Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 50th Anniversary Reopens Drilling Issue

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 50th Anniversary Reopens Drilling Issue

WASHINGTON, DC, December 7, 2010 (ENS) – The 50th Anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, marked Monday with a Presidential Proclamation, opened again the controversy over oil and gas drilling in the vast refuge that encompasses 19.6 million acres of pristine wilderness and wildlife habitat along the North Slope of Alaska.

“In the decades since its establishment, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has continued to be one of our Nation’s most pristine and cherished areas,” proclaimed President Obama. “In the decades to come, it should remain a place where wildlife populations, from roaming herds of caribou to grizzly bears and wolf packs, continue to thrive.”

While Obama and the Democrats as well as conservationists want to permanently protect the refuge from drilling, the newly named chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan, is urging the President to allow drilling rigs into the refuge.

Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan (Photo by Republican Conference)

“I understand the politics of ANWR very well, and acknowledge that the base of your party is uncomfortable with lifting the moratorium on exploration and production in ANWR,” Congressman Upton wrote Monday in a letter to the President. “Nevertheless, I urge you to put our nation’s needs ahead of politics, and implore you not to make it impossible to ever explore for natural resources in ANWR.”

Upton continued, “Of course, I do not need to remind you that the unemployment rate is too high and our fiscal situation is dire. Opening up ANWR would help alleviate these economic problems, as detailed in an ICF International Study prepared for the American Petroleum Institute published in December of 2008. That study concluded that allowing exploration of ANWR would lead to approximately 62,000 additional jobs in the year 2030 alone.

The Kongakut River winds through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by Jono Hey)

“Over the lifetime of an open ANWR, the government revenue would be in excess of $164 billion,” Upton wrote. “Those are real jobs and real revenues, neither of which would be created by increasing the size and scope of the federal government or by further taxing our already over-taxed citizens.”

During the presidency of George W. Bush, Republicans repeatedly attempted to open the refuge to oil and gas drilling, although the refuge was created by a Republican president.

The Arctic National Wildlife Range was created in 1960 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower “for the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values.”

In 1980, under President Jimmy Carter, the area was renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and expanded to further recognize and protect the variety of wildlife in the area. For 50 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has managed the area, now the largest wildlife refuge in the United States.

Today, President of the League of Conservation Voters Gene Karpinski called for President Obama to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by declaring it to be a national monument.

“President Obama has the power to provide additional safeguards to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – and its millions of vital wildlife – from exploitation,” Karpinsky wrote. “The creation of a National Monument is the quickest way to protect this national treasure from drilling and other threats. As the Refuge celebrates its 50th anniversary, a National Monument designation would be a fitting celebration of the past, present, and future of this extraordinary American wilderness.”

The Porcupine Caribou herd migrates across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by The Wilderness Society)

Audubon President David Yarnold also called for permanent protection for the refuge. In a statement Monday, Yarnold said, “The combination of climate change and oil and gas development poses a double threat to America’s Arctic wildlife and wildlands. Warming temperatures are already causing significant ecological disruption, while industrial oil and gas development imperil species like the polar bear and migratory caribou.”

“At risk is the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge, the 1.5 million acre Coastal Plain. Even though it includes some of the best polar bear denning and caribou calving habitat on the entire North Slope, this vital area lacks permanent protection,” Yarnold said.

“Audubon and our grassroots supporters, along with many other dedicated conservationists, have worked long and hard to keep the Refuge safe from oil and gas drilling,” said Yarnold. “Now, we call on our nation’s leaders to continue the work their predecessors began five decades ago, by extending permanent protection to the Coastal Plain.”

In response to a Sierra Club campaign, more than 45,000 people have contacted President Obama and asked him to protect this rare and precious wild place by naming it a national monument.

“For decades, we’ve had to fend off attempts by the oil and gas industries to drill the Arctic Refuge. Now, those efforts are mounting again,” said Sierra Club Arctic Campaign Director Dan Ritzman. “By designating the Arctic Refuge a national monument, President Obama can give the refuge the protection it deserves.”

Throughout December, the Sierra Club will continue its “I Heart the Arctic” campaign to celebrate the anniversary and call for a national monument. In addition to reaching out to millions of activists, the campaign has included anniversary parties in every state, a new website, online ads, a rally with members of Congress in Washington, and most recently, a video featuring young Arctic wildlife.

On December 1, scientists and natural resource managers from the United States and Canada sent a letter to President Obama urging him to safeguard the the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain. The 170 scientists encouraged the President to act this year to ensure permanent protections for the Arctic Refuge from oil and gas development and exploration.

“No region more effectively encapsulates the biological diversity and ecosystem complexity of the entire Arctic than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Dave Klein, professor emeritus at University of Alaska Fairbanks. “The unique adaptations to the extreme seasonality of the Arctic found in the plants and animals that inhabit the Arctic are brought together in the Arctic Refuge.” “The Arctic Refuge has played an essential role in sustaining the health of the Earth’s biosphere,” said Klein, “and with continued protection, it should continue to do so in the future.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.

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