The Artic National Wildlife Refuge is the quintessential example of a wild, untrammeled landscape, a place for wildlife, for science, for connection, for learning, for discovery. But not oil drilling.
PRESIDENT Donald Trump recently released his 2018 budget, which many have noted is mean-spirited toward the poor, disenfranchised and the elderly. Tucked into it is a plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. In addition, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently signed an order that could lead to oil drilling in the refuge. As with all previous attempts to open this area, this one is unwarranted, shortsighted and should be rejected.
I write this as someone who has been lucky enough to visit the refuge. Several years ago I traveled with a group of college students and rafted for eight days on the Aichilik River, which flows out of the Brooks Range, north across the coastal plain, along the eastern boundary of area 1002 (the 1.5 million-acre section of the refuge where drilling would occur), and ends up on a barrier island on the Arctic Ocean. We also spent time meeting in Fairbanks with natives, scientists, government officials and oil company representatives to hear their points of view.
My arguments are not about oil (estimated at possibly 10.4 billion barrels, which would provide a 530-day supply, based on present U.S. consumption). Nor about caribou (the oil industry always touts the population rise in caribou at Prudhoe Bay but the vastly different herd size and the landscape in the refuge make comparison useless). Nor about the development footprint (legally mandated at 2,000 total acres of development but think about 2,000 McDonald’s spread across a flat plain and how far you could see them). Nor even about national security (even at full capacity, refuge oil would reduce our dependence on imports at most 2 percent, plus the oil industry never mentions the vulnerability of the pipeline, which you can walk up to).
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Instead, I want to focus on values. One of the best talks I heard on the refuge was by Roger Kaye, who has worked in the area for decades and completed a Ph.D. on the wilderness history of the refuge. He made it clear that ANWR has been the symbol of wilderness for the past 50 years. It was the landscape that inspired the early wilderness movement. For people such as Olaus and Mardy Murie, Bob Marshall, Howard Zahniser, Sigurd Olson and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, the refuge was the quintessential example of a wild, untrammeled landscape, a place for wildlife, for science, for connection, for learning, for discovery.
Each day in the refuge, I saw and felt this wildness. For the first five days, we saw absolutely no signs of people. No footprints. No trash. No trails. Nothing. Out on the coastal plain, we were surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of tundra, rivers and ponds.
Standing atop one of the numerous mounds that rise tens of feet above the tundra flatness, I could turn around 360 degrees and the horizon would not change. I felt the immensity of the vast space but at the same time I also found an amazing world of flowers, bones, scat and fur at my feet. On both the large and small scales, the refuge was one of the most overwhelming and seductive landscapes I have ever visited.
In the United States, there is no other place like the refuge, no other landscape so vast, so undisturbed, so sacred, so wild. We have no other place left to protect a landscape that is true wilderness. We have no other place left to show that we can restrain ourselves. We have no other place left to show that we can let ecological and evolutionary processes occur on a grand, unmanaged scale.
As part owners of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, all Americans have a voice in what happens to this land. It is our privilege and our patriotic duty to reject the president’s plans and call for its full protection.