Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Our Wake up Call for Wilderness Protection

February 24, 2016Rachel Landman

"What’s happening in Alaska isn’t just a preview of what will happen to the rest of us if we don’t take action. It’s our wake-up call. The alarm bells are ringing. And as long as I’m president, America will lead the world to meet this threat — before it’s too late.” – President Barack Obama

As President Obama explains, over the past 40 years Alaska has warmed twice as quickly as the rest of the United States, and is thus facing the grave impacts of climate change every day.

In January 2015, President Obama recommended permanent Wilderness protection of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge under the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Coastal Plain has enormous ecological, cultural and spiritual significance.  As one of America’s greatest and last remaining pristine wildernesses, the Refuge is home to nearly 200 diverse wildlife species including, polar bears, wolves and Porcupine caribou. The Coastal Plain is considered the heart of the area because it is used as the breeding ground for many of the species, including the Porcupine caribou.

In addition to the diverse wildlife in the region, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is also home to the Gwich'in community. The Porcupine caribou is central to the Gwich'in culture, who rely on these animals for their daily subsistence. Oil companies are threatening to destroy the Coastal Plain by expanding drilling in the region, yet such resource development would significantly jeopardize the caribou’s birthing success, simultaneously endangering the Gwich’in population.

We must live by our Jewish values and ensure that this land is not destroyed. God implores us, “Do not destroy my world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to make it right again,” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13). If we do not ensure the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and all of its inhabitants are protected, there will be irreversible damages to the landscape, the wildlife and the Gwich'in people.

Most of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is managed under a formal Wilderness designation under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and the Wilderness Act of 1964. Wilderness is the highest level of protection the government can designate for a piece of land, protecting it from development and resource exploration. Unfortunately, the 1.5 million acre Coastal Plain is not protected and could be opened to oil drilling.  

 The Reform Jewish Movement is joining faith communities across the country to ask President Obama and Congress to ensure the preservation of this pristine wilderness by permanently protecting the Refuge. Take action to safeguard the Refuge for future generations by signing this faith petition

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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