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Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 7, 2006


Recently here I attended a small luncheon to discuss with some of its senior staffers the exciting and vital work of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

For 37 years, Manomet has worked throughout the Western Hemisphere with conservation groups, policy-makers, businesses and educators to save important lands, improve management of natural resources and effect the restoration of wildlife populations. Unlike many advocacy nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the conservation field, this group concentrates mainly on providing the scientific evaluation of environmental dilemmas.

Case in point: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). This hotly contested political battle over whether to drill or not to drill continues to make headlines. At lunch, this low-key group, led by author and scientist Stephen Brown, pictorially and graphically outlined in conclusive matter-of-fact language how this area represents the main breeding area for many North American bird populations.

Yes. That strip of coastal land—which on a map looks so small and inconsequential and to advocates of oil exploration like a wasteland—is in truth one of the most valuable pristine sanctuaries left in the world.

Brown has edited an impressive new book titled "Arctic Wings: Birds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," which brings the story into sharp, memorable focus.

Recent efforts to open ANWR for oil development emerges to any fair-minded, neutral observer who reads the facts Manomet has developed, as a misguided and insufficient attempt to address our energy problems.

What Manomet has done so effectively is to show scientifically the importance of looking critically at the history of oil development in Alaska before opening the only remaining protected area to oil companies.

About 95 percent of Alaska's north slope already is open for oil exploration; the debate over the future of the ANWR's coastal plain will determine the fate of the remaining 5 percent.

The wildlife side of the debate has focused primarily on large mammals that depend on the refuge, like caribou and polar bears. The critical breeding areas for many of the 194 species of migratory birds found in the refuge are often overlooked.

Many of the shorebirds, including plovers and sandpipers, that travel south through the lower 48 states in the fall were raised in the Arctic; the refuge provides habitat for many of the most severely declining species. The Manomet Center has been working to conserve these birds for 30 years.

We need a rational energy policy that focuses on conservation and renewable energy sources to achieve energy security.

The administration knows this, but is advocating short-term gain for the oil industry over the long-term values of protecting one of America's unique natural treasures.

In these uncertain times, we should be conservative with our scarce resources, not rush to consume them with hasty policies driven by the economic interests of the oil companies.

Donald Collins, a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C., often writes for the Trib about thorny policy issues.

Donald A. Collins [email him], is a freelance writer living in Washington DC and a former long time member of the board of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His views are his own.

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