During a radio interview on Wednesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) attempted to argue that drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) would be beneficial for Arctic wildlife. Bachmann claimed that drilling would cause not only an “enhancement of wildlife expansion,” but that the area around oil pipelines would also “become a meeting ground and ‘coffee klatch’ for caribou”:
“Some suggestions are that perhaps we would see an enhancement of wildlife expansion because of the warmth of the pipeline,” she said. […] The pipeline has now become a meeting ground and “coffee klatch” for the caribou, she said.
Bachmann is not alone among conservatives in pushing this narrative of drilling being good for caribou. Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show last week that “the caribou have multiplied ’cause they like the warmth that surrounds the pipeline.” On Tuesday night, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg made a similar argument on Fox News:
GOLDBERG: People don’t realize that at Prudhoe Bay, where they have been drilling for 30 years, the central Arctic caribou herd has increased fivefold since they started drilling up there. Some people say it’s because they get to hide from the bugs. It’s a little easier for them. But people say it’s because of the lack of hunting. But it is not dangerous to the caribou up there.
Science, however, tells a different tale. Though the Central Arctic herd in Prudhoe Bay has grown, the Porcupine caribou in the Arctic refuge are “very different.” Wildlife biologists say drilling proponents are making an “oversimplified” argument when they tout Prudhoe Bay to justify disrupting the much larger Porcupine herd in the refuge:
Although the same animals, the two herds are very different. The Porcupine herd migrates over a much larger range, an arduous journey that takes its toll on the herd. Scientists also believe the Central Artic herd, a much smaller herd, has access to several acceptable calving grounds. The Porcupine herd has fewer alternatives and the herd has suffered declines in years when deep snow cover made it difficult to reach its preferred calving grounds on Alaska’s coastal plain.
Far from becoming a meeting ground, surveys have shown that the Central Arctic “caribou reduced their use of the more heavily developed Prudhoe Bay oil fields by 78 percent, and their east-west movements declined by 90 percent.” “As surface development continues, the caribou are effectively crowded out of these areas,” said Ray Cameron, a wildlife biologist who studied caribou for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “They’ve decided it’s not the place to be.”
Studies have also found that pipeline construction near caribou calving and summering areas can lead to “greater calf mortality” and the “reduction of the population.”
On Dennis Miller’s radio show today, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne also repeated the caribou line, saying that it “is true” that caribou “find the warmth to be nice.”