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A Historic Day for the Arctic Refuge

Lorraine Netro A historic day.  I couldn’t believe it, but that’s what people were saying after the Arctic National Wildlife Hearing this month.  They said it was a historic day for the Refuge—that no hearing has ever gone like that in Anchorage, home to Big Oil.  That the Refuge has never seen its day in Anchorage, Alaska, without being overpowered by “drill baby drill” rhetoric because oil company executives, employees, and even the politicians they influence treat these public hearings like business deals.  But not this time.  It was historic.

This time, Alaskans from all walks of life turned out to protect the Refuge, not to destroy it.  Before the hearing an “Arctic Refuge Cultural Celebration” emphasized the importance of the Refuge to local communities’ ways of life.  The public testified two to one in favor of protecting the Refuge.  Many Gwich’in leaders attended the hearing, and their message was captured in Sarah James’s news piece urging officials that caribou protection is vital to her community’s future.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is holding public hearings throughout Alaska on a new draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan, which will guide its management of the Refuge into the future.  The first public hearing, held in Anchorage, Alaska, set the record straight: Alaskans want to protect the Arctic Refuge for future generations.  

To most Americans that should seem like a no-brainer.  For over fifty years Americans have come to love the wilderness icon that is the Arctic Refuge, and the reason it has been safe from Big Oil’s greedy hands is because enough Americans have come together to protect it.  Big Oil tries to say Alaskans want to drill in the Refuge, but we should let Alaskans speak for themselves.

Alaskans know the importance of protecting a wildlife refuge as just that: a refuge.  Alaskans know we have to protect the coastal plain of the Refuge from drilling because it is the area most at-risk.  The coastal plain is the biological heart of the Refuge, where over 250 types of birds, polar bears, caribou, and more begin their lives every year.  For the Gwich’in Nation this is the “sacred place where life begins.”  Protecting the coastal plain goes beyond an environmental issue, as it is a human rights issue and a tribal issue for Alaskans.  

Alaskans voices are loud and clear: protect the Arctic Refuge.  

Make your voice heard, sign up to be an Arctic Hero! 

- By Lindsey Hajduk, Alaska Resilient Habitats organizer

Photo Lorraine Netro, a director for Gwich'in Council International


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