I’ve just returned from a week in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 50,000 caribou streamed through my camp for two days as part of the annual migration of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Mesmerized by the herd’s ebbing and flowing, I stared for hours, baffled by the mysterious force that seemed to dictate their movements.
Over the years, I have brought various people to the Refuge. Staff from Congressional offices, foundation program officers, grantees. I’ve relished the nearly universal reaction of those flying over the Brooks Range for the first time, which is to reach backward and grab my arm, usually with tears running down their cheeks. The desire for human connection in moments of wonder is strong, perhaps to ground the experience from being too overwhelming.
And yet this landscape doesn’t fail to overwhelm. Miles and miles of roadless land. Millions of acres of habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the longest land migration on Earth. For the Gwich’in—the caribou people, it is the sacred place where life begins.
And it all belongs to the American people. America’s Last Great Wilderness.
Thanks to the courage and vision of President Jimmy Carter, nearly all of these lands were set aside from development. But the biological heart—the 1.5 million acre Coastal Plain— remained in limbo. Last year, President Obama recommended to Congress that these lands, including the regularly contested Coastal Plain, be protected as wilderness, acknowledging that “some places are too special to drill.”
Some places are too special to drill. Some places are simply too iconic in our pantheon of great American landscapes to be destroyed for a short supply of oil. Some places are too sacred for Native people; too important for their subsistence way of life to squander for pennies at the pump and low-wage jobs. Some places, which may never be visited by most Americans, deserve our protection because they are among the wildest we have left. And yet, Congress has failed to act.
The footprint that we’ve left upon the natural world is broad and deep. In spite of the damage we have done along the way, our leaders have also had the foresight to set aside lands for protection. Lands have been protected for their conservation values, for symbolic reasons, or to honor an important part of our American heritage. The Arctic Refuge is a tapestry woven of each of these threads, its landscape a texture of wildness, of Native culture and food security, and core democratic values.
Recognizing that the Arctic Refuge is a landscape worthy of protection for all Americans, we are proud to support the We Are the Arctic Campaign, a coalition of diverse voices working together to protect the Refuge. Visit the website to sign the petition, share this post, and talk to your elected officials about the importance of protecting this unique and irreplaceable American landscape.