Sen. Bennet’s bold bill would protect America’s priceless Arctic Refuge

The Arctic Refuge is known as the crown jewel of America's refuge system.


Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is too special to drill. Bennet's new bill recognizes that. It has gained historic support in the Senate.

Melyssa Watson, shown below during a 2015 trip to the Arctic Refuge, is The Wilderness Society's Vice President for Conservation. 

We applaud Colorado's Sen. Michael Bennet for introducing a bold and meaningful bill in the U.S. Senate to protect the sensitive and fragile coastal plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge covering 19-million acres on Alaska’s North Slope is one of the largest intact tracts of wild lands in the world. Its coastal plain is the calving ground for the huge Porcupine Caribou Herd, which consists of more than 180,000 animals and is a vital food source for the Gwich’in. Polar bears come ashore from the Arctic Ocean to build their dens on the coastal plain, and millions of migratory birds nest and raise young there.

“Sportsmen, birders, and outdoor enthusiasts from across the political spectrum have long supported protections for this iconic area," Bennet said in a press release. "With this bill, supported by more than one-third of the Senate, we continue the proud, bipartisan conservation tradition started over 50 years ago by President Eisenhower.”

Sadly, oil and gas companies have long fought for the right to drill within the refuge, especially on the fragile coastal plain, which would be destroyed by drilling, development and pollution. Pregnant and nursing caribou are very sensitive to industrial infrastructure, so drilling in the coastal plain would pose a major threat to the Porcupine herd’s future.

Caribou migration in the Arctic by Asher Levin

Some places are simply too special to drill, and the Arctic Refuge coastal plain is one of them. Protecting the refuge from oil and gas development is vital for the long-term survival of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Native Gwich’in communities that depend on the herd for food.

Last January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed a multi-year process to revise the overall management plan for the refuge—the Comprehensive Conservation Plan—which determines how the refuge will be managed for the next 15 years.

In recognition of the Arctic Refuge’s importance to America’s legacy of public lands, President Obama released the final Arctic Refuge plan to the public with a bold and visionary wilderness recommendation to protect the coastal plain and nearly all of the remaining acres in the refuge. He then forwarded his recommendation to Congress.

Sen. Bennet, who was joined by an astounding 34 Senate co-sponsors, is responding to the Obama’s recommendation and to hundreds of thousands of Americans who have called for protection of the refuge.

Sen. Bennet knows that protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area is the right thing to do not only for the polar bears, caribou and other species that live there. It’s the best thing for America and the generations that will follow us.