Duane Greuel might live in Wisconsin, but you can call him a Sierra Club Arctic Hero. So how does someone who grows pickles and fruit on a hobby farm become a defender of the Arctic?
For Duane, it was his two-week backpacking journey last September through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where he trekked alongside caribou, gazed at the northern lights, and made friends with native people. He immediately realized how special this place was.
"The wildlife, the mountains, the plains, the coast. All these systems come together and work in harmony with each other," he says. "This place challenged my senses. I never knew what quiet was until I went there. I could hear my son clearly talking to another person a quarter-mile away. Here at home, you can't hear someone 20 feet from you."
Duane is one of several activists fighting to keep the Refuge intact. Right now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments on whether to permanently protect a huge chunk of the coastal plain from Big Oil by designating it a Wilderness Area.
Keeping oil and gas companies out of there is paramount to preserving a way of life for the people Duane met during his trip. Opening up the area to oil would parallel the days of a young America, when white populations slaughtered buffalo that the Sioux depended on.
"The Gwich'in and Inuit people who live there are caribou people. Their culture is based on the caribou, which breeds along the coastal plains. The caribou are more than just wildlife. They are part of a culture, and the destruction of the caribou's habitat would destroy the culture of these indigenous people," he says.