Dear Audubon Member,

I'm a lucky person. My work takes me to many of the greatest parks and refuges in the world. Of all the magnificent places I have seen, none is more impressive and memorable than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Before entering the refuge, I went through the oil production fields of Prudhoe Bay, with their roads, drilling equipment, buildings, pipelines, and storage facilities. The oil companies had done their best to minimize the impact of oil development, but their presence dominated the landscape.

When I crossed into the refuge, everything changed. The sense of wilderness was breathtaking. Massive herds of caribou were migrating through their traditional calving grounds on the North Slope, between the snow-covered Brooks Range on the south and the Arctic Ocean on the north. Musk oxen and grizzly bears roamed the foothills. Flocks of migratory birds nested in the tundra wetlands. Meadows of colorful wildflowers bloomed in the Arctic summer.

The Bush administration is now proposing to open this refuge to oil drilling, posing the first decisive issue of environmental protection in the new Congress. The politicians argue that the development footprint will be small and that wildlife will adapt. Besides, we're in an energy crunch, and we need the extra oil.

Environmentalists believe drilling isn't worth the risk for a short-term supply of oil that won't even be available for another 10 years. Energy problems are cyclical, and a modest increase in fuel-efficiency standards would be a much better solution. Furthermore, what's the probability of another accident on the scale of the Exxon Valdez?

To me this issue isn't about an economic cost/benefit analysis. If economic analyses alone drove our conservation decisions, we would have long ago built hydroelectric dams in the Grand Canyon, capped Old Faithful for geothermal energy, and built condominiums in Central Park. Oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is about what we value as a society. At Audubon, we believe that protecting one of the last great wilderness places on earth is more important than any temporary economic gain from one more oil field.

If you want to help us protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, call Audubon at 202-861-2242, or visit www.audubon.org and click on "Protect the Arctic."


John Flicker
National Audubon Society


© 2001  NASI

Sound off! Send a letter to the editor
about this piece.

Enjoy Audubon on-line? Check out our print edition!