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What's Next for Arctic Refuge?

By GreatOutdoors Staff - October 5th, 2005

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As a decision nears on the fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge--to drill for oil on its wildlife rich plain, or to preserve its status as a sanctuary?--outdoor enthusiasts can educate themselves through two critically acclaimed books on the subject. Only an informed public can drive congress to the right decision on this contentious issue. The nation is divided: pro-drilling voices say America needs all the domestic petroleum it can get, while those who speak for the refuge say it's not worth destroying for less than a year's supply of oil. With the fate of the refuge to be decided within the month, these resources can help us understand what's at stake.

This volume of photos and essays portrays the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as America's Serengeti, comprising 19.8 million acres of land in the northeast corner of Alaska, and adjoining Ivvavik and Vuntui National Parks in the Yukon Territory in Canada. Photographer Subhankar Banerjee, in collaboration with six essayists, presents a portrayal of a unique landscape made up of equal parts beauty and hazard. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the last intact ecosystems on earth, is being impacted by forces that may change its existence forever: global warming and the encroachment of modern society through the potential for oil drilling.

Jimmy Carter, George Schaller, and Bill Meadows narrate the story told by Banerjee's photographs with essays that delve into the history of the Refuge, the political battles -- past and present -- and the fragility of the ecosystem. Wildlife biologist Fran Mauer writes of the areas geological and geographical uniqueness while Debbie Miller describes the cultures of the Inupiat Eskimos and the Gwich'in Athabascan Indians. David Allen Sibley explores the prolific bird life and migrations at the refuge with an eye toward the delicately balanced ecology of the region. Peter Matthiessen, reflecting on his journey through the Refuge with Banerjee, passionately defends the need to preserve these lands and the people and the wildlife they shelter.

Writer and film-maker Jonathan Waterman eloquently describes in this volume more than two decades spent visiting the refuge, and it's people, and makes a passionate case for its preservation:

"In the northeastern corner of Alaska is a strange, polygonal-patterned plain that the local Gwich'in people call Vadzaii Googii Vi Dehk'it Gwanlii, or the Sacred Place Where Life Begins. At this cold ocean edge a caribou herd calves, polar bears den and millions of migratory birds roost. Snowy mountains come booming up out of the sea, surrounded by sandy spits and lagoons. The unscarred landscape turns and locks in your eyes. It looks limitless. It also happens to be one of the last places where we can cup our hands to drink pure water, gaze across a skyline uninterrupted by commerce and meet primeval nature.

"I've been going to the refuge for 20 years, and I know that the cold and bugs can blind you to the real value of the place, particularly if you're accompanying a congressional delegation keen to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Since Congress is now operating on a fast track that overlooks and seeks to subdue one of our greatest national treasures, the public needs to know what's really at stake.

"Nothing compares to the refuge. Even while kayaking 1,700 miles across the Canadian Arctic, I could not find a landscape so spectacular. In the Lower 48, I have gazed into the Grand Canyon's depths, walked past Yellowstone's wonders, been bucked down several wild rivers and stumbled up the highest peaks of most states. But these are parks, surrounded by highways and encroaching civilization. The coastal plain remains our most remote, asphalt-free and undeveloped refuge.

"In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt created the first national wildlife refuge, at Pelican Island, Fla. Congress quickly built on this, creating a chain of 559 more wildlife refuges from Florida to Alaska. The refuges were designed to protect migratory species and endangered wildlife, as well as offer citizens natural areas uncompromised by human civilization. ANWR is our wildest refuge, but it's not the only one with potentially exploitable natural resources. If we destroy its integrity, by placing oil derricks in its fragile heart -- the coastal plain -- we will create a precedent for opening up all wildlife refuges."


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