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Protect the Arctic

Urge President Obama and Members of Congress to Protect the Arctic.

Oil companies are threatening to destroy the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by expanding drilling in the region. The Refuge is home to the Gwich’in community, who consider the Coastal Plain to be a sacred place. Additionally, nearly 200 diverse species including polar bears, wolves and Porcupine caribou live in the region and many rely on the Coastal Plain as their breeding ground. Take action to ensure one of America’s few remaining pristine wilderness areas is protected. 

 Background on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

Designated by President Eisenhower in 1960, and expanded by President Carter in 1980, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (the Refuge) stands as one of America’s last true wilderness areas. The Refuge, located on Alaska’s northeast coast, is roughly 19 million square acres (approximately the size of South Carolina) and contains numerous fragile arctic ecosystems including the habitats of caribou, polar bears, wolves, arctic foxes and snow birds.  Perhaps the most notable ecosystem is found in the coastal plain, an area of about 1.5 million acres (about 8 percent of the refuge) along the Arctic Ocean.

The Refuge coastal plain has enormous ecological, cultural and spiritual significance. It is the biological heart of the refuge, and is the only place in the United States where the full range of sub-arctic and arctic ecosystems are protected.  The coastal plain is home to the porcupine caribou, which relies on the area as a calving ground. The indigenous Gwich’in tribe lives on the coastal plain and has used the porcupine caribou for food, clothing and crafts for thousands of years.

Following his visit to Alaska President Obama recommended permanent Wilderness protection of the Coastal Plain under the Wilderness Act of 1964. This designation of the area as a formal wilderness would protect not only a unique ecosystem, but also the spiritual space of a community.

On December 20, 2016, President Obama signed an executive order permanately banning offshore drilling in large swaths of the Arctic and the Atlantic seaboard, protection 115 million acres of water. While this ban does not ban drilling in the Refuge, it is an important step in protecting an especially unique and vulnerable ecosystem. 

Jewish Values and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

In the Book of Genesis we learn that when God placed the first human beings in the Garden of Eden, God gave humanity a dual role in relationship to the surrounding environment, (l'av'dah ul'shamrah), "to till it and tend it" (Genesis 2:15). This demands a balanced approach to development, a careful consideration of the competing needs both to employ the resources with which God has provided us and to protect those resources for generations to come. That is why, for more than a decade, the Union for Reform Judaism has supported wilderness designation for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to ensure that this delicate region and its people are protected by federal law.

Judaism teaches that we have an obligation to future generations and other living creatures to protect the Earth’s ecosystem. We are taught in Midrash Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13 “Do not destroy my world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to make it right again.” If we do not ensure the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and all of its inhabitants are protected, there will be irreversible damages to the landscape, the wildlife and the Gwich'in communities.

More information:

For more on this issue, visit the RAC’s Environmental issue page or Climate Change issue page, or check out the RACBlog. You can also contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Lizzie Stein at (202) 387-2800.