Bennet, Markey Introduce Bill to Protect Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

With Support from 40 Senators, Bill Designates Coastal Plain as Wilderness

Washington, D.C. - U.S Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) today reintroduced legislation with 38 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 includes 1.56 million acres of the 19.6 million-acre wildlife refuge.

"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation's greatest treasures," Bennet said. "Coloradans take seriously the need to protect these iconic landscapes. From our state's own Rocky Mountains to the Great Sand Dunes, we understand how vital wild places are to our communities and the $700 billion outdoor economy - a sector that includes many Colorado-based companies. This bipartisan bill recognizes the Coastal Plain as the invaluable wilderness that it is, and provides lasting protections for critical arctic wildlife habitat. With support from more than one-third of the Senate, as well as sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts across the political spectrum, this measure will advance our country's strong conservation legacy."

"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the natural wonders of America, worthy of the highest level of protection as wilderness," Markey said. "Its pristine landscape, ecological integrity, wildlife, recreational opportunities, and Alaska Native cultural and subsistence values are unmatched. The Coastal Plain is the biological heart of the Refuge, and I am pleased that so many of my Senate colleagues are supporting this 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 Dwight 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 legislation would act on a recommendation transmitted by President Obama two years ago in the revised Arctic Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan to Congress, which for the first time in history recommended the Coastal Plain of the Refuge for designation as wilderness. The Coastal Plain supports more than 250 species, including caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, muskoxen, wolverines, and migratory birds.

"Every wilderness provides a sanctuary for veterans, but there is no place like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," said Garett Reppenhagen, Rocky Mountain West Coordinator of Vet Voice Foundation. "I was honored to immerse myself in the most wild habit in the United States, for twelve days, with a group of veterans last summer. Fighting for the Arctic Refuge wilderness is a moral imperative-it is the wildest place we have left. I deeply appreciate Senator Bennet's leadership in the effort to protect it."

"We applaud our Congressional champions Senators Markey and Bennet and Representatives Huffman, Fitzpatrick, Gallego and LoBiondo for continuing the tradition of strong 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 Kristen Miller, Interim 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 ensure that no corporate interest can plunder it for its own profit."

"The very existence and identity of the Gwich'in are at threat," said Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee. "On behalf of the Gwich'in Nation, we are grateful to Senators Ed Markey and Michael Bennet and Representatives Jared Huffman, Brian Fitzpatrick, Ruben Gallego and Frank LoBiondo for taking a honorable stand to protect this scared place. We want to continue to live our cultural and traditional life with the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Any development to the Refuge or the Coastal Plain would be a human rights violation. Our identity is not negotiable."

Click HERE for a full copy of the bill.