Obama wants wilderness designation for Arctic refuge’s coastal plain

The Wisconsin Gazette

President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to designate the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as a wilderness.

“This is the best news for the refuge since President Eisenhower established it in 1960 as the Arctic National Wildlife Range,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s a national treasure worthy of the highest protection available for our public lands. NRDC is committed to making that protection a reality. And we will continue working to preserve, protect and defend other such treasures in the Far North — and everywhere else.”

The White House on Jan. 25 issued this statement from John Podesta, counselor to the president, and Mike Boots, who leads the White House Council on Environmental Quality: “This far northern region is known as ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins’ to Alaska Native communities. The refuge sustains the most diverse array of wildlife in the entire Arctic — home not only to the Porcupine caribou, but to polar bears, gray wolves, and muskoxen. Bird species from the Coastal Plain migrate to all 50 states of the country — meaning that no matter where you live, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is part of your landscape. 

“But the majority of the Refuge is not protected as wilderness, including the coastal plain. For more than three decades, some voices have clamored to drill for oil in the coastal plain — a move that could irreparably damage this ecological treasure and harm the Alaska Native communities who still depend on the caribou for subsistence.

“Today, the Department of the Interior released a revised Comprehensive Conservation Plan to better sustain and manage the entire Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — and President Obama took it a step further and announced his plans to ask Congress to designate the Coastal Plain and other core areas of the refuge as wilderness.…

“The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, one of the few remaining places in the country as pristine today as it was when the oldest Alaska Native communities first set eyes on it, is too precious to put at risk. By designating the area as wilderness, Congress could preserve the Coastal Plain in perpetuity — ensuring that this wild, free, beautiful, and bountiful place remains in trust for Alaska Natives and for all Americans.”

Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen said today, “We call on Congress to follow the president’s lead. Known as ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins’ to Alaska Native communities and teeming with rare wildlife, this is a place of incalculable beauty and value, to be protected like Yellowstone and Yosemite, not turned into another polluted oil patch.”