The battle over Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been a harrowing one — in August 2020, the Trump administration approved a full gas and oil drilling plan that would make 1.5 million acres of the preserved natural lands available to drilling, in order to boost the economy and bring jobs to local people. That wouldn't upstage the fact, however, that doing so would harm the native Gwich’in people and hundreds of species of animals that call the refuge home.
Tremendous pushback from local residents, climate activists, and major organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), however, led us to believe the Trump administration wouldn't be moving forward with the plan. So, did we save the Arctic refuge? Keep reading for more about the ongoing battle to save the gorgeous natural lands up north.
Did we save the Arctic refuge?
At the end of 2020, oil and gas companies nationwide submitted their bids to secure leasing rights over the Arctic refuge's coastal plain for oil and gas drilling, according to EcoWatch. And although it's unclear which energy companies — if any — ultimately sent in a bid, the Trump administration was officially greenlit to start selling the leasing rights as of Wednesday, Jan. 6, despite ongoing legal battles.
U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason decided that despite the ongoing controversy, which still has not been resolved in court, the sales can still move forward. Conservation organizations are still aggressively fighting against these actions in court, however, and many hope that once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, he will reinstate protection over the refuge, which he promised as part of his climate initiative.
However, conservationists have no plan to back down.
“Today’s ruling is disappointing but does nothing to change the strength of our lawsuit or our resolve,” Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said in an email, as per Bloomberg. “We will fight to protect the lands that nourish the Porcupine caribou herd and our people, no matter how long it takes or where it takes us.”
Why is it so important to protect the Arctic refuge?
As previously mentioned, the Arctic refuge is home to hundreds of mammal, marine life, bird, and plant species. It's also considered to be the sacred homeland to the native indigenous Gwich’in people, who refer to the coastal plain as "the Sacred Place Where Life Begins." Together, they have been fighting these efforts since 1988, when they formed the Gwich’in Steering Committee in solidarity against drilling in the area.
“We come from some of the strongest people that ever walked this earth. They survived some of the coldest, harshest winters so that we can be here,” Demientieff said in an AM radio segment last week, as per The Guardian. “I feel like this is my responsibility as a Gwich’in, to protect the caribou.”
The battle to save and further preserve the Arctic refuge is nowhere near over, but hopefully, activists continue fighting for the cause, and Biden sticks to his word in regards to protecting the land so many people and wildlife call home.