The Last Great Wilderness
Far away from the busy cities, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is like a window that allows us to travel back in time and explore a land largely unaltered by western civilization. For thousands of generations, the Gwich’in people have lived off the Arctic Refuge, what they call “the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” For hundreds of thousands of caribou, for polar bears, muskox, wolves, arctic foxes and over 200 species of migratory birds it is exactly that, a birthing ground. These Arctic species are dependent on the Arctic Refuge for their survival.
But right now this Arctic paradise is at risk of energy development. This process could threaten local wildlife, indigenous cultures, and the global climate. Although 95% of the North Coast of Alaska is already open to drilling, the last 5% is now at risk of being developed for oil and gas exploration. This wild land is traditional Native ground and home to important wildlife like polar bears and caribou. Oil and gas exploration would put these cultures and species at unnecessary risk.
The Arctic Refuge faces being sold off in pieces to energy development as soon as this year if we do not stand together to #ProtectTheArctic. We need rapid action to let the Bureau of Land Management know that US citizens do not support drilling in the Refuge.
The BLM is accepting public comments via postal service ONLY. And they must be received by December 17, 2020. We need a groundswell of mailed comments defending the Arctic Refuge. Here is how you can participate:
- Send a letter or postcard to the BLM expressing your opposition to drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Remember, the BLM is not required to respond to comments it can classify as "opinion." Steer clear of overly emotive language and focus on fact-based comments such as highlighting insufficient environmental assessments, damage to caribou birthing grounds, or social justice for Indigenous Americans depending upon the Refuge for food security and cultural heritage. Mail to: State Director, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska State Office, 222 West 7th Avenue, Mailstop 13, Anchorage, AK 99513-7504
- Spread the word on social media and ask your friends to help get as many comments delivered to the BLM as possible.
or if you are an international Citizen:
- Email your U.S. Embassy and ask them to make responsible climate policy central to their American diplomacy agenda. Google "[Your Country] US Embassy contact.
- Share your support for permanent protection of the Arctic Refuge to social. Use the hashtag #ProtectTheArctic and tell America that the world is watching.
What happened so far
The Trump Administration has announced a "Call for Nominations" which is the next step toward leasing parts of the Arctic Refuge for oil and gas development. A step that could allow holding the sale before President Donald Trump leaves office on Jan. 20.
On August 17, 2020, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced an oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This will allow for future drilling in the Refuge.
Congress passed a tax bill that included an amendment directly related to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The amendment requires the Department of the Interior to approve a minimum of two lease sales for drilling in the Arctic Refuge before 2021. In September 2019, the U.S. federal government added to this threat by announcing a proposal to open the entire coastal plain to oil and gas exploration. This is the first time any national wildlife refuge in the United States has been opened and re-designated for oil and gas development.
Wilderness is the highest level of protection available for public lands. It prohibits mining, drilling, roads, vehicles and permanent structures. The Department of Interior says less than 40 percent of the Refuge currently has Wilderness designation.
With footage filmed by Florian, President Obama is promoting to declare the Arctic National Arctic Refuge, including the Coastal Plain a Wilderness. That would make the total area of the refuge declared Wilderness 12.28 million acres.
Support for the Arctic Refuge over the years has been bipartisan and members from both parties continue to come together to safeguard our natural heritage on behalf of the American people.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter continued this legacy by expanding the area, designating much of the land as protected Wilderness and renaming it the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, the 1.5-million-acrecoastal plain, the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge, was left unprotected.
On December 6, 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower made their vision a reality by establishing the 8.9-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Range specifically for its “unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values".
The Muries idea of preserving an entire ecosystem laid the scientific and intellectual groundwork for large parks and preserves. Margaret "Mardy" Murie is also widely known as the "Grandmother of the Conservation Movement". She died 2003 at the age of 101.
In 1954, the National Park Service recommended that the untouched areas in the Northeastern region of Alaska be preserved for research and protection of nature. The question of whether to drill for oil in the National Wildlife Arctic Refuge has been a political controversy since 1977.
The National Wildlife Refuge System was founded by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, to protect immense areas of wildlife and wetlands in the United States. This refuge system created the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which conserves the wildlife of Alaska.
People have inhabited Alaska since 17,000 bce. At that time a land bridge extended from Siberia to eastern Alaska, and migrants followed herds of animals across it.