Protecting the Arctic Refuge: See what 50,000 voices have accomplished

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by JGHurst, Flickr.

When one person says something, it can often be overlooked — when 50,000 people say something, well, then everyone listens.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is listening. In late September they announced they will conduct a wilderness review for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This review is the first step to getting a full presidential recommendation to Congress that the Arctic Refuge be permanently protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

This is great news and something our WildAlert subscribers have been championing. Over the summer we asked our members and supporters to urge for this review and they truly delivered.

More than 50,000 people, including members and supporters of The Wilderness Society, took action during the summer to tell the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recommend that the entire Arctic Refuge be designated as Wilderness — keeping the oil drills, pipelines, and roads out of the caribou breeding grounds forever.

Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Courtesy USFWS.The reasons to protect the Arctic Refuge are many — from the caribou calving grounds where new generations of the Porcupine caribou herd are born, to the traditional homeland of the Gwich’in people, whose forefathers have dwelled and sustained their culture on the lands of the Arctic Refuge for millennia.

Polar bears, their hunting grounds threatened by a warming world and melting sea ice, still find the Arctic Refuge a safe haven for their dens, and millions of songbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl make their nests on the tundra every summer.

Protection of the coastal plain, what is considered the heart of the Arctic Refuge, has been at the top of many conservationists’ agendas since the refuge’s expansion in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is currently the only area on Alaska’s entire North Slope where oil exploration and development is prohibited by law. But despite its designation as a National Wildlife Refuge, oil and gas companies have been relentless in lobbying for access to the land for drilling.

In fact, during the Reagan administration, a Senate committee approved leasing in the refuge’s coastal plain but plans came to a blow when only ten days after their decision, the Exxon Valdez oil spill poured millions of gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.

A federal Wilderness designation is the only thing that will ensure that this irreplaceable crown jewel of America’s national refuge system remains wild.

As key proponents of full wilderness designation in the Arctic Refuge, The Wilderness Society recognizes the importance of uniting with supporters on all levels to make our voices heard and we are grateful for everyone’s efforts. We thank you and urge you to continue the resounding chorus.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by JGHurst, Flickr.
Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Courtesy USFWS.