I have been a birder since I was about 3 years old. I have gone on owl walks and tramped through forests and wetlands. But one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen was a huge flock of snow geese — hundreds of them, all taking flight at once. It was magnificent.
Those snow geese spend their winters here in Arizona, but every year they fly thousands of miles to lay their eggs and raise their babies above the Arctic Circle in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The refuge is one of the most important bird nurseries on the planet.
President Trump wants to let oil and gas companies drill on the delicate coastal plain of the refuge where millions of birds raise their young, where giant herds of caribou migrate for the critical summer calving season and where polar bears make dens to raise their cubs. Caribou herds in areas of the Arctic where drilling is already occurring have declined by more than 50 percent.
When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Alaska to make a speech to the Alaska Oil and Gas Association conference, he announced plans to study the oil and gas potential in the Arctic Refuge and declared “Alaska open for business.”
Just imagine the damage even a single oil spill would cause in this critical wilderness area. Or the hundreds of bird nests that would be destroyed every time a new oil rig is built. Or the dangers to migrating herds of caribou as they try to keep from getting tangled in the pipelines blocking their paths.
This spring, I traveled to Washington, D.C., with my family to join supporters of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for the annual Alaska Wilderness Week. I met many people like myself, who went to the nation’s capital to talk with our members of Congress about the importance of the Arctic Refuge for birds and other wildlife.
But I also heard other voices and met people that I’d never known before, like the Gwich’in, whose nation stretches across Alaska and includes a large part of the Arctic Refuge. They are concerned about the caribou herd that is essential to their way of life. The Gwinch’in harvest caribou twice a year during the herd migration. They take only what they need and use all they take for their subsistence livelihood.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is as sacred to the Gwich’in and their culture as our Grand Canyon is to the Havasupai, Hualapai, Navajo and Hopi people here in Arizona.
I am 13. I can’t vote yet. But protecting the Arctic Refuge does not seem like a Republican or Democratic issue to me. In fact, it was a Republican president — Dwight Eisenhower — who originally helped create and protect the refuge in 1960. For decades, members of both major political parties in Congress have supported the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Our senators and representatives need to stand up for the Arctic refuge, its wildlife and the birds that travel to Arizona and every other state.
Please don’t rob future generations of one of America’s greatest wilderness areas.