On December 6, 1960, President Eisenhower’s Secretary of the Interior created the Arctic National Wildlife Range, protecting nearly 14,000 square miles of the far northeastern corner of the Last Frontier in Alaska. In 1980, the Range was expanded to over 30,000 square miles and renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), as it is known today. For millennia, long before the refuge was established, the lands within its borders have nurtured and supported Alaska’s native people.
After more than 40 years of efforts to open America’s greatest wilderness to oil and gas drilling—during which there were no less than 50 attempts, all of which failed thanks to an ongoing bi-partisan consensus that drilling was too risky to ANWR’s wildlife, landscapes and native cultures—oil industry pressure and lobbying of lawmakers finally bore fruit through a provision quietly tucked into the GOP’s 2017 tax reform plan. The provision opened the long-sought after, 1.5 million acre “parcel 1002” by ordering the Secretary of the Interior to establish an oil and gas plan for the refuge that required two lease sales within 10 years.
In the waning, chaotic days of the Trump administration, and as the Refuge celebrated its 60th anniversary, the Bureau of Land Management rushed forward with a process to lease lands in the refuge to the oil and gas industry. Due largely to the hard work of native activists, this initial attempt was a flop — generating just $14 million of the $1.7 billion in revenue that the Trump administration projected would be created by opening the refuge to oil and gas exploration.
Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee reacted to the sale, declaring that “the administration’s insistence on holding this lease sale in the final weeks of its term is a desperate act of violence toward Indigenous ways of life,” adding that “the Gwich’in Nation has fought this process every step of the way. No amount of money is worth more than our way of life, and we will continue to stand up against anyone who attempts to harm the calving grounds, as our ancestors did for generations before us. We have the strength of generations of love and prayer supporting us, and that is far stronger this administration’s greed. We will not back down.”