Imagine a nearly untouched swath of wild landscape as big as South Carolina. It sounds almost too good to be true. The good news? It’s not. This pristine place exists—as long as outdoor adventurers and conservationists speak up fast and advocate for its permanent protection.
At over 19 million acres in size, Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is one of the last great wild landscapes in the U.S.—and one of the most controversial. That’s because it sits over about 10 billion barrels of oil. But on the surface, the refuge encompasses rugged mountains and undeveloped coastal plain. Home to mighty peaks and crystalline braided rivers, the roadless expanse is a wilderness explorer’s dream. But, more importantly, it’s the ancestral home of the Gwich’in people, who have been fighting alongside conservationists and advocates to protect the area for decades.
“It’s a powerful, powerful landscape,” says Andy Moderow, the Alaska Director for conservation group Alaska Wilderness League. But with many areas never designated as protected wilderness, he warns, it’s not in the clear quite yet.
Today, the land’s protection is still touch and go. Though President Biden suspended oil and gas drilling leases issued under the prior administration, ANWR’s advocates see the move as a temporary stop-gap measure, and Congressional legislative action as the only way to ensure protection. Meanwhile, climate change continues to push stressed wildlife to their limits, making it more critical than ever to focus the attention of outdoor users—and inspire them to speak up. Here are five reasons why you should call on your representative to protect ANWR.
1. The Arctic Refuge is one of the wildest places on Earth.
Moderow has seen more of the Alaskan Interior than most people. Born and raised in Alaska in a dogsledding family, he learned to mush at a young age and raced the Iditarod in 2001, cutting across nearly 1,000 miles of frozen tundra and coastline from Anchorage to Nome. But none of that touches the Arctic Refuge.
“I remember my first trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” Moderow says. “It was in 2008. We flew up to a river called the Jago with packrafts. It was over the summer solstice, and the sun never set.”
On that trip, he saw a richness of wildlife like nowhere he’d ever been: Arctic foxes hunting for rodents; caribou feeding on the tundra, getting ready to begin their annual migration south; a young bear that took one sniff of their campfire and turned and ran for miles. “We may very well have been the first humans they’d ever seen,” Moderow guesses.
2. It’s a chance to (finally) do right by Indigenous peoples.
U.S. history is dark with broken promises, forced relocations, and massacres of Native Americans. Protecting the Arctic Refuge, which the Native Gwich’in people rely on for sustenance, is a chance for conservation groups to follow the lead of the Gwich’in tribes who seek protections for the Refuge, says Moderow.