Historic Opportunity for Stronger Protections in New Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Planning Process
the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began its update of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s 22-year old Comprehensive Conservation Plan to guide long-term stewardship of this conservation area including wilderness and wild and scenic river reviews. On this 50th anniversary of America’s wilderness refuge we have a great opportunity to promote stronger protection for future generations.
Fairbanks, Alaska— Today, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service began its update of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s 22-year old Comprehensive Conservation Plan to guide long-term stewardship of this conservation area including wilderness and wild and scenic river reviews.
“On this 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—America’s wilderness refuge—we have a great opportunity to promote stronger protection for this uniquely intact Arctic landscape so we pass it on undiminished for future generations,” said Pamela A. Miller, Arctic Program Director.
“The wilderness review gives Alaskans an historic chance to promote stronger protections for the entire refuge and particularly its vital coastal plain which was left out in 1980 when Congress designated wilderness for the rest of the original Arctic Refuge established 50-years ago,” said Miller. “The migratory birds coming north now remind us how connected the wild Arctic Refuge is to the rest of the United States as birds fly to its vital coasts from all 50 states.”
The biological heart of the Arctic Refuge deserves our nation’s strongest kind of protection— Wilderness— as it is the most important land denning area for polar bears in the United States, nesting and feeding habitat for millions of migratory birds, and calving and nursery area for the Porcupine caribou herd which is at the heart of the way of life of the Gwich’in people. The new plan should recognize the special value of the undisturbed ecosystem of the entire Arctic Refuge and its role as a scientific control in understanding the cumulative effects of oil and gas development and climate change.
“There are deep Fairbanks roots in the fight to preserve this corner of Alaskan wilderness,” said Miller, and Alaskan voices continue to press for stronger Arctic Refuge protection.”
Alaskans played a major hand in establishing the refuge 50 years ago, and have taken a stand ever since to protect its integrity by safeguarding it from the dirty business of oil development spills and pollution.
Long-time Fairbanks resident Ginny Hill Wood, now over 90 years old, worked tirelessly for the refuge establishment and wrote in 1958, “this is the last great wilderness left under the American flag, almost the world. Our children and their children deserve to find some of it as wild, unspoiled, as unique, and as exciting as we have found it.” Wood was a pioneering conservationist of Alaska as well as pioneering woman pilot who was recently awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her World War II role in the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.
Among other Refuge founders connected to Fairbanks were Mardy Murie, the first woman graduate of the University of Alaska and recipient of an honorary doctorate as well as winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and her husband Olaus Murie a renowned caribou biologist.
In 1988, a Gwich’in Gathering held in Arctic Village formed the Gwich’in Steering Committee to protect the caribou calving grounds from threatened oil and gas development in the refuge, and leaders Sarah James from Arctic Village, the late Jonathon Solomon from Fort Yukon, and Norma Kassi from Old Crow, Yukon have been honored with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.
The 50th anniversary date is December 6— when in 1960 President Eisenhower’s Interior Secretary established the original refuge, then called the Arctic National Wildlife Range, “for the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values” in this corner of Northeastern Alaska.
But even prior to Alaska statehood, the lands were set aside in 1957 for the purpose of establishing the wildlife refuge and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and Anchorage newspaper editorialized in favor of it. At the same time President Eisenhower designated the Arctic Refuge in 1960, he opened over 20 million acres of lands to the oil industry and the State of Alaska – including the “prize” of Prudhoe Bay.