Recently, I was lucky enough to be part of a small group that landed on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The sun had not set for nearly a month, and the temperatures were still hovering around freezing.
Far in the distance, dots lined the horizon – the Porcupine Caribou Herd was passing through the area, as it does each year, continuing its annual 1,500-mile migration.
For now, this migration across the Coastal Plain is uninterrupted by oil development. Yet the future of the Arctic Refuge and its Coastal Plain weighed heavily on our minds during our six-day stay in the area, as the Trump administration spearheads a renewed push for development in the area. President Trump’s budget proposal includes drilling in this pristine place, and it is up to us to make the case to Congress that we should not be drilling in wild and iconic places like the Arctic Refuge.
Caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd pass by our base camp. (Alaska Wilderness League)
As we made camp, on one side of us were mountains, the Sadlerocht Range comprised of loose granite and rising more than 4,000 feet in elevation. In the other direction, the skyline was flat except for some gentle rolling hills carved out by the Katakturuk River. We were 25 miles south of the Arctic Ocean, where the sea ice had already retreated beyond the horizon. In just a few short months, polar bears will return to these lands after a summer spent hunting on the ice, mothers preparing dens for the long winter ahead.
A quick rain ends with a rainbow over the Sadlerocht Mountains. (Alaska Wilderness League)
The Arctic Refuge is a completely different kind of wild. Unlike where I grew up in south-central Alaska, the flatness of the Coastal Plain throws off all depth perception. A mountain on the horizon may be in reality just a small little hill, and distances are hard to calculate. What appears to be a two-hour hike may take you fifteen minutes – and vice versa.
A wide view of our campsite for the week. (Alaska Wilderness League)
The Arctic Refuge is a landscape of small details. As you wander its large expanse, you will come across wolf prints, bird nests, caribou antlers, and plants that persist – even thrive – despite the coolness of the climate. In the short six days we were there, flowers were opening up all around us, the result of slightly warmer temperatures that arrived by the end of our trip.
Our shadows at midnight. The sun won’t set on the Coastal Plain for another month. (Alaska Wilderness League)
As some of the Arctic Refuge’s more than 200 species of birds flew overhead, I would point and say, ‘bird!’ or ‘BIG BIRD!’…as my knowledge of birds is limited. Some, like a golden eagle we saw on day one, migrate to the lower-48 states for the winter. Others, like the wandering tattler that presided over a nest of four eggs near our camp, fly to Australia for the winter months. When you see these creatures first hand, they not only capture the imagination, but also they reveal the global importance of this area.
Like the rest of the Arctic, the Arctic Refuge has experience steadily warming temperatures. (Alaska Wilderness League)
It is great spending time in America’s public lands knowing that you are experiencing something that transcends our existence on this planet; the Arctic Refuge is one of the few remaining places that you can experience the intact Arctic, undisturbed by humans. Today, Congress is poised to consider President Trump’s budget, which seeks to earn revenue in the coming years by leasing this land for oil development. That would be a huge mistake, and a shameful legacy we cannot leave for future generations.
The Porcupine Caribou head west, past the Sadlerocht Mountains. (Alaska Wilderness League)
The Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a nursery for denning polar bears and countless migratory birds, and the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd. It is one of the finest examples of wilderness remaining anywhere in the world. President Trump’s budget proposal includes drilling in the Arctic Refuge, and we need your help to tell Congress: keep development out of the Arctic Refuge, because once destroyed, it is gone forever.