Save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: America’s Serengeti

There is another really big reason to oppose the tax break for the corporations and super-rich.

The GOP is buying the vote of Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) by forcing the leases for drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge NWR and because it will produce some Federal revenue, including money for every Alaskan, it is eligible for inclusion in the awful budget reconciliation package that includes Republicans’ tax plan and a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is America’s Serengeti—it’s our last chance to protect a vast wilderness from the oil industry. Some history of this long fight for the Arctic Refuge. Ross Leffler, one of National Wildlife Federation’s founders, and later the NWF’s elected President during the launch of Ranger Rick and National Wildlife magazines, served in the Eisenhower administration as the first Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. (President Eisenhower created that title for his long-time fishing companion and respected volunteer conservationist.)

At the urging of his professional fish and wildlife staff and with growing public support lead by a coalition of noted conservationists headed by Margaret and Olaus Murie, Leffler proposed to the President that he establish the Arctic Range Wildlife Refuge as part of his conservation legacy.

Since the first U.S. Geological Survey conducted in 1923 to 1925 hinted at potential oil reserves under the Arctic plain portion of the proposed refuge, oil industry lobbyists expressed interest to the administration in exploring for oil in the Arctic coastal plain. To avoid that fight for the time, it was not included in the original Eisenhower wildlife range designation in 1960.

The coastal plain of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, is a critical swath of tundra habitat on the northern Alaska coast, as it is home to polar bears and is vital habitat for the porcupine caribou herd. The Gwitchens also known as the Caribou People, consider this a sacred place because they understand it’s critical role in providing insect relief for wildlife. They have protected this area for 20,000 years.

In the late 70’s and during 1980 in a heroic effort led by Tom Kimball, the National Wildlife Federation was a key player bridging sportsmen who were being pulled away by Congressman John Dingell, and the NRA (that was funded by oil interests at the time). Kimball worked tirelessly to secure critical votes in Congress. The passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act protecting much of Alaska and expanding the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

Kimball worked with Congressman Mo Udall, President Jimmy Carter and the Alaska Coalition to pass the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that protected more lands than any single act in American history with over 100 million acres of new parks and refuges and tripled the size of the American Wilderness system. As part of the final compromise, Congress designated the 19 million-acre area a wildlife refuge in 1980, but it set aside a 1.5-million-acre parcel known in Section 10-02 for possible drilling if future lawmakers approved such a plan. For decades, we have fought back attempts to raid the wildlife refuge for oil.

A study was later authorized and U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 1998 that part of ANWR could hold up to 12 billion barrels of oil but wildlife scientists have long warned that the oil development would have a profound impact on the Arctic Caribou Herd. Trump and the Republicans have called it essential for American fossil fuel “energy dominance” in the face of an overheating world that needs to keep carbon in the ground.

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About Larry Schweiger

Larry Schweiger is the Past President and Chief Executive Officer of Citizens for PennFuture. Previously, he was President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation and earlier the CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Larry also served as the Executive Secretary of the Joint (House and Senate) Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He returned to the National Wildlife Federation in March 2004 with a commitment to confront the climate crisis. He is passionate about protecting nature for our children's future. Larry continues the climate work as the battle moves to the states. Previously, Larry served for eight years as President and CEO of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, where he pioneered watershed restoration and promoted ecological research, land conservation, community outreach and Fallingwater restoration. In the past, Larry was the Executive Secretary of the Joint House/Senate Conservation Committee for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs at National Wildlife Federation, and 1st Vice President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Larry wrote a book warning about climate change impacts on nature entitled: "Last Chance: Preserving Life on Earth" that won 1st Prize for the best non-fiction at the 2011 Indie Book Awards. Larry started volunteering at age 14 and is an active community leader, having served on more than 40 governing boards, commissions and committees. He currently serves on the Boards of Directors of Climate Reality; the John Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; and National Wildlife Federation Action Fund. In 2012, He was honored by the Blue-Green Alliance for the Federation's leadership on the auto rules and was selected as Pennsylvania’s Environmental Professional of the Year in 2002, Pittsburgh of the Year in 2000, and he received a Conservation Service Award from the Christian Environmental Association in September 1995. Larry is married and is blessed with three daughters, two sons-in-law, and five grandsons.
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