Migrating Caribou
Caribou move through their migratory route in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


The Arctic National Wildlife Range was established in 1960 "For the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values...." In 1980 the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act renamed "Range" to "Refuge," increased the total area of the Refuge to nineteen million acres, named a large portion as Wilderness, and designated three Wild Rivers. The land is situated between the Beaufort Sea to the north, Brooks Range to the south, and Prudhoe Bay to the west. It is the largest protected wilderness in the United States. 

Unparalleled Wilderness Values

Since the 1950s, prominent scientists and conservationists have been calling the Arctic Refuge America's "Last Great Wilderness." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has called the Arctic Refuge "one of the finest examples of wilderness left on the planet," containing "remote, complete, and undisturbed habitats" which are home to "some of the most diverse and spectacular wildlife in the Arctic."

By definition, wilderness is a place where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, retaining its primeval character and influence, protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions. It is a place that appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, where the imprint of man's work is substantially unnoticeable. A Resource Assessment of the Arctic Refuge prepared by the federal government in 1987 found that virtually the entire coastal plain of the refuge meets the wilderness criteria established in the 1964 Wilderness Act. These wilderness values would be irreparably damaged if an industrial oil complex were constructed in the heart of the Arctic Refuge.

National Wildlife Refuge Status

On December 2, 1980, Carter signed into law the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which created more than 104,000,000 acres of national parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas from federal holdings in that state. The bill prohibited oil and gas development on the coastal plain, but allowed the opportunity for a future act of Congress to permit it. Both sides of the controversy announced they would attempt to change it in the next session of Congress. 

In March 1989 a bill permitting drilling in the Refuge was "sailing through the Senate and had been expected to come up for a vote" when the Exxon Valdez oil spill delayed and ultimately derailed the process.

In 1996 the Republican-majority House and Senate voted to allow drilling in the Refuge, but this legislation was vetoed by President Bill Clinton. Toward the end of his presidential term environmentalists pressed Clinton to declare the Arctic Refuge a U.S. National Monument. Doing so would have permanently closed the area to oil exploration. While Clinton did create several refuge monuments, the Arctic Refuge was not among them.

On December 15, 2005 Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, attached an Arctic Refuge drilling amendment to the annual defense appropriations bill. A group of Democratic Senators led a successful filibuster of the bill on December 21, and the language was subsequently removed

The Arctic Refuge is one of America's largest, wildest, and most pristine National Wildlife Refuges. Each of the more than 540 wildlife refuges in America's National Wildlife Refuge System is managed for the primary purpose of wildlife conservation.

By law, industrial activities like oil drilling can only occur on National Wildlife Refuges if such activities are formally determined to be compatible with wildlife conservation. Oil drilling has never been found to be compatible with wildlife conservation on any National Wildlife Refuge anywhere in the United States. You can help protect the Arctic National Refuge by pressing for full wilderness protection. Ask your U.S. Representative to support the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act, legislation that would permanently protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness.