posted: February 28th, 2011 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: Fifty years ago this past December President Eisenhower created the Arctic National Wildlife Range “for the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values.” It was the first time in American history that an entire ecosystem was granted federal protection.
Nineteen million acres were set aside ranging from Kaktovik in the Beaufort Sea and then south, crossing over the Brooks Range then dropping down onto Arctic Village, Alaska.
But although the land is de facto wilderness, ever since Eisenhower’s designation oil companies have eyed the area as a potential for exploitation. I am proud to say that Janie and I have fought along with the Gwich’in Indians, hoping that we – along with the millions of others who love the refuge – might succeed in protecting this sacred land. To insure the integrity of these lands is maintained, President Obama should elevate the refuge to a National Monument.
We continue to work toward greater protection and our weapons have been photographs and stories, and they have appeared in dozens of different publications. Our intention has been to chronicle misconception – and sometimes to point out downright lies.
At times, we’ve been funded by major organizations and several years ago The Wilderness Society flew us over the refuge. Later, some members of Congress used my images to illustrate the beauties of the refuge. Some of my other work on the refuge has appeared in Time Life, National Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, Highlights for Children, the New York Times, and many, many others.
NOT A WASTELAND!
Unfortunately, some Senators and Congressmen never get off their fat duffs but feel, nevertheless, that they can make sweeping statements. “It’s a wasteland,” said Trent Lott several years ago, a man who has never stepped foot there.
Unlike Mr. Lott, Janie and I have intimate acquaintance with the refuge. We’ve hiked the entire length of the refuge, traveled the major rivers in our johnboat, and we’ve served as summer school teachers in five different Gwich’in Indian villages. We know the refuge for what it is; and that is one of the world’s last self-regulating ecosystems. As well, we know it as a place whose beauty can not be matched, something I hope images posted here will dramatize.
One of the major misconceptions concerns caribou, and people such as Sarah Palin have a way of distorting the facts. Palin and Lott and others of their persuasion say the Central Caribou herd has not been affected, implying that oil development will be good for the Porcupine Caribou herd, the herd dependent on the Arctic Refuge. But there are immense differences as Gwich’in spokeswoman Sarah James of Arctic Village has been pointing out for years.
CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE: Our camp, deep in Arctic Refuge; fox returning with ground squirrel to feed young; caribou migrate by our camp near Caribou Pass, not far from Beaufort Sea; camped on Porcupine River, a tributary of Yukon and reached only following week of boat travel.
James says the Porcupine Caribou herd needs the Arctic Refuge for calving, a life cycle forged more than 100,000 years ago. According to the Gwich’in, the coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the core and sacred birthplace of the herd, the vadzaih googii vi dehk’it gwanlii – or “sacred place where life begins” – and this wild nursery must remain intact. To deflect attention from the true biological purpose of this place oil companies have designated the nursery as “The 1002 Area.” What bull crap!
TELL THE WHOLE STORY
As well, oil companies say the Central Caribou herd, which calves near Prudhoe Bay, has expanded its numbers despite drilling. That, James admits, is true. But she insists such expansion is “only part of the story.”
Gwich’in communities and effects of refuge spill over into McKenzie River Delta; Rock John with huge pike caught near Arctic Village on Chandalar River; roasting caribou heads over fire.
James says the untold story concerns geography. In the area where the Porcupine herd calves, the Brooks Range is separated from the Arctic Ocean by about 15 miles. Not so just to the west, where the Central Caribou herd calves. There, as you proceed from east to west, the Brooks Range sweeps to the south, so much so that the mountains are separated from the Arctic Ocean by almost 100 miles. Caribou in the Central herd have room to roam, but not those in the Porcupine herd.
REFUGE SHOULD BE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Because the refuge is a land of such beauty one might think this would be a year to celebrate, and thankfully, there have been accomplishments. But oil companies and Alaska developers such as Sarah Palin are “reloading,” and I hope that Ms. Palin finds that her language – and her inflammatory graphics – do nothing more than ricochet back.
Encourage President Obama to safeguard the Arctic Refuge by making its coastal plain a national monument.