Cantwell Applauds Plan to Protect Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Senator: ‘It is an ecosystem unlike anything else we have in the United States’


WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a speech on the U.S. Senate floor today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) applauded President Obama’s proposal to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) by recommending the designation of 12 million acres as wilderness.

“I have visited the refuge and I believe it is a critical habitat for wildlife. It is an ecosystem unlike anything else we have in the United States,” said Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “I’m proud that the President has now put a wilderness plan in place with the elements of what it will take to preserve these various species and animals.”

“I want to continue to diversify our economy off of fossil fuels and I hope we’ll get a chance to work on an energy bill that does that,” said Cantwell, a strong opponent of opening the refuge up to drilling. “I am confident that America can meet its energy needs without opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I am convinced we can come up with an energy strategy that is much more compelling for the future of the United States – one in which we can lead and one in which we can help other countries.”

Obama announced Sunday that he plans to ask Congress for the wilderness declaration, which would include the coastal plain. The refuge is habitat to 45 species of land animals, including polar bears, caribou, wolves, muskox, as well as 36 species of fish and 180 species of birds. 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.

Throughout her career in the Senate, Cantwell has been a leader in protecting the refuge 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. In 2013, Cantwell and Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced legislation that would have designated 1.56 million acres of land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.

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 state 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.