- Date: February 27, 2020
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is located in one of the largest remaining natural areas on the planet: Alaska. The species that call the refuge home have been protected from the risks of unsustainable development for decades, but in 2017 Congress approved opening the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to allow for oil and gas drilling. WWF works alongside intergovernmental partners to advocate for the protection of pristine wildlife areas like the Refuge from oil and gas development.
While the entire world loses when oil and gas industry interests trump the needs of people and nature, these five species stand to lose the most:
Native communities traditionally have a deep connection to the natural world and in remote areas like the Arctic Refuge, maintaining that connection is a matter of survival. The Inupiaq live along the coastal plain with nearly 300 people living in Kaktovik along the Beaufort Sea. While the Inupiaq have traditionally relied on marine species, the Gwich’in live further south in the refuge and have relied on the Porcupine Caribou herd for thousands of years.
Scientists say 2019 was the warmest year ever recorded in Alaska, and it’s causing big problems for polar bears. Climate change is melting sea ice, making it more difficult to travel and hunt. That’s forcing more bears on land, including denning mothers. The sub-population of polar bears in the Arctic Refuge is already in a major decline. Polar bear population measures taken in 2006 and again in 2010 showed a drastic decrease in Southern Beaufort population size from around 1,500 individuals to about 900, and it’s likely still falling, according to data released by the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Exploration and drilling along the coastal plain threaten to exacerbate this decline in polar bear adults and cubs.
The US government’s assessment of the environmental impacts of drilling on polar bears finds that more bears are denning on land and with “greater frequency than expected.” While the assessment acknowledges polar bears will be killed, it doesn’t estimate how many.
Alaskan native communities in and around the refuge rely on the Porcupine Caribou Herd for subsistence needs. The herd of 200,000 animals migrates from Canada to the coastal plains of the refuge every year to birth their calves and seek necessary relief along the Beaufort Sea from otherwise inescapable hordes of mosquitoes. In fact, the government of Canada warned the US that the risk to this herd and the people who rely on it is “too high.” The risk comes from oil and gas infrastructure impacting migratory and calving grounds along the coast, leading to further declines in the population.
Some of the heaviest owls in North America spend the spring and summer nesting in the Arctic Refuge. These magnificent birds build their nests on the ground along the coastal plain setting up a potentially deadly conflict with the large, heavy equipment oil and gas developers propose to use in the same area.
Many birds connect Alaska Native communities with people thousands of miles away. Millions of birds spend part of the year migrating through or nesting in the Arctic Refuge, connecting communities and ecosystems thousands of miles away to the state of this Arctic ecosystem. Snow geese fatten up by feasting in the refuge during a few weeks in late summer before migrating more than 1,000 miles south for the winter.
It’s time for Congress to act
All the local impacts of drilling in the refuge are accelerated by increased carbon emissions from burning oil and gas. The world can’t afford anyone drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In September of 2019, a protection act for the wildlife refuge was introduced to the US Congress with the goal to “designate a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.” This would protect the approximately 1.5 million acres of the refuge’s coastline from being exploited by oil and gas companies.
Help protect this treasured landscape by adding your name to our petition encouraging your representatives in Washington to step up to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.