USGS Director James Reilly holds up polar bear study that could affect Trump’s drilling plans for Alaska
In an unusual move, U.S. Geological Survey Director James Reilly has refused to make public the study, by his own scientists, of the number of female polar bears that den and give birth on land near the southern Beaufort Sea. That is the same area that overlaps with federal land the Trump administration has opened up to oil and natural-gas development.
The study has been ready for at least three months. But Reilly — a geologist by training and former astronaut — has questioned why it uses data collected by a former agency scientist now working for an advocacy group and why it does not count each polar bear den individually, among other things, according to internal memos obtained by The Post.
The study, also obtained by The Post, notes that shrinking sea ice in the Arctic threatens the survival of polar bears while enhancing the opportunity for oil and gas development in the region: “The long-term persistence of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) is threatened by sea-ice loss due to climate change, which is concurrently providing an opportunity in the Arctic for increased anthropogenic activities including natural resource extraction.”
Federal officials are close to signing off on a $3 billion drilling project on the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is legally required to cite the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study before it can determine whether drilling can proceed without causing too much harm to the region’s polar bears. Reilly has asked his staff why Fish and Wildlife officials “need a published version of this report” to proceed, according to an Aug. 20 memo.
The analysis also has implications for leasing drilling rights on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, because it finds that 34 percent of the western U.S. Arctic’s maternal dens