Cantwell and Kirk Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Legislation would designate 1.56 million acres of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced legislation that would designate 1.56 million acres of land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness. The wilderness designation would protect the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain and preserve subsistence hunting and traditional uses.

The Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain is the last remaining portion of the original Arctic Refuge without a wilderness designation. It provides critical habitat to migratory birds, polar and grizzly bears, and more than 100,000 caribou. The coastal plain is also crucial to the culture and way of life of the Gwich’in tribe, an Alaskan Native people who hunt on the land.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure that must be preserved for future generations to experience and enjoy,” Cantwell said. “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.”

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last pristine environments in the United States, and its value to our environment is undeniable,” Kirk said. “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.”

“We heartily applaud the leadership of Senators Cantwell and Kirk and their ongoing work to protect America's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Dan Ritzman, Northwest and Alaska Regional Director of the Sierra Club.  “The wilderness legislation being introduced would provide permanent protection for this world-class resource that serves as essential nesting and feeding grounds for birds and waterfowl that travel from all parts of the country to feed on the Arctic's abundance.  The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is literally America's Serengeti -- critical calving grounds to one of our largest caribou herds and the most important on-shore denning site for polar bears. Because the wildlands of the Arctic Refuge belong to all Americans, we are delighted that Senators Cantwell and Kirk continue to lead the bipartisan charge to protect these lands for all of us and generations to come.”

“We commend Senators Cantwell and Kirk for taking the lead on a bill to protect one of our nation’s wildest places,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska Regional Director for The Wilderness Society. “The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to such iconic species as wolves and polar bears, and it is a rich calving ground for caribou that are a critical source of food for the Gwich’in Athabascan people. It is so important to their culture and survival that the Gwich’in call the coastal plain ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.’”

Senator Kirk had a strong history of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge throughout his tenure as a member of the House of Representatives.

Throughout her career in the Senate, Cantwell has been a leader in protecting ANWR from oil exploration and drilling. Since entering the Senate in 2001, she has cosponsored legislation multiple times to permanently protect the Arctic Refuge coastal plain as a wilderness area. In December of 2005, Cantwell led a historic filibuster that reversed a backdoor maneuver in the Senate to allow Wildlife Refuge drilling.

President Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960 to protect its diverse and fragile ecosystem. The Range was originally set at 9.5 million acres. Former Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson was one of the leaders of an effort to expand the range to more fully protect the land and the wildlife that live there. In 1980, Senator Jackson’s efforts succeeded when Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that expanded it to today’s 19 million-acre Refuge and designated all of its original lands as wilderness, except for the coastal plain that would receive such designation with the Cantwell-Kirk legislation.