We Must Protect Our Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop | USFWS
Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop | USFWS

“This order in effect makes Alaska open for business.” That’s what Secretary Zinke had to say after he signed Secretarial Order 3352 last Wednesday, which he characterized as “an important step” toward drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

Specifically, Sec. Zinke directed the USGS to update current assessments of the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain, also known as the “1002 area,” to determine its oil reserves. This order comes hot on the heels of President Trump’s FY18 Budget, which included specific instructions to open the Arctic Refuge to drilling operations.

Before I became President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, I was the US. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Regional Director for Alaska and worked to ensure the Arctic Refuge was properly managed to fulfill its conservation mission. During my tenure as Regional Director, I oversaw the creation of the Arctic Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), the overarching 15-year management plan for the Refuge. The CCP recommended designating the entire Arctic Refuge as wilderness, our nation’s strongest land protection designation. President Obama also recognized the importance of permanently protecting this natural treasure for all Americans, and issued a formal request to Congress to officially designate the Arctic Refuge as wilderness.

The Arctic Refuge is one of our planet’s last truly wild landscapes and an integral part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Migratory birds travel to every state and territory in the nation during the winter months before returning to the Refuge to breed and raise their young. It’s one of the few places where polar, black, and brown bears can be found coexisting together. The Gwich’in nation rely on the Arctic Refuge’s Porcupine Caribou herd for their very survival.

All of this – the Arctic Refuge’s wildlife, habitat, and people – are now under threat.

Now, an Alaska that is “open for business” is not the issue. This “business” simply must NOT come at the expense of the Arctic Refuge.

The land that now comprises the Arctic Refuge was identified as a critical haven for Alaska’s biodiverse wildlife early on, and was protected as the “Arctic Range” back when Alaska achieved statehood in 1960. Twenty years later, the Arctic Range became the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Establishing the Arctic Refuge under ANILCA was part of a much larger deal that determined which lands in Alaska would be set aside for protection, and which lands would be utilized for natural resources development, like the nearby North Slope.

Reneging on this agreement would undermine ANILCA and our other bedrock environmental laws like the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act. Drilling infrastructure coupled with leaks and spills would irreversibly damage the fragile Arctic tundra habitat and its caribou and other wildlife.

Yet ultimately it is Congress, not the Executive Branch, that will decide whether to drill in the Arctic Refuge – and that’s where you come in.

Help us protect the Arctic Refuge along with the wildlife and people who depend on it for their very survival by writing your lawmakers today!


Geoff Haskett is the President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director for Alaska. 


Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2017/06/we-must-protect-our-arctic-national-wildlife-refuge/

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