One of Our Maps Is Missing

The legally binding 1978 map of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has gone missing, the New York Times reports (free registration required). The map, wall-sized and 1:250,000 scale, was last seen in 2002 and apparently disappeared some time in early 2003.

Mr. Vandegraft said he had folded the map in half, cushioned within its foam-board backing, and put it behind the filing cabinet in the locked room for safekeeping. […] In its place in the original nook, he said, he found a new, folded piece of foam board similar to the old one — but with no map attached.

Astonishingly, there are no copies, digital or paper, of this important map.

In its place, the USGS has drafted a new map. But the new map isn’t quite like the old map, and in the politically charged context of the question of drilling for oil in ANWR, that’s important.

The missing map did not seem to include in the coastal plain tens of thousands of acres of Native Alaskans’ lands. On the new map, those lands were included, arguably making it easier to open them to energy development.

The cartographer who last saw the map believes it was inadvertently thrown out. Scott, though, is suspicious: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been a political hot potato for years, and he argues that the Bush administration has suppressed politically inconvenient maps of ANWR before. I’m not willing to go so far as to say that the map was stolen for political reasons — there’s no evidence for it, and, in my experience, government incompetence is far more common than malfeasance. (Why the hell wasn’t there a copy, for example?) But it does seem … convenient that the map that defines ANWR’s boundaries has disappeared.

Via GeoCarta.