Washington, DC - U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) today introduced a bill with 32 other senators to designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness and protect the land from future development. The Coastal Plain represents 1.56 million acres of the 19.6 million-acre wildlife refuge. The introduction of the bill comes just days ahead of the 55th anniversary of the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Range by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"Coloradans and Westerners take seriously the need to protect our nation's pristine landscapes - like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Yosemite Valley in California, and the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado. Among other benefits, these lands drive a $700 billion outdoor recreation economy, a sector that includes a many Colorado-based companies," Bennet said. "The Arctic Refuge in Alaska is one of these pristine landscapes. Sportsmen, birders, and outdoor enthusiasts from across the political spectrum have long supported protections for this iconic area. With this bill, supported by more than one-third of the Senate, we continue the proud bipartisan conservation tradition started over 50 years ago by President Eisenhower."
"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the natural wonders of America, worthy of the highest level of protection as wilderness. Its pristine landscape, ecological integrity, wildlife, recreational opportunities, and Alaska Native cultural and subsistence values are unmatched," Markey said. "Action is long overdue to fully realize President Eishenhower's visionary action in first protecting the Arctic Refuge in 1960. The Coastal Plain is the biological heart of the Refuge, and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to pass legislation that would ensure full wilderness protection for the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge forever."
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest unit in the National Wildlife Refuge System. In 1960, President Eisenhower established the original refuge, which comprised 8.9 million acres, as the Arctic National Wildlife Range. It was later expanded in 1980 to its current 19.6 million acres and renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, the 1.56 million acres that make up the Coastal Plain were not protected in the Refuge's expansion. Oil and gas leasing on the Coastal Plain was prohibited absent authorization by Congress, but the area was not given a wilderness designation.
The bill would designate the Coastal Plain as a wilderness area. The 1.56 million-acre Coastal Plain represents a small fraction of the total acreage in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean open oil and gas development. It is considered the biological heart of the refuge, supporting more than 250 species, including caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, muskoxen, wolverines, and migratory birds.
"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System, something that benefits sportsmen in Colorado and across the country," said Bill Dvorak, Colorado fishing and rafting guide, hunter, and public lands organizer with the National Wildlife Federation. "A number of birds, including snow geese and sand hill cranes, breed in the Arctic Refuge and fly to or through the Arapaho and Monte Vista wildlife refuges and other parts of Colorado. We applaud Senators Bennet, Markey and others for stepping forward to protect this iconic landscape for future generations."
"Senators Bennet and Markey are setting the right course to permanently protect the wonder of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and essence of wild it represents. Americans from all walks of life have long supported protecting this pristine wilderness," said Emily Norton, Director of Sierra Club Massachusetts.
"The Gwich'in Nation has been working tirelessly to protect ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins' - the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for over 25 years now. We are so grateful to Senators Bennet and Markey for showing bold leadership by introducing the Arctic Refuge Wilderness Bill and we hope that other Senators will see that protection of the Refuge is truly a moral choice for the United States," stated Bernadette Demientieff of the Gwich'in Steering Committee.
"We applaud Senators Michael Bennet and Ed Markey for continuing the tradition of congressional support for the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This bill would ensure that one of the most imperiled pieces of our natural heritage will be protected now and for future generations of Americans," said Cindy Shogan, Executive Director of Alaska Wilderness League. "The Arctic Refuge is one of our most iconic landscapes and one of the last truly wild places in America. It's time to move beyond drilling and provide the strongest protections possible for this natural wonder."
Additional cosponsors of the bill include: Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Harry Reid (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Udall (D-NM), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Al Franken (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
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