Senators Mark Kirk and Maria Cantwell Go on the Offense to Protect the Arctic Refuge

By:  Huffington Post - Cindy Shogan, Executive director, Alaska Wilderness League
Source: Huffington Post -

Last week, Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) reaffirmed the bipartisan history of support for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by co-introducing S. 1695 which would designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's Coastal Plain as Wilderness.

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower led the effort to protect this area for future generations half a century ago when he set aside 8.9 million acres as the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960. The Arctic Refuge has always enjoyed both bipartisan and widespread public support. In fact, the majority of Americans nationwide support stronger protections for the Refuge. And, the first Wilderness bill for the Arctic Refuge (S. 1804) was introduced by Sen. Bill Roth (R-DE) in 1987.

Senators Cantwell and Kirk add a new chapter to this bipartisan legislative legacy for Wilderness for the Coastal Plain of the Refuge. They have long been the Arctic Refuge's defensive champions, protecting it from threats of oil and gas drilling in both chambers of Congress for many years. With the introduction of this Wilderness bill, they will now go on the offense to protect the Arctic Refuge and its Coastal Plain.

In a November 13 press release announcing the bill's introduction, Sen. Cantwell said:

"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure that must be preserved for future generations to experience and enjoy. I'm proud to join Senator Kirk on this bipartisan bill to protect one of the last pristine public lands in America. We need to advance forward-looking solutions for America's energy future, while preserving this treasured public land and the unique ecosystem that depends on it."

Sen. Kirk added, "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last pristine environments in the United States, and its value to our environment is undeniable. We have a responsibility to protect this fragile ecosystem to allow wildlife to roam free without disruption of their natural habitat. Designating this land as wilderness will benefit generations to come."

The Arctic Refuge and its Coastal Plain -- the Refuge's "biological heart" -- are home to polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, muskoxen and more than 130 species of migratory birds. The Refuge is one of the last untouched wilderness areas in America.

Sens. Cantwell and Kirk recognize that some places are just too special to drill for oil, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge tops that list. I want to thank the Senators for their longstanding efforts to defend the Arctic Refuge, and applaud them as they assume another level of leadership to protect this place once and for all.