Protecting Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

playful alaska arctic pup by lwp kommunikacio flickr

President Obama, in a recent action, called for preserving 12 million acres of wildlife refuge in Alaska, including 1.5 million acres of coastal plain. This action will protect the land, known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, from being drilled for oil and gas, although drilling will still be allowed offshore, in the Atlantic.

The United States is the world’s largest producer of oil, with help from Mexico and Canada. Leaving this region of Alaska free from the harmful effects of drilling would let the land thrive, together with their indigenous communities and native ways of life.

Of course, Obama’s proposal has angered some politicians, as well as some environmentalists, and it is not a perfect solution. However, it is a step in the right direction for conservation efforts, and portions of Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas would be included in the protected area.

Alaska’s Arctic: “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins”

President Obama’s decision to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is being celebrated by various organizations, including native tribes who want to keep their lands from being damaged. The Gwich’in, and other indigenous people of Alaska value their Arctic homeland. It has been their source of food, shelter, and way of life for thousands of years.

For the Gwich’in people, the land is a way of life. Sarah James of the Gwich’in Steering Committee explained, “We are caribou people. Caribou are not just what we eat; they are who we are. They are in our stories and songs and the whole way we see the world. Caribou are our life. Without caribou, we wouldn’t exist.”

Sarah continued, “Oil development there would hurt the caribou and threaten the Gwich’in way of life. We ask the President to take the next step to permanent protection of this place we call ‘the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.’”

Recognizing “the Wonder and Importance of the Region”

Imagining the Arctic conjures up images of majestic glaciers, snow covered mountains, and vast, remote lands stretching for miles. A visit requires serious preparation, as the below-zero temperatures create a very harsh climate. Despite that, the Arctic has a diverse ecosystem that includes polar bears, birds, fish, and caribou. Much of it, like wilderness in other parts of Alaska and the nation, has thankfully remained untouched. It is a beautiful and mysterious place, perfect for adventurous trekkers.

Michael Brune of the Sierra Club said, “This wilderness recommendation at last recognizes the wonder and importance of the region for Native cultures, wildlife, and anyone seeking to experience one of America’s last great wild places.”

Preserving a Place Worth Fighting For

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, was first established by President Eisenhower in 1960, and was expanded in 1980. Efforts to make this area of Alaska off-limits to drilling, however, has been ongoing for the past 35 years.

Foregoing drilling is an excellent decision in the face of mounting climate change effects currently impacting the shrinking glaciers of the Arctic. Conservation politics are always tricky, but this is a place worth fighting for. The fact that it is remote and has been left untouched adds to its mysterious, majestic beauty. Allowing this sacred refuge to flourish would be a benefit not only to the ecosystem and people of the region, but to Alaska as a whole, and indeed the entire country.

image(Image note and source: Spring in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness, by Madhav Pai, flickr)

(Top image note and source: Adorable Arctic Sea Lion Pup, by Lwp Kommunikacio, flickr )
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About the Author

Gina Merlino is a freelance writer who cares about environmental issues. She has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, a Master's in Engaged Humanities, and is an avid reader of the news. You can find me on Twitter.