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NRDC: Wild Lands Under Attack

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SUSAN CASEY-LEFKOWITZ
Director of NRDC's international program, specializing in energy development and wilderness protection issues

Rick Bass talks in his article about the threat to the Muskwa-Kechika from development. Are other wilderness areas facing similar challenges?

There are very few large, intact wilderness areas left in the world. Unfortunately, those that remain, such as the Muskwa-Kechika or NRDC's BioGems in Canada's boreal forest, the Arctic, and areas in South America such as Patagonia and the Amazon, are all under threat.

What exactly are the reasons for that?

Our demand for energy, minerals, and forest products is driving the exploration and exploitation of the last great wilderness areas on earth, and the pressure is increasing all the time. These areas have remained wild because of their remoteness and because the resources they contain have been difficult to access. But as the world runs out of accessible resources, we see companies turning to the remaining wild lands, despite the higher costs and risks involved. The deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is a good example of going after riskier and formerly less accessible resources at the cost of serious damage to the ecosystem. Strip-mining for tar-sands oil in Canada's boreal wilderness is another.

What can be done to minimize our impact on these areas?

We need better information about the impact of our consumption on distant wild lands. How we shape the market in the United States can have a direct impact on the protection of these wilderness areas and encourage more sustainable practices in other countries.

How would that apply to the tar sands and the boreal?

We are the main importer of tar-sands oil, which is one of the dirtiest energy sources in the world. But as we reduce our dependence on oil, we can curb the expansion of the tar sands by, for example, saying no to the next proposed pipeline that would bring tar-sands oil to the Gulf Coast. Our gasoline doesn't come with a label telling us how many acres of nesting habitat for migratory birds were lost as a result of the strip-mining in the boreal. Perhaps it should. But even without a label, we know that the boreal wilderness is being destroyed. The Gulf oil disaster and the rupture of the Canadian-owned pipeline in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in July also make the connection between our oil consumption and the destruction of wild places very clear.

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