Urge your senators and representative to support legislation that would designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
About Wilderness Protection and President Obama's Offshore Drilling Proposal
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 eight 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 Gwitch’in tribe lives on the coastal plain and has used the porcupine caribou for food, clothing and crafts for thousands of years.
In 2015, President Obama released the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with its formal Wilderness recommendation for the Coastal Plain. The recommendation was approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Secretary of the Interior and President Obama, but only Congress can enact the recommended designation.
Legislation to designate the Coastal Plain as a formal wilderness would protect not only a unique ecosystem, but also the spiritual space of a community.
The wilderness designation would also protect the Coastal Plain from future oil and gas drilling. Offshore oil and gas drilling puts these coastal areas at risk of disaster with the possibility of oil spills that ruin huge swaths of local ecosystems, and, as already mentioned, disturb the caribu which are central to the Gwitch’in way of life. Further, increased oil and gas drilling discourages industry focus on wind and solar renewable energy sources and instead allows for ever-rising rates of greenhouse gas emissions that adversely affect our climate.
October 19th, the Senate passed its budget resolution, which included instructions for the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to either cut costs or grow revenue by $1 billion over the next decade. While on the surface this might seem innocuous, the purpose of this instruction is to allow for using the reconciliation process to pass a bill allowing drilling in the Refuge with only 50 votes. This development has added new urgency in the fight to protect the Gwitch’in people and this very special land.
In 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 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. Jewish tradition insists that we care for the earth and preserve the goodness of God’s creation. We are instructed in the Torah not to destroy (bal tashchit). Rather, we are to become stewards and protectors of the land. According to midrash, God charged Adam: “See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I created, for you I created. Think upon this, and do not corrupt and desolate my world; for if you corrupt it, there is no one to set it right after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:28)
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