Every June, after migrating hundreds of miles north from their winter grounds, some 170,000.00 caribou in the Porcupine herd finally reach Alaska’s coastal plain on the Beaufort Sea. Many females give birth in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where oil and gas development are hotly debated.
The refuge is also home to small Alaska Native villages and an abundance of wildlife, including several rare and endangered species. Polar bears, musk oxen, scores of migratory bird species roam the refuge. In 2015, President Obama recommended that Congress declare the area as protected wilderness, something lawmakers have not done.
Over time, the fate of the refuge has become one of the most divisive environment issues in the nation, though attention to it has waxed and waned depending on who is in the White House and whether there is industry pressure to develop it.
How and why we must defend the Arctic Refuge
The Arctic Refuge contains one of the most fragile and ecologically sensitive ecosystems in the world. Its environment is extremely vulnerable to long-lasting disturbance because the harsh climate and short growing seasons provide little time for species to recover.
Proposed oil development would occur on the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain sandwiched between the Arctic Ocean and the Brooks mountain range, and would have serious impacts on species such as polar bear, caribou, musk oxen and hundreds of species of migratory birds. This area is considered the “biological heart” of the refuge, and habitat loss that occurs here will impact the entire Arctic Refuge and beyond.
Oil related activities such as seismic testing, aircraft and vehicle noise, or even the mere presence of humans nearby can drive mother polar bears away from their den and cubs. Drilling the Arctic Refuge could alter the annual path of the Porcupine caribou herd, one of the longest land mammal migrations in the world. The critical breeding grounds for migratory birds would be severely impacted, and could cause population-scale impacts for many species.
Help support the defenders of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: http://www.defenders.org/arctic-national-wildlife-refuge