When we speak of wilderness and true wildness we must look to places like the Arctic Refuge as a reservoir of sanity in a world that continues to tear away at our wild heart. At close to 19.3 million acres it is a staggering place of life and wildness. In 1956, Olaus and Marty Murie began an effort to protect what many termed “The Last Great Wilderness.” This land of great mountains and expanses is home to snowy owls, polar bears, grizzlies and black bears. Whales migrate off its northern boundary known as the Coastal Plain. In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower set aside the first 8 million acres of the Arctic Refuge, which was expanded by Jimmy Carter with the passage of the 1980 Alaska Lands Act.
The area is home to the Porcupine Caribou herd of close to 170,000 animals, wolves, bighorn sheep; migratory birds such as Snow Geese can number 325,000 on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. Dolly varden and Arctic cisco fill the rivers and the shorelines and lakes are filled with ducks, geese, swans and shorebirds.
It is truly America’s Serengeti! It remains a symbol for wilderness in America and despite its beauty, remoteness and wildlife; the oil industry has had its sights on drilling perhaps its most vulnerable section, the coastal plain. This 1.5 million acre coastal plain is where the caribou go each year to give birth, it is where geese and other birds eat and build up the strength to migrate, where polar bears come to den and give birth and it remains a place that every Republican President since George Bush has pushed to open to full-scale drilling.
Because of the laws regulating the passage of the Alaska Lands Act, the Coastal Plain cannot be protected by the President using the Antiquities Act, so congress must act.
In 1990, Bold Visions Conservation’s Executive Director Stephen Capra, walked the length of the Continental Divide, some 3,200 miles and gave talks in each state to raise awareness for protecting the Arctic Refuge. It the walk and presentation were titled, “Walking the wildest part of the lower 48, to raise awareness for the wildest part of America.” Hundreds of people came to the talks and we hope helped convince some wayward Senators to support protection.
In fact, people from across America have walked, hiked, ridden bikes, run, given countless talks, danced and done extraordinary things to raise awareness and help protect this spectacular and living wilderness! This is truly a grassroots story of success.
But now with the Trump Administration moving to open Western lands to ever increasing oil and gas development and with the full support of the Alaska delegation, the refuge is under serious attack.
We must push our legislators to pull funding for development of the Coastal Plain from any upcoming Budget and continue to demand its permanent protection.
The Arctic Refuge is a symbol of the value of wilderness. While its thousands of miles from New Mexico, it remains the heartbeat of wilderness in America. We will never stop fighting for its protection!