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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
© William Bonilla
At more than 19 million acres, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It is also one of the last intact landscapes in America, and home to 37 species of land mammals, eight marine mammals, 42 fish species and more than 200 migratory bird species. Established in 1960 to protect its extraordinary wildlife, wilderness and recreational qualities, the Arctic Refuge is a place where natural processes remain mostly uninfluenced by humans.
But for all its unique beauty and importance for wildlife, the Arctic Refuge is under assault. The oil industry and its political allies continue to launch attacks to open this national treasure to destructive oil drilling, while climate change threatens to disrupt its habitats faster than wildlife can adapt. Defenders of Wildlife is committed to protecting the Arctic Refuge and the wildlife that calls this remarkable place home.
Defending the Arctic Refuge
The Arctic Refuge contains one of the most fragile and ecologically sensitive ecosystems in the world. Its environment is extremely vulnerable to long-lasting disturbance because the harsh climate and short growing seasons provide little time for species to recover.
Proposed oil development would occur on the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain sandwiched between the Arctic Ocean and the Brooks mountain range, and would have serious impacts on species such as polar bear, caribou, musk oxen and hundreds of species of migratory birds. This area is considered the “biological heart” of the refuge, and habitat loss that occurs here will impact the entire Arctic Refuge and beyond.
Oil related activities such as seismic testing, aircraft and vehicle noise, or even the mere presence of humans nearby can drive mother polar bears away from their den and cubs. Drilling the Arctic Refuge could alter the annual path of the Porcupine caribou herd, one of the longest land mammal migrations in the world. The critical breeding grounds for migratory birds would be severely impacted, and could cause population-scale impacts for many species.
New Conservation Plan for the Arctic Refuge
In January 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the final comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This long-term plan will guide all aspects of the refuge’s management. The final plan recommends that the refuge's coastal plain be federally designated as wilderness based on its extraordinary wilderness values and pristine conditions. This landmark decision gives the highest level of protection for this biological jewel of the Arctic. Defenders of Wildlife applauds the administration's recommendation and calls upon Congress to formalize these wilderness designations.
Climate Change and the Arctic Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is at ground zero for climate change impacts. What does that mean for the array of specialized mammals who call the refuge home?
Defenders conducted an analysis to determine which mammals in the Arctic Refuge are the most vulnerable to climate change, and what we can do to protect them.