Jamie Rappaport Clark, © Defenders of Wildlife

America’s Wildlife Refuges Belong to All of Us

Jamie Rappaport Clark is the President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife

It’s one of our nation’s most iconic bastions of pristine wilderness. It supports over 200 arctic species. Its coastal plain is a critical calving ground for the Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates hundreds of miles each year from the Yukon to reach it. And it contains some of the most important on-shore denning habitat for mother polar bears along the North Slope. Unchanged for millennia, it is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, often referred to as the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The Obama administration’s recent announcement recommending a wilderness designation for the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain makes a significant statement. It says the administration stands by the best available science and values our natural heritage, our National Wildlife Refuge System and our nation’s legacy of conservation stewardship of important federal lands over short-term economic profits, drilling and destructive development. And it shows the president shares the same values past presidents exhibited when they designated the first national wildlife refuge in 1903 and announced permanent protection for places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite.

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Caribou and Brooks Range, © USFWS

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

This is a big moment for our nation. But the true challenge lies ahead: Congress must approve of the wilderness designation to make protection permanent. Sadly, the Arctic Refuge has been in the crosshairs of Alaska’s lawmakers and powerful energy development interests for decades. They look at this wondrous landscape and see a place for oil fields, not a wilderness paradise.

Senator Lisa Murkowski and other members of the Alaska delegation are already decrying the recommendation, calling it a “declaration of war” on state sovereignty and claiming that it would jeopardize our nation’s energy future. But President Obama’s endorsement of wilderness for the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge has nothing to do with Alaskan sovereignty, since the refuge is federal land and the resources within its boundaries are held in trust for all Americans, not just Alaskans.

There is simply no sustainable future in destroying priceless habitat in the short-term pursuit of last century’s energy solutions. And while the oil industry loves to tout its “small footprint” for drilling oil on the North Slope, let’s be honest: Authorizing oil and gas development in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge would leave a steel industrial spider’s web of oil pipelines and pumping stations spread across the landscape, changing the ecology and wilderness values of that area forever.

Simply put, there is no other unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System that surpasses the Arctic Refuge in terms of its exceptional habitat to native and migrating species, particularly on its coastal plain. Mother polar bears dig dens there, the Porcupine caribou herd calves there and millions of migratory birds from around the world stop there to rest, nest and raise their young. The entire refuge spans a diverse landscape of coastline, marshes, mountains, rivers, forests and tundra. It’s not hard to see its importance as a conservation icon; it truly is a priceless place that is a gift to us all.

Polar bear and young, © Susanne Miller/ USFWS

A polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Susanne Miller/USFWS)

This wilderness recommendation is not part of a radical agenda. It was not made on a whim. Sunday’s announcement came after decades of study, debate and engagement with the public. It is based on the best available science about the irreplaceable characteristics of the coastal plain, the wildlife it supports and the benefits it provides. It stands as part of an exhaustive Environmental Impact Statement and Comprehensive Conservation Plan, both required by law for proper stewardship of our national wildlife refuges. And at every turn, the evidence has been clear: The Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain is a priceless landscape of pristine land and deserves the utmost protection that our nation can provide.

The Obama administration has made history by formally recognizing coastal plain’s inherent wilderness values and how much we stand to lose as a nation if we jeopardize its safety for short-term economic gain. Protecting the coastal plain from oil drilling isn’t just the better option. It’s the right thing to do for generations of Americans to come.

Originally published on HuffPost Green

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22 Responses to “America’s Wildlife Refuges Belong to All of Us”

  1. Edward McDowell

    Please support the President in his effort to protect ANWR in perpetuity.


    Ed McDowell

  2. Dick Dierks

    Koch brother’s don’t care about the polar bear just their big fat pocketbooks!!!!

  3. Steve smith

    Please support the President’s plans to designate the Alaskan coast plain

  4. Susan Stalow

    It is incontestable that these lands and animals should be protected and preserved in perpetuity.
    Please exercise your good offices to guarantee it.

  5. Elizabeth Csicsery-Ronay

    I can’t believe we can’t save the Arctic Refuge!!!

  6. Susan Stalow

    It is incontestable that these lands and animal should be protected and preserved in perpetuity and that the Obama administration, and all succeeding administrations, should employ all of its good offices to ensure this.

  7. Nadia Smith

    The ozone layers is already destroying 20-25% yearly of these majestic creatures habitat,that’s enough to deal with….
    I understand thst with the ice melting there is little food, but surely tranqulizing these majestic crearyews to an area outside of hunaine habitate is better then killing them, soon and I’m talking no more than 10 years it’s quite a possibility that these among other beautiful animals will be museum aftifacts in no time.

  8. Karen DeSha

    Someone must stand up and say something; something must be done to ssave the habitat of thes magnificent and helpless creatures. Are we just going to stand by and allow them to join the ranks of the many species man has sent to the list of endangered or worst yet extinct? Please do not wait until it is to late.

    • Kathleen Buchanan

      Just wait until the Congress and President Obama pass the TPP Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement & TTIP Trans-Atlantic Trade Investment Partnership. Then companies will have all kinds of power. Big Oil & Gas can sue Alaska for not allowing them to drill, making their company lose profits. Companies can even sue governments reduce their profits. The companies that sell eggs from caged chickens, can sue California because of the law California has that refused to allow eggs from caged chickens into the state, thus causing them to lose profits.

  9. Jen Martin

    President Obama is to be commended for thinking about the future of our planet and not just the need for oil. Oil is being phased out, and will be irrelevant eventually, anyway. The planet’s needs, therefore ours over the long term, are here to stay! You go, President Obama. We are behind you every step of the way.

  10. Ivylle F Anderson

    The “Politicians” are prepared to “NOT” provide refuge and protection for not only
    our country’s wild life, but for the citizens of this once great country and it’s principles. I cannot grasp how the President and his administration have managed to get by with bringing us down. Our integrity and beliefs that have existed for decades continues to be threatened; so much, if not all, is unconstitutional, yet all has been allowed. How and Why?? Does anyone have what it takes to be honest in truth and act on it?

  11. Elizabeth France

    We have a moral obligation to protect native animals. It is sad the way polar bears, because of global warming, are deprived of a great deal of the environment they have needed to survive. As human residents of the earth, we definitely need to designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge as wilderness. Disregard for wildlife and preserves and reckless development of land leads us down a dangerous path. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to care for the earth and nature as a legacy for the future.

  12. Connie

    Wake up America, if there is no wild America, it’s just like every other place on this planet that has been torn apart, ravaged, dumped on, polluted, and destroyed by humans. And for what reason? Anybody got a good reason?

  13. Dawn Richardson

    Keep this the way it should be clean & fresh & beautiful!!

  14. Etha Radford

    It is our duty and obligation to do everything we can to preserve all the beauty and nature on our planet.

  15. Marlene L. Fisher

    Please protect this land. It is a vital refuge!
    Thank you,
    Marlene Fisher

  16. Pat Nickerson

    We need to keep these beautiful wilderness areas safe for our future generations. There are too few such beautiful areas left that protect the wildlife, as well as giving us a view of nature’s wonder.

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