Will the Arctic Refuge finally be protected from oil threats? New bill aims to make it so

Arctic Refuge
flickr, Hildebrand, USFWS
Will the Arctic Refuge finally be protected from oil and gas drilling threats?

In a bipartisan show of support for protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) have introduced a bill that would designate 1.56 million acres of the Arctic Refuge as wilderness.

“We are deeply grateful to Sen. Cantwell and Sen. Kirk for this legislation,” - Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska regional director.

“The Arctic Refuge is one of the greatest and most stunning tracts of wild land left in America. Giving it permanent protection as wilderness would be a wonderful victory for many Americans who value wild places and want to protect our public lands for future generations," said Nicole Whittington-Evans, The Wilderness Society's Alaska regional director. "It would also protect vital resources for Alaska Natives who have depended on the area for thousands of years.”

Slideshow: Explore the Arctic Refuge

Cantwell, who has long defended the refuge from assaults by the oil industry, called the Arctic Refuge a national treasure that must be protected for future generations of Americans.

“We need to advance forward-looking solutions for America’s energy future, while preserving this treasured public land and the unique ecosystem that depends on it,” she said.

The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge currently lacks wilderness status, but provides vital habitat to migratory birds, polar bears, and more than 100,000 caribou. The coastal plain is so crucial to the culture and way of life of Alaska’s Gwich’in people that they call it “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

As the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act approaches, setting aside the coastal plain would grant permanent protection to one of America’s greatest treasures. 

Map: Arctic Refuge, Alaska by USFWS

See also: 

Save the Arctic from oil drilling

Governor renews assault on Arctic Refuge