I had never heard of such a creature as a porcupine caribou until I learned about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Porcupine caribou. They are caribou, and despite their moniker, they do not have quills jutting out of their bodies in every direction (I was disappointed by this after googling a picture of them). Their name stems from a river with the same name that is found in the region they roam in: a chunk of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as well as across the border in Canada’s Yukon territory (“Arctic”).
To someone like me who grew up in a small city in Georgia, the idea of such a vast piece of undisturbed land such as ANWR feels like an other-worldly, ephemeral dream. Since the beginning of taking U.S. Environmental Policy, I have felt caught up in the desire to see the ANWR. But I might be working against the clock in order to do so. The current administration does not bode well for my dream.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been a controversial environmental and energy debate for decades. President Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960. Then in 1980, the range was expanded and renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The US Fish and Wildlife Service manages it. A lot of the debate has centered around what is known as the 1002 Area. Congress left the fate of this area to future generations (Bourne, Jr.). The large National Resource Management Act passed by Congress earlier this year only mentioned ANWR once, to exclude it from land permitted to be given to Alaskan Native Veterans (Public Law 116-9).
ANWR has made an appearance at some point in every recent presidential administration. President Clinton vetoed a budget bill that had a measure to open drilling in it. During President George W. Bush’s administration, the Senate voted to open about 2,000 acres to drilling in ANWR (Kuhnhenn). President Obama called for designating more acreage of AWNR as wilderness than there was at the time (Sanders).
This is an ongoing debate. The Trump administration has continued it through making the fate of AWNR a part of tax legislation in 2017. President Trump attained approval for drilling in ANWR through this. This is where the ANWR stands currently: poised to experience drilling yet still untouched. Additionally, even during this year’s partial government shutdown, this was not a forgotten issue (“Trump Administration”). The Department of Interior continued its work towards approving oil lease sales during the shutdown. During January, the DOI planned public meetings, stating that it had funds from previous years that Congress had authorized to allow the Department to continue operating (Harball).
Why should we care what happens to ANWR? Why even think about it if we spend most of our time in the lower 48 states? I might be selfish in my motivations to get involved in this issue, but to be honest, I want to see the ANWR one day. I want to see with my own eyes the beautiful scenes I have seen online that hail from a place in the same country I grew up in that is so vastly different from my personal experience. If oil drilling becomes the purpose for this region, I will lose that opportunity.
It might be selfish. But if it shines more light on the wonder of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and potentially protects this region from destruction, it’s worth embracing my inherently self-interested humanity.
“Arctic: Porcupine Caribou Herd.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. https://www.fws.gov/refuge/arctic/caribou.html#pch
Bourne Jr., Joel K. “Arctic Refuge Has Lots of Wildlife—Oil, Maybe Not So Much.” National Geographic. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/12/arctic-wildlife-refuge-tax-bill-oil-drilling-environment/
Harball, Elizabeth. “Despite shutdown, Trump administration continues work to begin oil drilling in ANWR.” Alaska Public Radio. https://www.alaskapublic.org/2019/01/04/despite-shutdown-trump-administration-continues-work-to-begin-oil-drilling-in-anwr/
Kuhnhenn, James. “Bush wins big round on ANWR oil drilling.” Seattle Times. https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/bush-wins-big-round-on-anwr-oil-drilling/
Public Law 116-9. U.S. Congress, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/47/text
Sanders, Sam. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/01/25/379795695/obama-proposes-new-protections-for-arctic-national-wildlife-refuge
Shogren, Elizabeth. “For 30 Years, a Political Battle Over Oil and ANWR.” National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5007819
“Trump Administration Working on Arctic Oil Leases Despite Government Shutdown.” Hart Energy. https://www.hartenergy.com/news/trump-administration-working-arctic-oil-leases-despite-government-shutdown-119046