Comments for Bureau of Land Management – Call for Nominations and Comments for the Coastal Plain Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale
Bureau of Land Management,
I oppose leasing all tracts on the coastal plain to oil and gas development.
I visited Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 and again in 2017 as an artist in residence with US Fish and Wildlife Service. I built relationships with Gwich’in and Inupiaq people. I camped in the Brooks Range, observed musk ox, bear, and caribou and traveled to the Arctic Coast where I was fortunate enough to be amongst polar bears. What coincided afterwards was immense inspiration for my artwork and a deep commitment to making sure that this public land be available for the thriving of its species for generations to come. Arctic Refuge ignited inspiration within me as an artist. It was through that same kind of inspiration ignited within another artist, Olaus Murie, that the Arctic Refuge found its first protections in 1960. I understand that beauty, magnificence and awe are intrinsic values that are impossible to quantify. But I believe they qualify a place for protection. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act re-designated and expanded the Arctic Wildlife Range in 1980 with the following purposes:
- to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity
- to fulfill the international fish and wildlife treaty obligations of the United States
- to provide the opportunity for continued subsistence uses by local residents
- to ensure water quality and necessary water quantity within the refuge
These values and purposes are magnified in the context of the anthropocene where near every square foot of earth’s surface has endured the impacts of human existence. These purposes are threatened and altogether ignored by the oil and gas lease sale on the Coastal Plain. The Environmental Impact Statement insufficiently addresses these original purposes and the Bureau of Land Management includes no new analysis for how extraction will further impact them.
A place intentionally kept wild and as buffered as possible from human scars is invaluable for scientific research, our understanding of the planet, and as a repository of clues for how we as a human species are to be resilient in the face of climate change. Impacting any portion of this land has a ripple effect on all of it. Seismic testing and oil well infrastructure would mar a landscape that so many beings depend on, from the 180 migratory bird species, denning polar bears, to the Porcupine caribou herd whose members birth a new generation on the tundra of the Coastal Plain year after year. These species are the backbone of the ecosystem. And these species are a way of life for the Gwich’in people. Oil and gas development in Arctic Refuge threatens their food security and right to live their traditional subsistence lifestyle. If the Porcupine caribou herd must relocate their calving grounds to avoid the extraction sites, they may endure significant risks to their ability to reproduce effectively, timely, and within the tight scope of their migration route. Within the last decade, indigenous people across Alaska have witnessed significant changes to their subsistence resources and cycles leading to reduced availability and time frames in which to gather the resources they need to thrive. Furthermore, when a culture is formed around the practice of subsistence, a people’s spirit and will to live is impacted by any reduction in their ability to practice their ties to land. Not only do the lives of the Gwich’in people rely upon the caribou and the land, their spirit does as well.
I believe that the spirit of humanity as a whole relies on the existence of untamed places. Places where our egos surrender to the elements, our minds are set free by the immeasurable vastness, and our hearts soar with the inspiration imbued from its ancient cycles. To merely know this land exists is a gift. To know that it could forever be scarred by an industry that absolutely needs to phase out (because our existence depends on it doing so) is a threat we cannot bear. Expanding oil and gas development in the Arctic will exacerbate climate challenges in an Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the country. The Environmental Impact Statement downplays the unacceptable climate impacts of extraction in the Arctic. We cannot afford to ignore the significance of the last intact Arctic ecosystem in the mitigation of climate change on a global scale. Melting permafrost in the Arctic contributes methane and carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. It is estimated that the melting of the world’s mountain glaciers has fueled up to 30 percent of sea level rise, with Alaska as the single largest contributor. Rising seas threaten to displace people around the globe bringing millions into the category of climate refugees. The world depends on an intact Arctic. The world depends on the phasing out of extraction of fossil fuels. To defend the Arctic Refuge is to defend the right for life to prevail.
December 12, 2020