Opinion / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / December 6, 2005
Today marks the 45th anniversary of the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Range, which has since become the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to those whom almost half a century ago worked so hard to establish this world-famous conservation area. My personal experiences there have bonded me to the range's founders like the links in a chain fence. This is an important time to explore some of that creation history.
The 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which stretches along the Arctic coast from east of Point Lay to the Colville River, was established in 1923 to protect oil supplies in the event of a national emergency. In 1943, the Interior Department withdrew all of what is now the NPRA and an additional 25 million acres north of the Brooks Range, including the coastal plain of the Arctic refuge, from all forms of appropriation, including the mining and mineral leasing laws, and reserved the minerals for use in the war effort. The Navy searched for oil and gas in the NPRA between 1944 and 1953, at which time it discontinued its exploration. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense constructed the Distant Early Warning radar sites across the Arctic coast to detect Soviet bombers.
In the early 1950s, National Park Service employees George Collins and Lowell Sumner made several trips to northeastern Alaska as part of the NPS study of recreational resources of Alaska. In the report of their findings, Collins and Sumner wrote that "the region offers science probably the best opportunity of any place in Alaska, if not in the whole of North America, for studying the processes by which these and other Arctic animals maintain their numbers through natural checks and balances of climate, food supply and predation."
Collins and Sumner encouraged biologist Olaus Murie and his wife, Margaret, who grew up in Fairbanks, to lead their 1956 expedition to the Sheenjek River Valley along with Brina Kessel, a zoology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and graduate students George Schaller and Robert Krear. After the expedition, the Muries conducted speaking tours and wrote articles to convince people of the merits of creating a reserve in northeastern Alaska. They had help from conservation leaders Starker Leopold, Sigurd Olson, F. Fraser Darling, Fairfield Osborn and others.
Hearings on a Senate measure to create an Arctic National Wildlife Range were held in Fairbanks in 1959. Testifying in favor of the creation of a reserve were Robert Weeden, Frederick Dean, Mortom Wood, Celia Hunter and Virginia Hill Wood. Arctic Range advocate Ginny Wood said that "although there are other parks and monuments and game reserves in Alaska, this would be unique, as it would be the only one that would encompass a true Arctic tundra complex that has all of the Arctic animals, including moose, sheep, wolverine, lynx, grizzly and polar bear." Wood also said that the creation of the reserve was necessary "to take care of man's pressing need for adventure, for solitude, beauty, space and simplicity of living during his vacation as a relief and contrast to the increasing urbanization and hectic tempo of living that is inevitable in our expanding industrial and technical world."
Facing mounting public pressure, on Dec. 6, 1960, Interior Secretary Fred Seaton created the 9 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Range in northeastern Alaska and he revoked the 1943 order that had withdrawn the rest of the North Slope. The new state of Alaska selected much of the acreage between the Colville and Canning Rivers, the site now of the sprawling Prudhoe Bay oil field complex. Both the News-Miner and the Tanana Valley Sportsman's Association endorsed the range proposal.
Twenty-five years ago, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which renamed the Arctic range as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and doubled its size. ANILCA also set up the "1002 Area" on the refuge's coastal plain, which is the site of today's oil drilling controversy.
The words of Sumner and Collins, as expressed in their 1953 report, are as valid today as they were back then. They wrote that, "this wilderness is big enough and wild enough to make you feel like one of the old-time explorers, knowing that each camp you place, each mountain climbed, each adventure with the boats, is in untouched country."
As Congress debates the future of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we honor those who helped create this national treasure. There will be a celebration at the Public Lands Information Center today from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Andy Keller speaks and writes about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and energy policy. He lives in Fairbanks
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