New bill would protect Arctic Refuge coastal plain as wilderness

The coastal plain of the Arctic refuge provides critical denning grounds for polar bears.

USFWS

One of America's wildest places is threatened by oil and gas drilling--but a new bill could stop that.

Thanks to a new bill in Congress, one of America’s greatest wild places -- the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska -- might become permanently protected as a wilderness area.

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman of California and Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, HR 239 would designate the refuge’s coastal area as federally protected wilderness—America’s highest form of land protection.

If passed, the bill would ensure that oil rigs never spoil this astoundingly beautiful and fragile landscape that that supports a unique array of wildlife, including polar bears, caribou, musk oxen, wolves, Arctic fox, marine mammals and more than 160 species of migratory birds.

These protections are critical because oil companies and their D.C. lobbyists have been calling to open up the coastal plain of the refuge since the 1980s.

Map: The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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A sacred place worth saving

Alaska’s Gwich’in people call the coastal plain “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit,” or The Sacred Place Where Life Begins. That’s because it is the calving ground for the Porcupine Caribou Herd that has sustained the Gwich’in for thousands of years.

We have successfully fought for decades, alongside other conservationists, to protect the Arctic Refuge from the oil industry and its allies in Congress.

Photo shows the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. Photo by John and Karen Hollingsworth, FWS.

Rep. Huffman’s and Rep. Fitzpatrick’s bill shows that members of Congress from both parties recognize the coastal plain as a place that is simply too special to drill.

Now if other members of Congress will step up to support the bill, HR 239 can provide a brighter future for the refuge, the wildlife that inhabits it, and all Americans who care about this wild place.

The coastal plain is one of the greatest wild landscapes in the world, and future generations should inherit it exactly as it is.

Slideshow: Scenes from the Arctic Refuge
 

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