America's legacy at stake in Arctic refuge debate
RECENTLY the forces advocating for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have become more and more desperate in their campaign to exploit the possibility of oil resources in Area 1002 of the refuge. Despite a U.S. Geological Survey indicating that there is only a 1-in-25 chance that 3 to 4 billion barrels of oil exist within Area 1002, Interior Secretary Gale Norton now claims 10 billion barrels will be found and that it will be gushing at the rate of 1 million barrels a day (in the year 2025), solving America's oil crisis and dependence on oil imports.
In the latest round of desperation, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is employing the tactic of putting refuge oil leasing into the Department of Defense budget and tying this legislation to Hurricane Katrina relief and support for our armed forces.
Why are the pro-drilling lobby, members of Congress and the Bush administration so desperate? It's becoming apparent, as voiced by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, that they want to set a precedent by opening ANWR to allow mineral, oil, gas and timber resource extraction in other pristine wilderness areas, wildlife sanctuaries, preserves and national parks with the goal of diminishing the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Act and international migratory bird treaties. It's a neo-conservative war on the environment and if they succeed in America's greatest national treasure, the Arctic refuge, nothing will be safe from resource extraction and industrialization. That's the plan, and the corporate forces of exploitation and extraction are hell bent to succeed in ushering in the final battle of Armegeddon with its supposed financial rapture and tragic cost to the Earth's environment and sacred places.
Even syndicated columnist George F. Will, who has never been there, has chimed in (see opposite page), calling the refuge anything but a pristine wilderness because there is one small village (Kaktovik, on Barter Island) of 280 Inupiat Eskimos within its 19 million acres and there are no trees in the refuge!
I ventured into the Arctic refuge in 2003. I lived in Inupiat homes and explored 100 miles of river from deep in the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean. I can attest after drinking pure water from the streams and witnessing the great porcupine caribou migration, giant musk oxen, Dall sheep, polar bears, grizzly bears, Arctic foxes, wolves and some of the 187 species of migratory birds visiting the coastal plain that there is no place on Earth like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is America's supreme example of wilderness and what American author Wallace Stegner aptly considered when he said we need wilderness and wild places, even if we never go there, because it's part of the American "geography of hope." This promise should ring true to every American for the destruction of the wilderness will result in the lessening of the legacy we leave for all mankind.
On Dec. 7, the Alaska Inter Tribal Council, serving 229 sovereign Alaska Native tribes, passed the resolution to oppose development of oil and gas in Area 1002 of ANWR and the offshore waters of the Arctic Ocean, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. To them, no amount of money is worth the destruction of their culture, subsistence and indigenous rights to self-determination. This is what it means to be alive and living in wilderness. Call your senators now and insist they protect our national treasures.
Lance Holter is a member of Friends of the Arctic, and is Hawaii conservation chairman and Maui group chairman of the Sierra Club Hawaii. He lives in Paia, Maui.