Contact your members of Congress and ask them to designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a wilderness area. S.820 and H.R.1889, introduced by Senator Edward Markey (MA) and Congressman Jared Huffman (CA), would grant the highest possible protections to one of our world’s last true wilderness areas, protecting the local ecology and Gwich’in way of life.
About 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 eight percent of the refuge) along the Arctic Ocean.
The 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 as well as cultural and spiritual needs for thousands of years. The Coastal Plain is of such significance to the Gwich'in that they call it “sacred place where life begins.”
On December 22, 2017, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which opened the Refuge for drilling. On April 19, 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it would be opening a 60-day public scoping period to assist in the creation of an Environmental Impact Statement for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program. This is the first step in opening the Coastal Plain for drilling. The Coastal Plain is of incredible environmental and spiritual significance. Allowing drilling in this area would cause incalculable ecological and cultural harm.
There are legislative proposals which could roll back drilling in this special place. S.820 and H.R.1889, introduced by Senator Edward Markey (MA) and Congressman Jared Huffman (CA), would grant the highest possible protections to one of our world’s last true wilderness areas, protecting the local ecology and Gwich’in way of life. By designating the coastal plain a Wilderness Area, the Refuge would receive the protections it needs to keep the land pristine and the Gwich’in protected.
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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