"Scandal" Star Darby Stanchfield visits her home state of Alaska in 2015.
Courtesy of Darby Stanchfield
At more than 19 million acres, Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last great tracts of truly wild land left in the United States. For decades, oil and gas lobbyists and their supporters in Congress have been working to open the refuge to development, threatening to change this landscape forever. Protecting the Arctic Refuge for future Americans has to be one of our nation’s top conservation priorities. It is a non-partisan issue that transcends political parties be it Republican or Democrat and the protection of our Arctic Refuge wildlife is one that blesses our collective future generations to come. That’s why I’m proud to be part of The Wilderness Society’s work to save this incredible landscape in my home state.
My favorite childhood memories of growing up in Alaska are of times spent in the great outdoors, under massive skies and on unpillaged tundras. Nature was where I felt an unspeakable peace. It was a place to learn and play with my family, friends and community, a place where my imagination thrived, and a place where epiphanies were born.
Even as a kid, I had an intuitive sense that Alaska’s ecosystem was vital to that of the entire Earth.
Even as a kid, I had an intuitive sense that Alaska’s ecosystem was vital to that of the entire Earth. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a massive part of that ecosystem and needs to be respected, preserved and protected to maintain the balance of Earth’s ecosystem as a whole if future generations are to have a healthy, safe and thriving place to live.
Salmon fishing in Alaska's Dutch Harbor in 1980.
Playing outdoors with my sister on Haystack Hill in Dutch Harbor in 1980.
The only way to truly ensure the refuge is permanently protected is through wilderness designation—the country’s highest form of land protection. Only Congress can make such a designation, but last year President Obama took an important step when he asked Congress to designate virtually all of the refuge as wilderness.
There are bills in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives that would make the refuge’s fragile coastal plain a wilderness area. Congress needs to hear that Americans support those bills. Don’t you want these bills passed so that future generations inherit healthy lands, and a thriving ecosystem? I do.
The only way to truly ensure the refuge is permanently protected is through wilderness designation.
Protecting the coastal plain is vital because it provides denning habitat for polar bears and is the birthing ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which is an important source of food for Alaska’s Gwich’in people. The president’s wilderness recommendation included not only the coastal plain but nearly all of the refuge. That’s a recommendation that The Wilderness Society—and I—support.
As an adult, my love for the great outdoors has only increased, as has my appreciation for the power and beauty of the Arctic Refuge. I still experience the most peace and happiness being outdoors, visiting our country’s national parks, and enjoying the lessons that undisturbed nature has to offer. I no longer live in Alaska, but had the opportunity to revisit last summer. Among my adventures, I climbed on a glacier in Juneau that, although incredibly beautiful, is shrinking at 400 feet per year because of the Earth’s rising temperatures. I wondered: Will my niece and nephew get to see this when they’re my age? How about their children? Will they know of the same wildlife that I grew up learning about? Or will it all be endangered or extinct? The only way our future generations will inherit these natural resources—including the great Arctic Refuge, is if we do everything in our power to help protect them now.
Rafting with a documentary crew in the Mendenhall Lake in June 2015.
The Arctic Refuge is a spectacular landscape of tundra and mountains unlike any other in the United States. It is home to polar and grizzly bears, wolves, Dall sheep, moose, fish and migratory birds, and those incredible caribou.
For decades, oil companies have wanted to drill here. But to allow industrial infrastructure like roads, drilling rigs and pipelines in this fragile habitat—not to mention the related air pollution and oil spills—would damage this fragile landscape. Opening the refuge could potentially interrupt age-old migration and birthing patterns of the caribou and other animals, cause long lasting damage to the sensitive tundra ecosystem and threaten the very culture and survival of Gwich’in villages. Wouldn’t it be wiser to invest our time and money in improving technology and alternative energy, instead of endangering wildlife and disrupting the livelihood of the Arctic’s indigenous people by drilling for a limited resource?
The Arctic Refuge, of course, belongs to all Americans. It is a vital piece of our nation’s public lands legacy. It is our last chance to preserve, fully intact, millions of acres of mostly pristine, wild land in its natural state. Protecting the refuge is the least we can do for future generations.
The great outdoors is a place that benefits everyone. It’s free for all to enjoy—it doesn’t discriminate against age, ethnicity, income status, or political preference. But in order for us all to enjoy it, we must help protect and preserve it. One of America’s most precious resources is our land, its wildlife, and its bounty. The Wilderness Society is dedicated to helping preserve this resource, and I proudly stand with them.
With the impacts of climate changes already being felt in Alaska, now is the time to ensure the Arctic Refuge is not put at further risk. The time to protect the refuge is now.
I urge you to join The Wilderness Society and me in our effort to push Congress for lasting protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. You can start by sharing this story and signing our letter to urge Congress to pass wilderness designations. Every voice, every signature, is an important step in protecting this incredible landscape.
VIDEO: Darby Stanchfield, "We Are the Wild" campaign
All images are courtesy of Darby Stanchfield.