(This article originally appeared in The Hill.)
Today we celebrate a significant step forward for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and we say thank you, President Obama, for doing the right thing by finalizing the Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and including a Wilderness recommendation for the Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain. Please join us in saying thank you too!
Since the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) was passed in 1980, Congress has been fighting over what to do with the Coastal Plain. President Obama has shown great leadership and commitment to the Refuge by recognizing it as a remarkable ecosystem that supports a full spectrum of sub-arctic, arctic and marine habitats. Since the days of the Reagan administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had been saddled with an outdated but technically still in place administrative position that recommended the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge be opened to oil and gas exploration. The President’s new Wilderness recommendation erases the pro-development Reagan-era stance, establishes the official U.S. administrative position as protecting the Coastal Plain as Wilderness, and is a critical step towards a congressional Wilderness designation.
The Arctic Refuge is a sweeping landscape, bursting with wildflowers and framed by the awe-inspiring Brooks Mountain Range; it is unparalleled throughout the world. It is wild, it is spectacular, and it belongs to all Americans. And yet, its very existence remains under constant threat from outside interests that would plunder it for short-term profit from oil.
Preserving this cradle of life is a matter of basic human rights for the Gwich’in people; they deserve to live off their ancestral lands as they have for thousands of years. The Porcupine Caribou Herd, upon which the Gwich’in subsist, return to the Coastal Plain year after year to give birth to their young. Likewise, birds flock to the Refuge to nest from every state in the union and six continents. The Refuge’s Coastal Plain is the only place in the world that is home to grizzly, black and polar bears. Polar bears, in particular, are facing diminishing habitat and depend on the area to den and raise their young.
Like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and all the iconic places protected by those generations that have come before us, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must be here for future generations to enjoy. Our goal is and always has been to obtain the strongest possible protections for the Refuge and its Coastal Plain – this announcement will finally allow for on-the-ground management that is in line with preserving the area’s declared wilderness values. We hope Congress – after all these years – will follow President Obama’s lead and protect this sacred place once and for all by designating it as Wilderness.