You Can Help Stop the Destruction of America’s Last Frontier
By Adri Kopp
Maybe you haven’t heard the news. The Trump Administration is inviting companies to start drilling for oil in one of the last wild places of America. The permitting process is underway, and we need your help to make an impact now.
Drilling will destroy a pristine ecosystem that is a critical refuge for millions of arctic wildlife. These animals are already threatened by global warming. Luckily, this is an issue we can have an immediate impact on.
Voting isn’t your only voice. Join us in writing letters to convince congress to stop this devastation.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick recap.
What Is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? (ANWR)
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a 19 million acre protected wilderness area in northeastern Alaska. To put that in perspective, it’s about the size of South Carolina. This might seem like a lot of land–but it’s essential for large animals like caribou, wolves, and polar bears to have this kind of space.
Iconic arctic wildlife and many migratory birds depend on this critical wilderness area.
Some people call the refuge “America’s Serengeti” because the reserve is vital for arctic wildlife. The nickname also refers to the great migration of Grant’s caribou that cross the plain every year.
Each spring, the female caribou migrate to the coastal plain to give birth and raise their calves. Some of the earliest vegetation emerges here. Vegetation which provides critical nutrients to both mothers and babies. The landscape offers better protection from predators as well.
Then, over 70 species of waterfowl and shorebirds migrate to the coastal plain. They use the undisturbed lakes, river deltas, and estuaries as nesting grounds. Expert Natalie Boelman considers it to be “one of the Earth’s most important bird nurseries” as millions of birds nest in the refuge.
And as climate change takes its toll, Polar Bears increasingly rely on the coastal plain for denning and raising cubs. This vulnerable species is already facing tremendous challenges. Sea ice is on the decline, so the loss of the coastal plain would be a devastating blow.
Indigenous Gwich’in people call the ANWR their home.
There’s more than wildlife that rely on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Gwich’in People have lived there for as long as 20,000 years. They rely on the Grant’s caribou migration to provide their primary food source. They also rely on it for things like clothing and tools. The caribou are so important to their lives they have spiritual significance in their culture. The coastal plain is a sacred place to them, as it is the birthing ground of the Grant’s caribou.
Why Is Oil Drilling Bad?
Big oil companies and supporters often spread a myth. They say that oil drilling only needs a small swatch of land. That they can do it with minimal disturbance to wildlife and native people.
The truth is, drilling a new location like the coastal plain requires loads of infrastructure and disturbances. They will need landing strips, pipelines, gravel pits, and water treatment plants.
Oil extraction development alters water drainage, depletes lakes and rivers, and pollutes runoff. The result is a fractured and devastated ecosystem.
The drill sites aren’t the only problem though. Oil transportation creates an extraordinary risk to the environment: oil spills. Oil does not mix with water, so streams and rivers carry it throughout the fragile ecosystem. There it damages countless birds, fish, and plant life. This has catastrophic consequences up the entire food chain. The Exxon Valdez oil spill killed more than 250,000 marine birds.
Many argue that the wildlife refuge is critical for American energy independence. That’s simply not true. An exploratory drill in the area estimates that oil companies could extract around 7.7 billion barrels. That might sound like a lot, but it’s about the amount of petroleum the U.S. uses in a year. Are we going to destroy our arctic wildlife sanctuary for one year’s worth of oil?
The Battle to Drill for Oil in the ANWR Coastal Plain
This is not a new battle. Big Oil supporters have tried for 37 years to overturn the protections that were put in place in the 1980s.
The 2017 tax reform bill that introduced oil drilling
Republicans have been trying for decades to alter the refuge’s protections. But congress listened to the scientific evidence and public support and kept the protections in place – until now. In 2017, republicans slipped new regulations into the tax reform bill.
If it seems odd to you to include oil drilling regulations in a tax bill, that’s because it is. In fact, 12 republicans in the House of Representatives sent letters against the drilling provisions. The legislation was out of place, and unrightfully included. But in desperation to pass the tax bill, six of them eventually conceded.
Trump’s administration is now rushing the process.
As his presidency comes to a close, Trump and his administration realize drilling in the ANWR may become an uphill battle. In fact, President Elect Biden has spoken out against it. Over the past several months they have rushed to try and open land bids before the transition of power.
Drilling in a new region requires reports on possible environmental impacts. The Department of the Interior produced them in record time. Leading scientists say the review “overlooks science”. They say it “underestimates impacts on wildlife, and lacks detail on how to prevent disturbances to the delicate tundra.”
What You Can Do to Help
Of course voting is one of the most critical actions we take as citizens – but there are other ways you can make a high impact on issues that matter. You can stay informed, and take action.
Contact your representatives.
A lot of people think if their party candidate loses in the election, it’s all over. It’s tempting to stick your head in the sand until the next election when things might get better.
But that isn’t true! Our elected officials really want to stay in office. If they recognize one part of their platform is unpopular, they are likely to change their tune to please voters in their district.
The House of Representatives has passed legislation to overturn the oil drilling in the ANWR. But the Senate refused to take it up – so you will make the most impact by contacting your senators.
With a simple letter, you can make a difference. And it doesn’t take very long.
Millions of people take the time to vote every year. But very few will voice their opinions to congressional representatives.
You’ve heard the phrase “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. We want the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be that wheel.
We really hope you will join us in writing letters to Washington. Help stop the drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The permit process for oil companies is underway, so the sooner the better. Invite your friends and family, even children, to join you in writing letters. Make your voice heard.
We encourage letter writing as opposed to emails because emails are easier to ignore – they can be filed or deleted with the press of a button.
But letters have to be physically opened and handled by staff, so it has more of an impact on them. Then, they are more likely to report it to your congressional representative. But if you don’t feel up to a letter, an email will still help! The important part is taking action.
Your letter doesn’t have to be long or complicated. You can keep it short and sweet. Just make sure to tell them who you are (a voter in their district) and that you oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Ask them to reconsider the issue in congress.
That’s really all it has to say. Find addresses and contact info for your representatives here:
Thank you for the impact you’re making to help preserve a pristine coastal wildlife refuge. It’s people like you that make a difference.