- Date: August 17, 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 now the US government is moving forward with plans to open up the Coastal Plain to 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:
Many members of Alaska Native tribes and communities maintain a deep connection to the natural world. The Inupiat live along Alaska’s northern and northwestern shores, with nearly 300 people living on the Coastal Plain in the village of Kaktovik. Many practice “subsistence,” harvesting from Alaska’s great bounty of marine and terrestrial resources. Farther south, the Gwich’in also harvest from the land, relying primarily on the Porcupine Caribou herd for thousands of years. But the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) admits that the oil and gas activities they are permitting would decrease the community of Kaktovik’s access to fish, marine mammals, and caribou. According to BLM, this “significant restriction of subsistence uses is necessary” for development.
Scientists say 2019 was the warmest year ever recorded in Alaska, and it’s causing big problems for polar bears. Climate change is melting the sea ice habitat polar bears rely upon to travel, hunt, find mates, and, historically, to den. But as higher temperatures cause sea ice to become less stable and reliable, more female bears from the Southern Beaufort Sea are making maternal dens on land instead of on ice. Today, about one third of all female bears in this region make their dens along the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. 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.
Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears are one of several polar bear subpopulations to have already experienced major decline caused by climate change, falling from approximately 1,500 individuals to around 900 in just a few years in the first decade of this century. Exploration and drilling along the coastal plain threaten to exacerbate this concerning trend.
Alaska 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 Alaskans with people thousands of miles away. Millions of birds spend part of the year migrating through or nesting in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, tying far-flung communities and ecosystems directly to the Arctic Refuge. 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.
Help protect this treasured landscape by encouraging your representatives in Washington to co-sponsor the Polar Bear Cub Survival Act.