In response to the letter to the editor, ANWR coastal plain should be opened (Clarion, Jan. 7), and in defense of the opinion that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be opened to exploration, I would like to voice the concern of the environmental community. And while I am not Alaska Native, I am fully aware of the impact drilling will have on the Gwich'in people's way of life. Understanding that America is a country that is dependent on oil and its by-products, I am not condemning the idea of new oil exploration missions. I am defending what is Alaska's and America's one true, pristine wilderness. Many people have misguided ideas about what exploration on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain might entail; supporters of exploration and drilling say that drilling will not affect the coastal plain, it is a barren wasteland. Sen. Frank Murkowski's famous description of the coastal plain resembling a white piece of paper, and huge oil companies' statements on the low impact of directional drilling indicate that there is nothing sacred left in this beautiful state.
I beg to differ. While the coastal plain is flat, it is not the least bit barren. There are thousands of flowers, mosses and tiny trees covering the plains in the summer. The magnificent Brooks Range, dozens of crystal clear rivers and large mammals fill the Arctic Refuge. The massive caribou herds birth and nurse their young on the coastal plain, using its relative flatness, wind and icy shores to their advantage. In the winter, polar bears den, and nurse their young. 195 bird species visit the Arctic Refuge annually. Most come to nest and raise their young. There are also freshwater fish whose home in the lakes and rivers provide spawning grounds and subsistence for those who are able to fish in the Refuge.
I visited Arctic Village in May 2009 for the Gwich'in Celebration of 20 Years of Protecting the Refuge. While there, I spoke with many village elders and residents who have depended for centuries on the Arctic Refuge for their livelihood. The caribou migration that comes through their village, the sheep and fowl that live in close proximity to Arctic Village, the fish in the Chandalar River have all been sources of life for the people. Sarah James, board member and spokesperson of the Gwich'in Steering Committee notes, "We are the caribou people. It is our clothing, our story, our song, our dance and our food that is who we are. If you drill for oil here, you are drilling right into the heart of our existence."
If the Arctic Refuge is opened for exploration, the impact would not just be to those living in the far north villages; it would also impact those who come to the Refuge to hunt, biologists who study plants and animals, rafting expeditions, hikers and campers, and people who come from around the world to enjoy the splendor of nature and all it's beauty. Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not even be a question. It should be understood that it is a life-source, a wilderness, and a haven to millions of people who hold an emotional, and moral love for this place.
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