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Saving the Sacred Place: Where Life Begins

Jonathan Waterman
Fall 2007

Snowmelt pushed us through the limestone folds and shale backs of the Brooks Range, down the Marsh Fork of the Canning River, toward the sandstone legs of the Saddlerochit Mountains and the fertile coastal plain. We heaved our raft through the shallow headwaters as birds erupted from the willows and Dall sheep bolted off salt licks. An icy sea wind sat down so hard in the valleys that it blurred our vision and stirred the vast landscape into a strange and dusty pandemonium.

The six of us had come to celebrate this place, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and to learn from our companion, George Schaller. He first visited the arctic as a graduate student in 1956 as part of a scientific survey. Led and inspired by the field biologist Olaus Murie, they documented diverse habitats and plentiful wildlife, allowing them to convince the Eisenhower administration to legislate the 9-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Range. Until now, George had been too busy making other animal reserves in far-flung corners of the world to return here. Exactly half a century had passed since he first set foot in the sanctuary that now represents the most symbolic wilderness battle of modern times.

About the Author
Jonathan Waterman is the author of Where Mountains Are Nameless: Passion and Politics in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (W.W. Norton, 2007, paper). See related stories in the September National Geographic Adventure and Wildlife Conservation magazines. On September 26, National Geographic Wild Chronicles will air the anniversary expedition on national TV.