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Musk oxen have been around since the Pleistocene era; along with caribou, they are the only hoofed animals that survived the end of that era (10,000 years ago). Today, they roam the open tundra of the Arctic Refuge in search of vegetation growing under or above the snow. Photo: Florian Schulz
Musk oxen have been around since the Pleistocene era; along with caribou, they are the only hoofed animals that survived the end of that era (10,000 years ago). Today, they roam the open tundra of the Arctic Refuge in search of vegetation growing under or above the snow. Photo: Florian Schulz

Speak Up Now for America’s Arctic

By Tom Udall   |   Nov 1, 2018 November 1, 2018

For decades, protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from development was one thing many Republicans and Democrats in Washington could agree upon. One of the last truly wild places on Earth, the refuge is a stunning, unmatched wilderness where the Porcupine caribou calve in the spring, the Beaufort Sea polar bears den in the winter and prehistoric musk oxen roam. It’s the ancestral home of several thousand Gwich’in people, whose traditional life has been inextricably linked with this land and its wildlife for millennia.

The Arctic refuge is also a spectacular place to play. It is the kind of iconic and remote destination that drives the dreams of adventurers everywhere. And it’s a unique piece of America’s $887 billion outdoor recreation economy. It provides people from across the world the opportunity to explore and better understand nature’s vast and fragile beauty.

Now, President Trump and Republicans in Congress are trying to allow drilling in Alaska’s coastal plain, sneaking a provision into their tax bill filled with giveaways to millionaires, billionaires and big corporations.

The snowy owl is the largest owl (by weight) in North America. They typically spend summers in the Arctic where they hunt for lemmings and other small prey in the 24-hour daylight; they may fly south during extreme winters and can be seen along the border states of the northern United States. Photo: Florian Schulz
The snowy owl is the largest owl (by weight) in North America. They typically spend summers in the Arctic where they hunt for lemmings and other small prey in the 24-hour daylight; they may fly south during extreme winters and can be seen along the border states of the northern United States. Photo: Florian Schulz

Despite fervent opposition from the Gwich’in people (whose traditional homeland includes parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and a complete lack of evidence that drilling in the area will result in the windfall revenue that Republicans hope for, the Trump administration is pushing forward with its destructive drilling plans. Just last week, the administration signaled its enthusiasm to drill on Alaska’s north coast by taking a crucial first step toward approving the first-ever offshore oil and gas production facility in Alaska federal waters, not far from the refuge’s coastal plain, about 20 miles east of Prudhoe Bay.

Oil and gas development threatens to forever change and likely destroy this treasured place, which is sacred to the Gwich’in people and is a part of America and the world’s natural inheritance. Without protection, the subsistence way of life the Gwich’in lead will be irrevocably altered—and drilling could drive them off their sacred lands when the last of the Porcupine caribou disappear.

I have been to the coastal plain, I’ve seen the Porcupine caribou herd, and I’ve seen the coastal waters where the polar bears den. I’ve rafted the Hulahula River, and I’ve watched the tundra swan fly overhead. I can attest to just how incredible this region is. If we fail to protect it, we will fail our children and grandchildren. And we will fail the generations before us who fought to ensure that this place remains wild and undisturbed long into the future.

As my Uncle Mo Udall said when he led Congress in passing legislation to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1980, “In each generation, we have carved up more and more of our once-great natural heritage. There ought to be a few places left in the world the way the Almighty made them.” We can’t stand idly by as politicians in Washington carve up America’s natural heritage and sell it off to the highest bidder. And we don’t have to—this fight is not over yet.

Bernadette Demientieff’s 7-year-old daughter, Lexine, looks out over the refuge. Bernadette wants her children to understand the connections between the Gwich’in people, the land and the caribou. Photo: Kahlil Hudson
Bernadette Demientieff’s 7-year-old daughter, Lexine, looks out over the refuge. Bernadette wants her children to understand the connections between the Gwich’in people, the land and the caribou. Photo: Kahlil Hudson

But we have to act fast. The U.S. Department of the Interior is currently considering an application for a practice known as “seismic exploration” in the Arctic refuge. When seismic exploration was last conducted in this tundra landscape three decades ago, it left scars you can still see today. In Congress I’ve introduced, with my colleagues, legislation to protect the Arctic as wilderness—the way it is today—and will join legislative efforts to repeal the drilling authorization that was slipped into the GOP tax plan.

It’s critical that we build support for this legislation across the country—so that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle hear from their constituents and appreciate what’s at stake in this fight.

I am proud to stand with the committed citizens across this nation who are ready to pull out all the stops to save the Arctic refuge—and to honor the Gwich’in people’s request to protect their homeland and their way of life. Americans fought off the robber barons 100 years ago to protect our public lands. Together we can do it again.

As early as this December, the wild Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be changed forever.

The Trump administration is reviewing plans for seismic exploration across the entire Arctic refuge coastal plain, when mother polar bears den in the winter. This is yet another example of this administration barreling forward with plans for destructive oil and gas activities on the coastal plain while disregarding the serious biological, cultural and climate impacts fossil-fuel extraction will have in the rapidly warming Arctic.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently announced a review of the proposed exploration plan. This review includes a 30-day public comment period. Please add your comment today and speak out against seismic exploration in the refuge.

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