The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last truly wild landscapes left on the planet — essential habitat for caribou, polar bears, and more than 200 species of birds that migrate through all 50 states and six continents.
Yet Congress and the White House are moving quickly to open this pristine landscape to drilling for fossil fuels. The result would be irreversible damage to the Refuge, with a destructive ripple effect on bird populations around the globe.
Even in South Carolina, we'd feel the impact. Birds that nest in the Refuge migrate to our state for the winter. From the great Tundra Swans to smaller ducks, sparrows, and sandpipers, South Carolina and the Arctic Refuge share an intricate web of avian life.
Shorebirds, for example, have declined 70 percent on average since the 1970s. Shorebirds that breed in the Arctic, including the federally–threatened Red Knot and Semipalmated Sandpiper, are among the hardest hit. Ensuring a future for shorebirds in South Carolina requires protection all along their migratory routes — especially in the Arctic.
The Current Debate
For 40 years or more, Congress has debated whether to open the Refuge for drilling. Decades ago, people advocated drilling based on urgent concerns about domestic oil scarcity, energy independence, and national security.
But that’s old news. New technology has nearly doubled U.S. oil production since 2008. Domestic demand has flattened. U.S. oil exports are booming, and there’s a glut of oil worldwide. So much oil is now available that the President has proposed selling off half our strategic oil reserves.
Echoing the President, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke now says that our goal is not just energy independence, but “energy dominance.” With little acknowledgement of renewables, energy dominance means fossil fuel dominance.
So in a glutted world market, is it still urgent, or even economically feasible, to seek oil from the Refuge? And does fossil fuel dominance, rather than our previous goal of national security, justify such a profound sacrifice of our nation’s wildlife and wild lands?
From Audubon's perspective, the answer to both questions is NO. With climate change such a profound threat to birds, the obvious alternative is to promote clean energy instead.
Close to Home
The Arctic Refuge may be a hemisphere away, but the issues it raises hit awfully close to home. As artist and ornithologist David Sibley says in this video, “If you care about the birds in your neighborhood, and the health of the ecosystems in the Lower 48, protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is essential.”
Check it all out, then please ask our federal officials to take a stand. And/or write your own letter to the editor, as our friends Carl and Mike have done. Let's make sure that Tundra Swans continue to sweep into South Carolina each year, from the safety of the Arctic Refuge!