Taking it to the House for the Arctic Refuge

Alaska Wilderness League, Protect our Winters (POW) and POW Athletes, and the Packrafters Association take to DC’s Potomac River to advocate for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Forest Woodward / Protect Our Winters

A lifelong Alaskan, Iditarod finisher, and Cornell graduate, Andy Moderow is also Alaska Wilderness League’s Alaska Director.  The Conservation Alliance has been a proud support of AWL’s work to protect and defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for more than a decade. Below, Andy shares a follow up entry to a post he published in January, explaining how AWL plans to prevent oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

It’s been a few months since we updated you on efforts to protect Alaska’ Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Since then a lot has happened, and a lot hasn’t happened… but in both instances, that’s good news. Read on for details.
As a Refresher…
The 2017 Tax Act turned the tables on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 1.5 million acres of some of the most unique and sensitive lands in Alaska’s Arctic, which had been legislatively protected from oil and gas extraction since 1980, was now under threat. The Tax Act mandated two lease sales in the Coastal Plain. And further expedited things by requiring the first one happen by 2021. We are working hard to restore protections for the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain before any of these harmful activity move forward.
Taking It To The House!
Since our last update, we’ve seen a bill introduced in Congress to restore protections for the Arctic Refuge! HR 1146 – the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act – was introduced in February of 2019 by Congressman Huffman (CA-2) and today it has the support of 179 cosponsors from 34 states! Best news? It is moving quickly through the legislative process. After a successful legislative hearing in March and a “markup” of the bill in May, the next step for the bill is a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives. We hope to see this full House vote as early as this summer. Stay tuned as this vote approaches. We’ll need help encouraging House members to vote to pass this bill.
In mid-May, the Alaska Wilderness League joined Protect our Winters and the American Packrafting Association in Washington DC to build additional support around this bill. This included bringing two special packrafts – boards designed for whitewater that can fit into a backpack – that have traversed the Arctic Refuge multiple times, to our nation’s capital. The boats had signatures and words of support from Alaskans and Americans alike. As pictured above, fly-in participants held a rally in Packrafts on the Potomac, and then took these boats to the Capitol where they made their case for Arctic Refuge protections.

These packrafts traversed the Arctic Refuge multiple times and were signed by hundreds of Alaskans and Americans voicing support for protecting the Refuge. The AWL/POW/Packrafters Association team took the rafts to the Capitol to show wide support for the Refuge’s protection. Photo: Forest Woodward / Protect Our Winters

Next, we expect a companion Arctic Refuge protection bill to be introduced in the Senate within the next few weeks. We’ll need all the help we can get encouraging Senators to co-sponsor this parallel Senate bill.
Pushing Back on Trump’s Leasing & Seismic Ambitions
In mid-March of 2019 a comment period on Trump’s draft Arctic Refuge leasing plan concluded. During the review process, technical experts and the American public were given the opportunity to weigh in on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that evaluates the impacts of Arctic Refuge oil development. The vast majority of comments – one million people – weighed in against Arctic Refuge drilling. Additionally, conservation community comments from those seeking to protect this landscape totaled 428 pages, longer than the DEIS itself. We will continue to keep a watchful eye on this process to make sure Trump follows the law, and we’ll build a robust record of opposition for future administrations to review.
Now, onto Seismic Exploration… something that didn’t happen these last few months. Last summer the Washington Post exposed an industry push to allow for this damaging practice – which involves tracked vehicles traversing the entirety of the Coastal Plain. These vehicles can weigh up to 90,000 pounds and are followed by convoys of trailers being towed behind bulldozers. These huge machines leave near permanent scars on the landscape’s fragile tundra and harm, and sometimes kill, Polar Bears. The purpose of this type of exploration is to produce a map of where oil may exist, so oil companies can decide where to drill. Fortunately, and with some help from the government shutdown, the government failed to permit those activities before the snow melted and the window for seismic exploration ended for the winter. We expect the Administration to try again next winter so we will continue to push back against these harmful practices.

As the sea ice retreats polar bears follow the ice’s edge. As travel on the ice is much easier bears jump from ice-sheet to ice-sheet where still possible. Once the ice is completely gone bears often need to swim enormous distances to land. Beaufort Sea, Alaska. Photo: Florian Schulz

Get Involved
Two thirds of the American public wants the Arctic Refuge to be free from oil and gas development. And joining this team of people working together to ensure drill rigs never change the landscape is easy! Below are a few simple actions you can take:

  1. Join dozens of other Conservation Alliance members and add your brand’s name to The Conservation Alliance letter, urging our elected officials to restore protections for the Arctic Refuge.
  2. Contact your Representative and ask them to restore protections for the Arctic Refuge by voting to pass HR 1146.
  3. Share awesome content that our friends at POW have put together.
  4. Activate your customers, athletes, and/or networks to join you!
  5. Connect with us! This June, AWL will be in Denver for Outdoor Retailer. We’d love to talk before, during, or after the show if you’re interested in learning more.

Together I’m confident we’ll restore protections for this iconic slice of Alaska’s Arctic, before the drill rigs forever change the landscape.
-Andy Moderow, Alaska Director, Alaska Wilderness League
andy@alaskawild.org or 907-360-3622

Conservation Alliance member companies in DC in March 2019. Restoring protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was among our top asks of decision makers.