Conservationists Calling for Stronger Protections for ANWR

Photo and Story by Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge turns 50 on Monday, and conservationists are using the anniversary to call for stronger protections.  They want President Obama to declare “monument status” for the Refuge – a move that would beef up its protections without having to get congressional approval.  It wouldn’t carry the same weight as “wilderness status,” but would block most forms of development.

The President of the Wilderness Society, Bill Meadows, says getting the President to designate it a monument area has a better chance than being protected by Congress.

With the House shifting to Republican control in the New Year, there’s zero likelihood of seeing Congress pass stronger protections in the next two years, a reality Meadows admits.

Thursday morning, outside the U.S. Capitol Building, Refuge advocates gathered to mark the approaching anniversary, including Sarah James with the Gwich’in Steering Committee, who traveled from Arctic Village.  James has been working to protect the Refuge for decades and has appeared at dozens of similar events, but says she new motivation after the April BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last month 25 Senators sent a letter to President Obama calling for stepped-up protection.  More than 50 House members signed on to a similar letter this fall, including Washington State Congressman Jay Inslee.  He says the most viable way to boost protection is through the White House.

The Alaska Congressional delegation and the Governor continue their fight against Refuge protection efforts, and are pushing to see development in ANWR.  Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich blasted the letters sent by members of Congress last month that called for stepped-up protection.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is currently reviewing the long term management plan of the Refuge.  It’s working on a first draft of a new Comprehensive Conservation Plan, which will be out in the spring.

Environmentalists have also seen that as a possible way to get a recommendation for further protections. What was originally called the Arctic National Wildlife Range was established by the Eisenhower administration in 1960.

Photo: Luci Beach and Sarah James with the Gwich’in Steering Committee in Alaska were outside the U.S. Capitol today pushing for stronger protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Also pictured are environmentalists in costume and Rep. Jay Inslee of Washington State.

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