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After receiving more than one million public comments requesting stronger protections for America’s iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently unveiled the Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), recommending a Wilderness designation for the Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain. Obama’s action reverses the longstanding Reagan-era recommendation that the Coastal Plain be leased for oil development. Though the authority to permanently protect the Refuge lies in the hands of Congress, Obama’s Wilderness recommendation is the most significant shift towards permanent protection since the Refuge was established by President Eisenhower.
The Conservation Alliance has been involved in the effort to protect the Arctic Refuge for the past decade. Our member companies have approved grants exceeding $250,000 to the Alaska Wilderness League and its allies in the effort to save the iconic and remote landscape notable for its wildlife and outstanding recreation opportunities. In 2009, a group of outdoor industry leaders, including Eagle Creek founders Steve and Nona Barker and CamelBak CEO Sally McCoy floated the Canning River north from the Brooks Range toward the Arctic Ocean. Since then, Barker has played Pied Piper, encouraging other industry representatives to explore this special area.
Much of the Arctic Refuge is already designated Wilderness, the highest level of protection we can give to federal lands. But, the 1.5-million-acre known as the Coastal Plain – where the refuge meets the Arctic Ocean – has been at the center of controversy for decades. The rivers of the Arctic Refuge all flow into the Beaufort Sea through the Coastal Plain. Along with the Brooks Range, the Coastal Plain bookends the 19-million-acre refuge into one of the most pristine, intact, and spectacular landscapes left on our planet. Unfortunately, the Coastal Plain also has known oil reserves that oil companies and their political allies would love to exploit. It is no surprise, then, that several outdoor companies participated in the effort to thank President Obama for his Wilderness recommendation.
The Campion Advocacy Fund and Alaska Wilderness League worked with Spitfire Strategies to coordinate a massive social media campaign to flood the administration with support in the days following the announcement. The goal of the campaign was to thank President Obama and let him know how much America cares about this amazing place.
With help from the outdoor industry, the social media campaign (#ProtectTheArcticRefuge) reached 88 million people in the first five days after Obama made the wilderness recommendation. Dozens of brands – including Patagonia, The North Face, Black Diamond, prAna, Osprey Packs, Ruffwear and Keen – participated in this coordinated effort to thank the administration. According to Spitfire, Patagonia was one of the top overall influencers and had one of the most active audiences spreading the news.
The response also included a letter of support, signed by 61 members of The Conservation Alliance, thanking Secretary Jewell for protecting one of America’s most extraordinary places for outdoor adventure.
Take action today by thanking President Obama for being the first president to make a wilderness recommendation for the Coastal Plain of the Refuge.
We hope Congress will follow President Obama’s lead and protect this sacred place once and for all by designating it as Wilderness.
--John Sterling and Josie Norris, The Conservation Alliance