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2023 Strategy for Winning Arctic Refuge Protections

At the end of January 2023, over 50 members of the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign gathered in Washington, D.C. for a three-day strategy meeting in which we discussed how to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling in the current political landscape.

The Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign was created in 2018 following the passage of the 2017 Tax Act which opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling for the first time. The coalition brings together diverse organizations and advocates including the Gwich’in Steering Committee, tribal governments, environmental, veteran and faith organizations and others. Alaska Wilderness League sits on the campaign’s steering committee.

It was the first time since the pandemic that members of the coalition gathered together for an in-person strategy meeting, and we had a lot to catch up on! Over the three days, we reflected on how far we have come and how we can most effectively utilize corporate, legislative and governmental strategies to fight for permanent protections of the Arctic Refuge going forward.

We were honored to be joined by elders Lorraine Netro, board member of the Gwich’in Steering Committee from Old Crow, Yukon; Robert Thompson, a long-time Refuge advocate from Kaktovik, AK; and Sarah James, former board chair of the Gwich’in Steering Committee from Arctic Village, AK. It was a humbling experience to share space with people who have been stewarding and protecting the land long before we have and reminded us how this work spans generations.

As part of the week’s events, Alaska Wilderness League board member Jodi Potts-Joseph and daughter Quannah Chasinghorse flew in for a screening of their new film, “Walking in Two Worlds.” The film kicked off a reception on Capitol Hill where Senators Markey and Heinrich reintroduced legislation that would restore Arctic Refuge protections and permanently halt oil and gas leasing on the coastal plain.

Jodi joined the strategy meeting for a day, and then she and Quannah joined League Executive Director Kristen Miller to visit Congress and the administration to talk directly with decisionmakers about the importance of land protection in Alaska to their way of life. The mother-daughter team had the opportunity to talk with Secretary Haaland in her office at the Department of the Interior and to visit the White House and meet with Senior Advisor and Tribal Affairs Director for White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Paawee Rivera. They also spent time on Capitol Hill talking about the importance of Alaska’s public lands and waters with Senators Markey and Heinrich, and House Members Grijalva, Peltola and Huffman.