Arctic Wildlife Refuge: A Quick Overview

What is ANWR exactly?

In accordance with a landmark legislative agreement reached in 1980, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was expanded to include a total of 19.6 million acres in exchange for the opening of the Prudhoe Bay area to oil and gas exploration. At approximately the same time, a congressionally mandated study examined the coastal plain area of the refuge and determined that, while oil and gas existed along the coast, the benefits of extraction were far outweighed by the risk of permanent and irreversible ecological destruction to the area, and by extension, to the rest of the planet.

Why Is the Refuge Important?

Only about 30,000 polar bears remain on earth today, and the species may likely disappear within our lifetimes. Roughly 50 of these bears enter the refuge each year in September and begin the denning process in the late fall. As climate change reduces the sea ice necessary for polar bear reproduction, the Arctic Wildlife Refuge remains the only conservation area where the bears regularly den, and has become a critical habitat for the members of this diminishing population.

More than 200 species of birds also rely on the refuge, as well as migrating herds of caribou, wolves, muskoxen, and countless other fragile species, some of which are listed here: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/arctic/wildlife_habitat.html.

And yet the oil and gas extraction industries and Alaska’s congressional delegation have long been engaged in an ongoing push to open the refuge to drilling, a push which has gained new strength under the current administration.

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What’s Happening Now?

The president’s 2018 Budget recommended opening the Arctic Refuge to drilling operations, claiming this would generate $1.8 billion in revenue over 10 years without citing any information on how this number was attained, and republican members of congress are expected to add a pro-drilling provision to their eventual tax overhaul legislation, citing the unexplained $1.8 billion as a mitigation for reduced tax revenues.

As of last week, this special legislation will require only a 51-vote majority in the Senate before it is sent to the President’s desk.

What Can We Do About This?

A sense of helplessness and resignation tends to take hold in situations like this one, and passively hoping for the best may feel like the easiest response. But passive resignation isn’t the only option (it never is). In the spirit of prioritizing action over anger, we encourage our readers to take the following steps:

Call all three of your members of congress using the congressional switchboard number (202- 224-3121) and ask them to protect the refuge from drilling. When you encounter a full voice mailbox, visit the homepage of your representative, find the email contact form, and send them a written message.

Keep paying attention. No final tax overhaul legislation has yet been established; so far, only the initial budget legislation has been passed. The Arctic Refuge is not yet in imminent danger, but only a few steps remain before this point has been reached.

Become a leader and Refuge Advocate. Encourage others to take the steps described above by using your personal influence and social media accounts. Start by setting an example with your own behavior. Recognize that fighting climate change and reducing oil and gas consumption contribute to this effort. 

Learn more. Visit the websites of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, The US Fish and Wildlife Service, and ANWR.org. When you visit these sites, your traffic demonstrates an interest in the issues surrounding the refuge and its protection. Gather information and leave a trail. 

Contact Just Atonement for more tips on individual leadership and climate change advocacy. No matter the scope of responsibility you’d like take on, we’re here to help.