Standing Up in Support of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The public’s message to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at its February 13th public hearing in Washington, DC, was clear: DON’T DRILL THE ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE. Gwich’in leaders and other Indigenous voices, faith leaders, veterans, scientists, students, and community members gathered en masse at the only public hearing outside of Alaska on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) regarding the effects of oil and gas leasing on the refuge’s coastal plain. In accordance with the Trump administration’s directives, the BLM is rushing forward with the DEIS, resulting in an assessment that is wholly inadequate and substantially lacking in scientific integrity. And the lack of public hearings outside of Alaska, save this single opportunity in DC, is outrageous given the interest in public lands and public opposition to drilling.

Throughout the six-hour hearing, only five pro-drilling voices stood to talk, representing corporate interests in Alaska and the oil and gas industry. The rest of the time was filled with a choir of voices citing all the reasons why this place is the last place we should be digging for oil — the need to protect imperiled polar bears, hundreds of migratory birds and other diverse wildlife; the inextricable link to the Gwich’in way of life; the immense threat of accelerating climate change in a rapidly-warming Arctic; the significance of the vast caribou breeding grounds of the coastal plain; the need to create a safe tomorrow for future generations.

Following are excerpts from testimony we received from Defenders supporters across the country who could not make the last-minute, expensive, time-consuming trip to Washington, DC, to present it themselves, but know the importance of raising their voices just the same. We encourage all readers to submit a comment before the end of the comment period, March 13th.

I write to you and this meeting from a small cabin on the toe of Lazy Mountain near Palmer Alaska. I’m an independent Alaskan wildlife field biologist and freelance writer; I’ve lived in Alaska now for over a quarter century. I’ve worked in Alaska’s Arctic on visits for nearly that long, including in the 1002 Area of the Arctic Refuge, and I’ve written many times about life on the NPR-A and the Refuge. None of this issue is new to me, and unlike most of you (but not all!) there in D.C., I have trod these grounds.

I have observed the teeming wildlife on the breeding and calving grounds, and the hard bite of winter there. I know the realities, not nearly as well as the Inupiaq and the Gwich’in People, or the full-time Arctic biologists, but likely better than most of the rest of you. I have many highly respected friends who work for Big Oil above 70º North Latitude, others who study the wildlife there, some who lead hiking and rafting trips on the Alaskan Arctic foothills and coastal plain, others who hunt and fish in and around the Refuge, and who wish to protect Arctic Alaska and its wildlife, in particular the 1002.

What I wish to testify to here, is regarding the mendacious, back-room, rushed, ram-rod fashion in which this whole culture of subterfuge (on the American people) is being carried out in order to ram-rod drilling in the Refuge. It has not been a democratic process.

BLM’s hearings on the draft EIS are a charade. Announced two business days before the first one February 4th in Fairbanks, with no planned chance for folks to speak to the attendees. So is the drat EIS itself. Though it claims to be in cooperation with the Villages of Kaktovik, Venetie, and Arctic Village — the latter two among so many other Gwich’in villages unmentioned who depend upon the Porcupine Caribou Herd — the BLM has ignored their information, requests, and intent to contribute to this document, much as the BLM has ignored western science.

I find this both racist and corporately biased.

And here’s a reminder for all who may have forgotten or misinterpreted things: Our environment does not depend upon our economy; our economies, in dollars and caribou — and our human lives, our health, and our pursuit of happiness — depend upon our environment.

To the BLM: I write this because I believe in justice and just cause, and that the opposite of justice is silence. Please listen to the American People. Keeping the 1002 wild would be an act of national redemption.

Jeff Fair, Palmer, AK

I grew up on the Gulf Coast and have witnessed firsthand the destruction of the coastal environs by the oil and Gas industry here in the Gulf of Mexico. I watched as millions of gallons of oil and dispersant spewed into the Gulf after BP carelessly allowed Deepwater Horizon to explode killing 11 men, countless wildlife and injuring the people of the Gulf Coast for decades to come. The Gulf of Mexico is still recovering nearly 10 years post BP disaster.

The Tax Bill which Trump signed in 2017 gave approval to open areas of the Arctic Refuge to the very Oil and Gas exploration and environmental destruction the Refuge was created to protect the wildlife and habitat from. Have we learned nothing from oil disasters like EXXON VALDEZ and DEEPWATER HORIZON?

We all know that it isn’t a matter of if an oil disaster within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will occur it is merely a matter of when! The Arctic Refuge is such a remote and harsh environment, cleanup of such a disaster I believe would be nearly impossible.

I urge every one of you sitting here today listening to the testimony not only of myself, but that of others in joining us in placing the environment, wildlife and people over greedy corporate profiteers! There is no money to be made on a dead planet!

Michele Harmon, Alabama

The opportunities that the BLM has provided for Americans to provide testimony regarding opening the Arctic Refuge to fossil fuel extraction have been inadequate. I attended the DC hearing in June 2018 because I was able to drive to it from New York. But now I am unable to make the trip to DC from Florida. Why was there only one hearing held in the lower 48 for an issue as important as this one?

Almost every bird species on earth is already in decline due to habitat loss, climate change, and pollution. Adding the loss of crucial breeding grounds would significantly accelerate the decline of the bird species that depend on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for reproduction. Species that would be especially impacted by oil drilling on the Coastal Plain are the shorebirds that use this area for breeding. Surveys conducted in 2002 and 2004 indicate that 14 species of breeding shorebirds (more than 230,000 individuals) were present on the Coastal Plain (The Condor 109(1):1–14. 2007). Although we don’t see them every day, birders in the lower 48 are quite aware of shorebird migration and take advantage of any opportunity to catch a glimpse of iconic species like the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Because they nest on the ground in the open, all shorebirds are particularly vulnerable to the predators that are drawn to manmade disturbance. In order to drill for oil, roads, buildings, and industrial facilities would need to be built. This construction would fragment and degrade the habitat so much that nests would be abandoned or perhaps never even built.

Unfortunately, pressure to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to development is increasing exponentially under the current administration. One gets the feeling that the purpose of rushing into these lease sales is to meet a political deadline –to lease the land during the current presidential term. Joe Balash, President Trump’s appointee for Assistant Interior Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, has stated that,” Developing our resources there (in the ANWR) is an important facet for meeting our nation’s energy demands and achieving energy dominance.”

I disagree.

The Bureau of Land Management should not promote the sacrifice of the Coastal Plain — the nursery for porcupine caribou, denning polar bears, and breeding shorebirds in order to reach this dubious goal.

As responding to climate change becomes even more crucial, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge continues to be a prime example of a place where they should “keep it (oil) in the ground.”

-Maryanne Adams & the Onondaga Audubon, Syracuse, NY

Working with eighth graders I see the importance of staying in touch with our environment, how health and well-being go hand in hand with the ability to get outdoors to recreate. It is the wild land that sustains us, and the health of this land directly relates to our health as well.

We have told our students about the terrible atrocities which the white settlers inflicted upon the Native Americans by driving them off their land and destroying their hunting grounds, nearly causing the extinction of the buffalo; yet, here we are about to do the exact same thing this time concerning the Gwich’in People and the Porcupine Caribou which has sustained the Gwich’in for generations.

I cannot possibly convey the depth of my feeling about this issue and it saddens me with how this whole hearing process is taking place, rushing and pushing forward this issue. An issue which will forever impact our entire world. Yet here it goes, a hearing I am not able to attend because of the lack of ample notification. I stood before your bureau last summer, missing our eighth-grade graduation, trying to convey to you the importance of the preservation of the Arctic Refuge and now my letter stands for me.

Sandra Ashely, Lake Placid, NY

It makes me so angry that opening up the Arctic Refuge for oil extraction is real. The Trump administration wants to turn this magnificent eco-system into an oil field. Remember the anthem, “This land is your land? This land is my land”? What happened to that standard?

The coastal plain has been protected for good reason. It’s a national treasure, home to indigenous people and countless species of land and water mammals, birds, fish, and more. I for one, a US citizen, appreciate its natural value as it is at present, intact — teeming with life. It’s irreplaceable. As tax-paying citizens, I thought it ours, belonging to you and me. I say this now, because once it’s stripped and punctured and ravaged — it’s gone, gone forever. Its pristine beauty and natural inhabitants will exist only in history books for our children, grandchildren and future descendants.

Rather than waste our “energy” on extracting every last dirty drop of oil from the planet, let us concentrate constructively on finding a long-term solution. I’d like to mention my own grandfather, Herman Bany, once an electrical engineer for GE and inventor with nearly one hundred patents. Forever coming up with new thoughts and ideas, he was one of the original pioneers of the wind turbine — wind energy, back in the 1940’s. I heard on more than one occasion that we need to explore and find a way to turn human waste into energy. He said it was absolutely possible, and that it would forever be available, cheap and clean. If we turn our focus on ideas for solutions such as this we could preserve the Arctic Refuge forever and have an unlimited source of clean energy to keep the modern world moving forward.

– Sally Magaziner, Malvern, Pennsylvania

I would like to express my strong opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The fact that over 50 years of protection can be wiped out in just under a year is deeply disturbing, especially when we live in a time of high anxiety over the future of our planet. If we continue to rely on fossil fuels and exploit the very nature that sustains us, we won’t have a future.

I am lucky enough to live next to Yellowstone National Park and know firsthand how important protected spaces are, how living next to truly wild places creates long-lasting wealth for an area and a sense of place and meaning. The Arctic Refuge is one of our last remaining pristine places and is protected for a reason: it is the home to migrating caribou, a shrinking polar bear population as well as many other iconic species. The majority of the coastal plain — the very place your agency wants to drill — is designated as critical denning habitat for polar bears, aren’t they under enough stress as it is?

With the majority of citizens opposing drilling due to its clear consequences for the environment, wildlife, and indigenous communities, how on earth is this a good idea?

– Mariah Palmer, Bozeman, MT