbes and little bugs that turn it into
      CO2 [carbon dioxide], which can travel to the atmosphere," Horwath

      That, in turn, could rapidly increase global warming.

      Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 Seattle Times

      Steve Ringman: 206-464-8143 Seattle Times

      Copyright � 2005 The Seattle Times Company


      Monday, January 2, 2006

      Oil drilling alters landscape, life for tiny Inupiat village

      by Craig Welch
      Seattle Times staff reporter

      Caught up in the current of change Thomas Ahtuangaruak, whose father
      helped settle the village of Nuiqsut three decades ago, races along a
      channel of the Colville River on his way to a family member's fishing
      cabin a few miles downstream from home. Many Nuiqsut residents
      complain that expanding oil development is crowding them out of the
      fishing and hunting grounds their parents used. STEVE RINGMAN / THE

      NUIQSUT, Alaska - Thomas Ahtuangaruak ripped down the Colville River,
      sucking an exceedingly damp cigarette and chewing on raw caribou fat
      like it was gum.

      The Arctic sun was weeks from setting, but Ahtuangaruak's aluminum
      boat kicked up a spray so icy it burned.

      The 36-year-old Inupiat and his friend Jonah Taleak were goofing off,
      poking around Native fishing huts outside Nuiqsut, a remote village
      in Alaska's Arctic, not far from the Beaufort Sea.

      But when they whipped around a bend, the pair grew somber at a sight
      they'd seen hundreds of times before.

      Rising like a missile silo from the hopelessly flat coastal plain was
      a monument to the best and worst of their future: an oil rig,
      drilling a well for the ConocoPhillips Alpine Oil Field.

      "Kind of hard to miss, isn't it?" Ahtuangaruak asked in a near

      The hunt for energy is marching across the Arctic, and arguments are
      raging over how oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
      (ANWR) might alter life for Alaska's Natives. Some answers may lie
      here, in the village of Nuiqsut, population 450, about 100 miles west
      of ANWR.

      Despite oil drilling that the industry insists is the least intrusive
      ever done, this community is already experiencing the mix of progress
      and decay that comes from having oil in the backyard.

      A thousand years of culture are clashing with the promise of
      prosperity. And with oil development exploding all around, Nuiqsut's
      internal struggle is bound to escalate.

      Settled 30 years ago by Inupiat seeking a more traditional life of
      hunting and bartering, this once-barren meadow is now ringed by
      pipelines and well pads that some villagers blame for chasing off

      Oil money has packed Nuiqsut's dirt streets with Dodge pickups.
      Satellite dishes poke out like elephant ears from homes that only
      recently got indoor plumbing. Yet now that offshore wells are pumping
      crude from beneath the Arctic Ocean, even pro-oil Nuiqsut residents
      worry that an oil spill on broken ice would devastate whales.

      Winter ice roads built by oil companies open the village to the rest
      of Alaska - and boost the flow of methamphetamine, marijuana and
      liquor into a dry community.

      Some Native villages "look at Nuiqsut and say, 'Oh my gosh, I hope
      that doesn't happen here,' " said Sverre Pedersen, with the Alaska
      Department of Fish and Game's division of subsistence.

      Inupiat leaders in Barrow, however, maintain oil is progress.

      "Nuiqsut talking about oil is like someone in the middle of a root
      canal trying to evaluate the pros and cons of dentistry," said
      Richard Glenn, vice president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp.,
      which holds subsurface rights to Alpine oil.

      "The question is: Is it worth it?"

      Fueled by oil

      Stretching from the Bering Sea to the Canadian border and from the
      crooked knobs of the Brooks Range across flatland tundra to the
      coast, Alaska's North Slope is a treeless expanse the size of Idaho -
      a place where roiling winds are so powerful they can reshape lakes.

      Called "the world's largest municipality," the North Slope consists
      of 7,000 residents in eight villages, including Nuiqsut
      (pronounced "new-WICK-sit"), with tiny road systems that don't even
      connect to one another.

      Virtually everything on the North Slope is paid for by oil - all of
      it, until recently, drawn from the 1,000-square-mile industrial zone
      of Prudhoe Bay.

      Property taxes on Prudhoe oil fields support the municipal
      government. The $1.3-billion Native-owned company, Arctic Slope, gets
      money from oil rights, runs a network of refining and construction
      companies and pays dividends to Native residents. Each village has a
      subsidiary corporation that also pays dividends, though not all
      village residents are shareholders.

      Still, life here remains a curious blend of ancient and modern.

      Every year, Inupiat men disappear for weeks, paddling sealskin canoes
      out to sea to harpoon bowhead whales and shoot them with torpedo-
      shaped bombs. CB radios crackle from most homes as neighbors announce
      birthdays or broadcast the arrival of daily airplane flights.
      Children play outside long after midnight, soaking up summer's round-
      the-clock sun. Hunters carry global-positioning systems but still
      find their way by reading snowdrifts.

      On this sunny summer day, Ahtuangaruak, who makes his living
      delivering packages, tooled around Nuiqsut in his pickup, chain-
      smoking in a T-shirt and bragging about the balmy weather.

      "Could get up to 40 degrees," he said.

      As he made his rounds, he spotted Mae Masuleak, a village elder,
      shuffling up the dusty lane toward the plywood Post Office. He placed
      a tiny stool on the ground to help her into the cab.

      Ahtuangaruak's father and Masuleak were among 150 people who left
      Barrow in 1973 after Congress approved a settlement allowing Alaskan
      Natives to reclaim lost lands. They traveled 136 miles by snowmobile
      in a place where temperatures can hit minus 56 Fahrenheit, reaching
      the Colville River delta and settling on a bluff a few miles from the
      Arctic coast.

      For 18 months, they lived in white, wind-battered canvas tents. All
      the while, a reminder of Western culture shined 60 miles away: lights
      from newly developed Prudhoe Bay.

      Through the years, oil development crept ever closer, bringing
      people, planes and money, and an expanding industrial complex.

      "When we first came here, there was just a dim little candlelight
      from Prudhoe," Masuleak said. "Now we're like a little suburb,
      surrounded by thousands of lights."

      Oil already has transformed life here from pit toilets and dogsleds
      to top-of-the-line Ski-Doo snowmobiles and flat-screen TVs. Today the
      town's modular houses are built on stilts above the tundra to stay
      dry through the summer thaw. They're set back from the street in
      perfect alignment, like rainbow-colored military barracks. Powerboats
      litter yards where bear furs dry on wood blocks. The air is abuzz
      with the sound of all-terrain vehicles.

      After pools of crude were discovered just eight miles downstream in
      1996 - America's largest oil find in more than a decade - oil
      companies promised, and largely delivered, the latest in
      environmentally friendly oil development.

      Drills tapped wells in dozens of directions underground from only a
      handful of sites. Development initially disturbed little more than
      100 acres. The oil was sent to Prudhoe Bay through a pipe 100 feet
      beneath the Colville River, to avoid the risk of a spill in the water.

      Oil executives told Congress and the public that Alpine was evidence
      of oil companies "doing it right." Today, ConocoPhillips, the company
      that operates the Alpine Oil Field, boasts that Alpine is "a model
      for future North Slope developments because of its 'near-zero-impact'

      But last year, villagers found out the federal government had
      approved a massive expansion: five more drill sites, another
      airstrip, two river bridges, a 65-acre gravel pit, 37 miles of new
      pipeline and more than 25 miles of permanent roads - all in a
      semicircle around Nuiqsut.

      Oil has been discovered at other sites nearby. The Bureau of Land
      Management has received applications to drill at least 19 test wells
      west of Nuiqsut. And last spring, Shell Oil paid $44 million for the
      right to hunt for oil along a wide offshore swath of the Arctic Ocean.

      "You could say some people were a little unhappy," Ahtuangaruak said,
      dropping Masuleak at the Nuiqsut Post Office.

      The hunting life

      A half-mile down the street, Leonard Lampe picked at the blood on his
      fingers as he watched his mother-in-law hack at a caribou carcass
      with a cleaver.

      Rose Kaigelak carved heaps of meat from the bones of the two animals
      Lampe had bagged the night before. Lampe, 38, a former Nuiqsut mayor,
      loaded the steaks onto a tarp.

      The legs and ribs would be boiled or barbecued, Lampe said. He picked
      errant hairs off the small hunks of raw fat and popped them into his

      "The tongue and heart, of course, we'll cut all up into pieces to
      make soup," he said.

      Inupiat hunt everything - from bearded seals and walruses to wild
      muskoxen and geese.

      They hunt because the top layer of brittle soil above the frozen
      tundra won't grow corn or wheat or beans. They hunt because game meat
      is nutritious. They hunt because a 12-ounce package of Oscar Mayer
      deli ham at the AC Value Center grocery store costs $8, and a 3-pound
      pack of hamburger patties runs $16.

      Mostly, they hunt because they always have.

      "My youngest son wakes up these days and wants frozen fish for
      breakfast," said Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, Thomas Ahtuangaruak's
      cousin. "So I'm trying to make sure at least two meals a day are
      traditional foods."

      But so few caribous venture near town these days that Ahtuangaruak
      calls those that do "the lost ones." The above-ground pipelines and
      barge traffic on the river have blocked access to popular duck- and
      goose-hunting grounds. The hundreds of helicopter and airplane
      flights a season sometimes scare away birds. Nuiqsut whalers complain
      that offshore oil exploration chases bowhead whales too far from
      shore to hunt, and residents say the practice of burning off excess
      gas at drill sites pollutes their air.

      ConocoPhillips has paid tens of thousands of dollars in fines for
      failures that led to turbines pumping too much carbon monoxide into
      the air. And the company has spilled oil, mud and chemicals in or
      near the Colville River.

      "They're drilling in prime fishing areas," Lampe complained. "Where
      they propose to build a bridge for a pipeline is a very hot area for
      Arctic cisco [a type of whitefish]. Air pollution will eventually
      fall out on birds, the waterfowl, pretty much everything that's

      "The areas where my dad taught me to hunt, I had to let go of. I had
      to learn whole new areas, and now those are going to change for my

      ConocoPhillips says Alpine is comparatively quite small, occupying
      only a fraction of the tundra outside Nuiqsut, and uses roads
      sparingly. New pipelines will be high enough for caribous to pass
      beneath, and the company has voluntarily reported air-pollution
      violations. ConocoPhillips has even conducted studies into the effect
      of noise on birds, concluding there have been "no significant impacts
      to nesting success."

      "ConocoPhillips is proud of its environmental record and the manner
      in which Alpine was developed," the company said in a written
      response to questions for this story. "Alpine continues to operate in
      a manner which respects the subsistence way of life."

      But Pedersen, with the game agency, said hunters are being crowded
      into smaller and smaller areas.

      "People are uncomfortable hunting in developed areas, have difficulty
      getting there, or have concerns about them being polluted," he
      said. "East of the Colville River was a big bird hunting area they're
      not able to use anymore. Near the coast, man-made gravel islands are
      being built for processing, and there's all this boat and plane
      traffic and strangers all over the place."

      Nuiqsut whaler Jonah Nukapigak fears the village is trading away its

      For generations, Inupiat whalers hauled carcasses out on beaches
      north of Nuiqsut. Then in 1993, a mechanic at a nearby Air Force
      radar site was mauled by a polar bear.

      Now oil companies help pay to barge the whales to a dock, where they
      are boxed up, trucked to Prudhoe Bay, packed into airplanes and flown
      back to Nuiqsut - in part so oil workers aren't threatened by bears
      drawn by the carcasses.

      Life here now depends on oil.

      Bounty and poverty

      As the weather chilled in the afternoon, Thomas Ahtuangaruak slid on
      his jacket, a navy-blue windbreaker with a ConocoPhillips logo.

      He had driven down the road to check on preparations for Isaac
      Nukapigak's nalukataq - a village celebration of a successful whale

      Nukapigak, Jonah's brother, was also elbow-deep in blood, carving
      caribou for soup. In a tent in the dirt driveway, his mother-in-law
      fried bread. Nukapigak's wife popped in and out of the house in
      slacks and high heels.

      As president of Nuiqsut's Native corporation, Nukapigak knows what
      oil brought.

      It helped build a teen center, a gymnasium, a health clinic, fire
      station and a school. Oil executives at Alpine agreed to supply
      Nuiqsut with natural gas to heat their homes.

      The Native corporation owns surface rights to Alpine and profits
      directly from drilling. A third of the villagers are shareholders,
      and the corporation has paid out $6 million, divided among 200 of
      them over five years.

      Still, "not everyone here does as good as everyone else," said
      Nukapigak, who makes $80,000 a year, twice the median income in the

      Up to a third of the adults here don't have jobs. Most who do are
      employed by the government.

      Only a few dozen residents are employed by the oil fields. Others
      have tried to get work there but failed drug tests - a problem some
      contend is exacerbated by oil development.

      While Nukapigak butchered his caribous, a woman raced by on a four-
      wheeled ATV. She sat up straight in the saddle, but her eyes were
      expressionless as she repeatedly circled the same two dusty blocks.

      "Our social problems are real," Nukapigak said. "We have drugs, we've
      had suicides."

      Nuiqsut is one of 98 Alaskan communities since 1979 that have voted
      to outlaw alcoholic beverages to combat high alcoholism rates.

      But the same ice roads that now let villagers drive 465 miles to the
      Sam's Club store in Fairbanks to stock up on peanut butter, cereal,
      Hungry Man dinners and toilet paper also make it easier to import
      drugs and alcohol, said Paul Carr, the former chief of the North
      Slope police force.

      In Nuiqsut on this nalukataq day, one elderly man rode around town
      drinking bottle after bottle of Nyquil.

      A government survey of school kids recently found elders were often
      robbed by neighbors seeking drug money. Not long ago, a villager was
      caught trying to smuggle in dozens of bottles of rum, which can fetch
      up to $150 apiece.

      "If you talk to the rest of Alaska, they'll tell you North Slope
      folks are rich," Carr said.

      But that's deceptive, he said. "Where there is disposable income, we
      see a higher level of disorder. But there's poverty here, too."

      Up the road from Isaac Nukapigak's home, his brother, Edward
      Nukapigak, leaned on a cane, helping their mother sew floats onto
      fish nets. His mother sat on the ground in a flower-print dress, and
      pulled up ill-fitting socks.

      "Do we look like millionaires?" Edward Nukapigak said.

      Uncertain future

      As the nalukataq began, Thomas Ahtuangaruak sat in his pickup and
      smoked cigarettes. Villagers and out-of-town guests gathered on a
      softball field. One of Isaac Nukapigak's sisters was being tossed in
      the air with a blanket held by family and friends, an amusement that
      recalls days when hunters were thrown like this to spot whales.

      But another of Nukapigak's siblings, Eli Nukapigak, a city councilman
      and one of the village's best hunters, was fidgety.

      He left the party and shuffled silently down a dirt road to town. He
      climbed the steps of a community hall and entered a vast, empty
      meeting room.

      There, he pointed to detailed maps on the walls, showing the places
      oil companies may want to put more oil rigs and pipelines across the

      Sweat beaded on his brow.

      "We won't be able to use these areas for the next 30 years," Eli
      Nukapigak said quietly.

      With hands on his hips, he stood there, considering his future.

      * * *

      Linking native knowledge to science

      Arctic scientists increasingly use the observations of Native
      Alaskans to guide research.

      When Native Arctic fishermen said they feared that whitefish had
      declined in the Colville River because of off-shore oil drilling or a
      spill of contaminated mud, the federal Minerals Management Service
      launched a study, to be completed next year.

      When Natives reported that seal skins appeared more translucent, and
      that they had seen more deformed fish, it helped prompt more research
      into the contamination of Arctic estuaries.

      Now the National Science Foundation funds workshops in Arctic
      communities where residents suggest research topics.

      * * *

      Scars on the tundra

      The outside world has left scars on the Arctic that can be difficult,
      even impossible, to remove.

      Roads and runways etched across the tundra 50 years ago are still
      visible today - even when they haven't been used in decades.

      The U.S. military abandoned strings of radar sites along the Arctic
      coast after the Cold War, leaving behind contamination that has
      leached into the Arctic Ocean.

      Just the cleanup of sites in and around the Arctic National Wildlife
      Refuge involves thousands of pounds of contaminated soil, asbestos-
      lined buildings and thousands of drums of oil, the banned pesticide
      DDT, cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals.

      * * *

      Oil vs. whales

      In Arctic Alaska, oil wells on the ocean have arrived. First came
      BP's Northstar well, in 2001. Then this spring Shell paid $44 million
      to explore millions of acres of the Beaufort Sea.

      Geologists think the ocean off Arctic Alaska holds significantly more
      oil than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

      But Inupiats worried about whales have fought for 25 years to block
      offshore drilling.

      Noise from oil exploration scatters whales for miles. "It's spooking
      them," said George Ahmaogak, former North Slope Borough mayor.

      Scientists say an oil spill in the fall, when new ice drifts and
      mixes with heavy slush, would be tough to control. And the Army Corps
      of Engineers once estimated the chance of a spill from one offshore
      rig in the Arctic was high.

      Yet ocean drilling is banned off much of the Lower 48's coastline,
      and not where residents hunt whales for food, Ahmaogak fumed.

      Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 Seattle Times
      Steve Ringman: 206-464-8143 Seattle Times

      Copyright � 2006 The Seattle Times Company


      Sunday, January 1, 2006

      Arctic Out of Balance: Further reading

      Seattle Times reporter Craig Welch traveled to Alaska's North Slope
      and conducted extensive interviews with native Alaskans, scientists,
      state and federal officials and others. In addition, information was
      gathered from dozens of government reports, peer-reviewed scientific
      studies, journals and other sources. Some of those include:

      Shrinking sea ice - National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of
      Colorado: http://www.nsidc.org/news/press/20050928_trendscontinue.html

      Climate change, general (food-chain issues, vegetation, temperature) -
      Arctic Climate Impact Assessment: http://www.amap.no/acia/

      Climate change, general (wildlife, treelines, temperature) - Larry
      Hinzman, et al: http://www.faculty.uaf.edu/fffsc/Chapin%

      Melting ice roads - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

      Impact of melting ice on rate of climate change - National Science
      Foundation: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/310/5748/657 -
      (subscription required)

      Impact of melting ice on rate of climate change - University of
      Washington Polar Science Center:

      Decline of black guillemots - National Oceanic and Atmospheric
      Administration: http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/detect/land-duck.shtml

      Decline of black guillemots - Friends of Cooper Island:

      Disappearing tundra lakes - National Science Foundation:

      New discoveries in Arctic Ocean - National Oceanic and Atmospheric

      Beaufort Sea, climate change - National Oceanic and Atmospheric
      Administration: http://www.na.nefsc.noaa.gov/lme/text/lme55.htm

      Polar bear declines - International Polar Bear Specialists Group:

      Polar bear drownings - Minerals Management Service:

      Steller's eiders, biology - Lori Quackenbush, et al:

      Storage of carbon in tundra - San Diego State University Global
      Change Research Group: http://www.gcrg.sdsu.edu/index.php?tab=Research

      Storage of carbon in tundra - National Science Foundation:

      Storage of carbon in tundra - Jennifer Horwath, University of
      Washington: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-12/uow-

      Arctic pollution, general (mercury, PCBs, radiation) - Arctic
      Monitoring and Assessment Programme: http://www.amap.no

      Arctic pollution, ocean - National Oceanic and Atmospheric

      Arctic pollution, mercury in snow - U.S. Army Cold Regions Research
      and Engineering Laboratory:

      Arctic pollution, transport by birds - Queen's University, Ontario,
      Canada: http://www.biology.queensu.ca/~pearl/fulmars.htm

      Native science, general - Alaska Native Science Commission:

      Impacts of oil in Arctic Alaska - National Research Council:

      Arctic oil exploration - Bureau of Land Management, National
      Petroleum Reserve pages: http://www.ak.blm.gov/npra.html

      Arctic off-shore oil exploration - Minerals Management Service
      Alaska: http://www.mms.gov/alaska/

      North Slope government - North Slope Borough page: http://www.north-

      Climate science, Barrow - Barrow Arctic Research Consortium:

      Copyright � 2005 The Seattle Times Company

      NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
      material is distributed to the WCD membership without profit, for
      research and educational purposes only.

      for the WCD

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