Arctic Refuge Under Attack Again
Early this week, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell released the latest unwise proposal to begin opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to damaging oil and gas development. His proposal calls for "a minimum of $50 million" of Alaskan taxpayer’s money and $50 million of American taxpayer’s money to begin oil and gas exploration in the area-- a move that ignores the reason behind the establishment of the Refuge and ongoing public opposition to development of the Refuge's coastal plain. The proposal is another dead-end effort going nowhere fast.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is our nation's greatest wilderness icon. Located in the northeast corner of Alaska, it is the only refuge specifically designated for wilderness purposes. The Refuge is home to some of our most beloved species of wildlife, from Dall sheep to polar bears, and the coastal plain is its biological heart. The coastal plain is the calving ground for caribou and nesting site for migratory birds that visit every state. For the caribou and other Arctic wildlife there is no alternative to this vital and sensitive habitat that they have depended on for millennia. It is no place for drilling.
Time and again the American people have said they do not want to see dirty fuel exploration or development on the coastal plain. Just last year nearly 1 million activists from across the country—many of them Sierra Club members—called on the president to protect the Refuge’s coastal plain as wilderness. Support like that can't be ignored. Recognizing this, the Obama administration has opposed drilling in the Refuge.
It's time that Governor Parnell learns that no means no. Rather than repeating misguided attempts to despoil one of our most treasured landscapes we need a sensible energy policy that moves America beyond fossil fuels, including technologies to make our cars and buildings cleaner and more efficient. Drilling in the Refuge will not change the price of gas, but it will prevent our kids and grandkids from having the opportunity to explore and experience this wild landscape.
I have been lucky enough to explore this great wild place. In mid-June I spent a week rafting the Canning River, which forms the western boundary of the Arctic Refuge for its last 50 miles before emptying into the Arctic Ocean. This trip proved to be rich in wildlife with sightings of birds like the Northern Wheatear, which spends its winters in Africa hanging out with zebras and giraffes and in the summer with caribou and wolves. Speaking of wolves, we saw six of them and six grizzly bears as well. The bears and wolves were all on the east side of the river, the coastal plain that Governor Parnell wants to open up for destructive exploration. Across the west side of the river is land owned by the state of Alaska that is crisscrossed with scars from oil and gas development. Did the wolves and bears know they were on the “right” side of the river? Unlikely, but it makes me happy to think they knew they were in the protected Arctic Refuge coastal plain.
As the attacks continue on the Refuge it’s important that we continue to urge President Obama to make the protections on the coastal plain permanent. Let your voice be heard. Sign here.
-- by Dan Ritzman, Arctic Program Director