A Launching Pad For Restoring Arctic Refuge Protections

Last month, Alaska Wilderness League, together with our friends at Sierra Club, brought 30 citizen Alaska wilderness advocates to D.C. for several days of training, advocacy and lobbying, which included more than 60 visits with members of Congress or their staffs.

Some have been to Alaska, including three professional guides who lead trips there to see polar bears in the early fall, while others have never been but someday hope they or their children will. Regardless, it was an amazing week and an example of what public citizens can accomplish when they stand together and make their voices heard.

A few highlights of Wilderness Week:

Alaska Wilderness League partnered with House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) to help organize a forum on The Dangers of Opening Alaska’s Arctic Refuge to Oil and Gas Drilling, streamed live via the Facebook Live feed of House Natural Resource Committee Democrats. The hearing featured compelling testimony from the Gwich’in, Patagonia, a former Department of Interior official, and several members of Congress.

Donetta Tritt (top right) of the Gwich’in people is joined by Rebecca Goodstein of Patagonia, former Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes and Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark. Across the table: Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-NM), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA).

Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) also introduced the “Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act” in the U.S. House of Representatives, legislation aimed at repealing the Arctic Refuge leasing mandate in the tax bill. In the coming days and weeks we’ll be working to secure bipartisan cosponsors and to advance a companion measure in the Senate.

Alaska Wilderness League executive director Adam Kolton presents Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) with an award during Wilderness Week for his work to protect the Arctic Refuge.

The Canadian Embassy hosted Wilderness Week guests at an event where their government again reaffirmed its strong opposition to drilling in the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd – a position that remains in place despite Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan’s attempt at intimidation.

Donetta Tritt of the Gwich’in people speaks at a reception at the Canadian Embassy honoring the Gwich’in and Wilderness Week participants.

Meanwhile, Arctic Refuge champions in Congress are preparing to send letters as part of the formal scoping process launched by the Trump administration for Refuge leasing. That process includes public hearings, the first of which took place in Arctic Village on May 24. Our Alaska director, Andy Moderow, was on hand to support our Gwich’in allies, as was filmmaker Zeppelin Zeerip – you can watch one of his videos from the event below. The report back: strong, unified and unwavering opposition to leasing.

 

Also on display: strong opposition at the Fairbanks and Anchorage hearings. The full schedule of public hearings: Arctic Village (May 24), Fairbanks (May 29), Anchorage (May 30), Utqiaġvik (May 31), Venetie (June 12), Kaktovik (June 12) and Washington, D.C. (June 15).

Public scoping comments on the Trump administration’s drilling push are open until June 19, though many organizations, tribal villages and even the Alaska BLM’s Resource Advisory Council have requested more time. Unfortunately, BLM denied all requests.

Wilderness Week participants gather on the steps of Capitol Hill.

Still, Wilderness Week was a reminder that public opposition remains as strong as ever, and that people from across the country are willing to stand with the Gwich’in and stand up for this iconic place. On June 15, the battle returns to Washington, D.C., with the only non-Alaska public hearing on Arctic Refuge drilling. And believe me, we’ll be ready.