06:29 PM

Obama Administration Calls For Protecting Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


Contact: Haley Mckey 571-480-2113

Obama Administration Calls For Protecting Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Wilderness designation would prevent oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge’s iconic coastal plain

Washington­­­­ (January 25, 2015) –– The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has recommended that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain be designated as a wilderness area as part of its final Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the refuge, released today. A wilderness designation would prohibit gas and oil drilling in the area, which provides important habitat and breeding areas for wildlife.

The following is a statement from Defenders of Wildlife President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark:

“The importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain cannot be understated. It is the primary calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd which migrates hundreds of miles from Canada to the refuge each year. It is also one of the most important polar bear denning areas along the Arctic Ocean and where millions of migratory birds feed and nest each year. We applaud the Obama administration for recognizing the coastal plain’s value for what it is—a priceless natural treasure— and affirming that it should be forever protected from destructive oil drilling. Now Congress should do the same.  

“We simply can’t afford to risk the incredible benefits the coastal plain provides to America’s native wildlife just for speculative oil drilling that will do next to nothing to reduce America’s reliance on foreign oil. Moreover, an oil spill on this pristine wildlife refuge would truly be one of the greatest environmental tragedies of our time. Congress should affirm the value of this natural treasure by rejecting calls to permit industrial activities that would destroy it and instead approve permanent protection provided by wilderness designation. ”


Considered one of America’s last bastions of pristine wildlife habitat, the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to over 200 arctic species. It serves as the most important onshore denning habitat for female polar bears in the U.S. and is a calving ground for the Porcupine caribou herd. Millions of migratory birds travel to the coastal plain each year to nest and raise their young.

The coastal plain is also critically important in the face of climate change. As sea ice melts and the planet heats up, polar bears, caribou, lynx, arctic foxes and other iconic species are facing increased challenges to survive in changing habitat. Protecting the coastal plain is important to ensuring their survival in a warming world.

However, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain has been in the crosshairs of oil and gas companies for decades, even though drilling in the refuge would barely have any effect on gas prices and any oil extracted wouldn’t reach the market for a decade. More recently, efforts to secure approval for drilling in the Arctic refuge are expected to intensify in the new Congress with Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski taking over as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over oil and gas leasing issues. Protecting the coastal plain with a wilderness designation would finally end this threat and ensure that Alaska’s vulnerable wildlife can thrive on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for generations to come.