Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a legacy of our country’s conservation movement. Originally established in 1960 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the refuge pre-dates the publication of Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring (1962) and the Santa Barbara oil spill (1969), which horrified the organizers of the first Earth Day (1970).
I’ve never been to the refuge, and, I suspect you’ve never been there either. In fact, the vast majority of Americans are less likely to visit the north slope of Alaska than almost any other spot in the U.S. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have access to a private plane or you’re up for hiking and backpacking there from Fairbanks -- with all of the food and provisions you’ll need -- it’s surely worth the effort. By all accounts, it’s spectacular. However, that’s beyond so many of us. Still, even if we never get there, that’s not the point of protecting this place.
This reason why this wild and amazing place must be protected was eloquently explained in the 1964 Wilderness Act, which was enacted four years after the refuge was officially designated.
Its words clearly apply to this remote Alaskan area: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the Earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”