This year, the Alaska Wilderness League is making a concentrated effort to extend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and close off the area to oil drilling. The region is a center for biodiversity, housing species such as migratory birds, caribou, polar bears, wolves, grizzly bears, and muskoxen. The environmental group argues that, instead of opening the area to oil drilling, further protections should be adopted to conserve this pristine wilderness area.
The endeavor gained momentum last week when, after hundreds of supporters called Congress representatives to lobby for Congressional endorsement of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness bill, five new Congresspeople declared their support for the bill. The bill has gained the support of one Republican, making it a bipartisan proposal.
The environmental group said, “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last pristine, untouched wildernesses left in America. President Eisenhower began the bipartisan legacy of protecting this area for future generations a half century ago when he set aside 8.9 million acres as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960. In 1980, President Carter continued this legacy by expanding the area, designating much of the land as protected Wilderness, and renaming it the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness bill, proposed by Senator Joe Lieberman (I – CT) and Representative Ed Markey (D – MA), would extend wilderness protections from the existing Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the Coastal Plain, a 1.5-million-acre expanse of land that hosts a variety of wilderness activities such as hiking, camping, and rafting. The indigenous Gwich’in population hunts for porcupine caribou here, and considers the area to be sacred. Polar bears, also native to the area, depend on the Coastal Plain and the Arctic region for breeding and hunting. These animals are sensitive to industrial activity, and human development can cause them to leave their dens and abandon their offspring. As Arctic ice melts, polar bears and other Arctic species are continually and increasingly being threatened by the effects of climate change – oil drilling would add unnecessary risk and harm to their growing list of dangers.
However, the Coastal Plain contains oil reserves, centering it in the debate over oil drilling in Alaska. The federal government and the oil industry have fought to bring oil rigs into the area, a move that would effectively disrupt the native population and damage the natural and diverse environment. To protect this area for the animals and residents, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness bill must be adopted and enforced.
“In the first half of 2012, we have seen numerous attempts in Congress to open the Arctic Refuge to drilling. After six months of fighting legislative battles, we are determined to spend the second half of 2012 on offense for this special place,” said Lydia Weiss, campaign director for the Alaska Wilderness League.
The Arctic wildlife refuge campaign is among three campaigns run by the Alaska Wilderness League to save the Arctic, including efforts to protect the Arctic Ocean and the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska (which is not an oil drilling field, but a wildlife haven). To express your support for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness bill or any of the Alaska Wilderness League’s Arctic campaigns, visit alaskawild.org. Raise awareness by flying an Arctic-themed kite, hosting an Arctic garden party, or teach a lesson on the Arctic to your students, Girl Scouts, or Boy Scouts; take action by signing petitions to President Obama and Congress, asking them to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which was established 50 years ago, as wilderness and to adopt it as the newest national monument.
Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/the4mahers/5425731313