The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The effects of the Trump Tax Cut bill will not be fully apparent for a few months, but this posting is not about addressing all the faults of that law.  I do want to discuss the portion that will allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. While nations associated with the Paris Accord are working to eliminate the use of fossil fuels,such as oil, our current administration continues to work in the opposite direction.  The early analysis of the bill it will add a trillion dollars to the national deficit. This addition to the debt will have to be paid for future generations of our youth. The worst part is that they will have to contend with global warming, pollution, and the loss of witnessing this habitat thrive and learn about it’s fragile ecosystem. This proposal was instrumental in obtaining Senator Lisa Murkowski’s vote.

ANWR

The ANWR

The story behind the ANWR began in 1953, with an article published in a journal of the Sierra Club. The article entitled “Northeast Alaska: The Last Great Wilderness” was written by National Park Service Planner George Collins and a biologist Lowell Summer. Collins and Summer would recruit the president of the Wilderness Society,  Olaus Murrie, and his wife, to protect the area.

In 1956 Olaus and Maudy Murrie led an expedition to the Brooks Range in Northeast Alaska. The journey took an entire summer to study land and wildlife ecosystems of the upper Sheenjak Valley. In 1963 Olaus said, “On our trips to the Arctic Wildlife Range we saw clearly that it was a place for mass recreation… It takes a lot of territory to keep this alive, a living wilderness, for scientific observation and aesthetic inspiration. The Far North is a fragile place.”

By order of the Secretary of Interior, Fred Andrew Seaton, the land became federally protected in 1960, while he served under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. On December 2, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

The ANWR is made up of the Mollie Beattie Wilderness (8 million acres), area 1002 which was added in 1980 (1.5 million acres) and the remaining (10.1 million acres) which is considered suitable for designation as a wilderness area. However, that designation has never happened. Only Congress could open this area for oil drilling.

A  visitor would be hard-pressed to find a road leading into the refuge.The refuge doesn’t have any roads leading into it. The Inupiat village of Kaktovik has 258 occupants, living on the northern edge. On the southern tip is Gwich’in has a population of 152. There is, however, a path between the two village that traverses all of the ecosystems of the ANWR, from boreal forests to the Arctic Ocean.

The Wildlife of the ANWR

The northern coast is made up of barrier islands, coastal lagoons, salt marshes, and river deltas, which provide a variety of habitat for migratory birds. Some of these migratory birds are sea ducks, geese, swans, and shorebirds. Also found in the nearshore waters are Dolly Varden, considered part of the trout family, and Arctic Cisco,  which is considered a type of whitefish. Also along these same coastal lands and sea ice are used by caribou in search of relief from biting flies during the summer. Also in this area, Polar bears use it for hunting of seals and digging dens for birthing.

In the area of the ANWR, the coastal plain stretches to the south to the foothills of Brooks Range, which consists of small hills, lakes, and north-flowing rivers. The landscape is covered of tundra vegetation, shrubs, sedges, a triangular flowering plant, and mosses.  Herds of caribou make an appearance to the coastal region to give birth and raise their young. The area is also home to other species at various times of years, including migratory birds and insect during the short Arctic summer, plus tens of thousands of snow geese stop in September, to feed, before migrating south. Musk oxen live there all year round.

Muskox

The mountains of eastern Brooks range rise to over 9000 feet.  It serves several purposes as that it is the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains and marks the continental divide.  The area host north-flowing rivers that empty into the Arctic Circle and south-flowing tributaries that join the Yukon River. The mountain range supports a variety of vegetation includes tundra vegetation, shrubs and rare groves of popular on the north side and spruce on the south. In the summer months peregrine, gyrfalcons, and eagles build nests on the cliffs. The birds that are found on the rivers are Harlequin ducks and red-breasted mergansers. Grizzly bears and Arctic ground squirrels are known to hibernate in the area.

Area of Exploration

 

 

The visitor to the southern part of the Arctic Refuge would find themselves within the Interior Alaska-Yukon. This area is dominated by patches of black and white spruces until the forest gets denser in the foothills and flat lands north of the Yukon. Frequent forest fires created a mix described as a hodgepodge of spruce, birch, and aspen. The year-long residents of this boreal forest are Alaskan moose, muskoxen, Canadian lynxes, martins, wolverines, black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves.  Birds from Mexico and Central America often migrate here to breed during the spring and summer.

Prudhoe Bay and the Kaparuk area are centers for waterfowl and other birds to reproduce. Healthy herds of caribou come through the area to calve and refuge nagging pests.

Drilling

For forty years two parties have debated whether drilling should be allowed in the ANWR. The drilling target has always been and still is area 1002 and the debate has always been and will be whether oil exploration and the amount of recoverable oil will be harmful to the environment.

I hope that future generations get to experience the natural beauty of the fauna and flora of the few remaining wilderness areas, such as ANWR. Although the area 1002 has been opened to drilling, due to legislation passed in 2017, the chance of the area remaining pristine is hard to envision. I point the oil spills that have occurred along the Keystone pipeline, in November 2017. I believe that this legislation needs to be repealed for the sake of the environment and control of our future from big oil and President Trump. Or we can get use to seeing this in the last pristine frontiers of our nation.

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