Letter: Stand up for biodiversity and Arctic wildlife refuge

Graphic by Lori Deaton

While Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is approximately 3,200 miles from Asheville, the threats facing it are closer to us than you might think. Asheville is facing natural disasters like increasingly strong storms and landslides, while the refuge is facing rapidly melting permafrost and sea ice.

That’s why I recently joined fellow advocates to speak to Sens. Richard Burr’s and Thom Tillis’, and Rep. Alma Adams’ offices during Defenders of Wildlife’s Grassroots Advocacy Week. We advocated for the Arctic Refuge Protection Act (S. 282/H.R. 815) and the National Biodiversity Strategy (House Res. 69) because these issues affect everyone, no matter where we live.

Biodiversity enhances the resiliency of Earth’s ecosystems against the threats posed to us all by a changing climate. Unfortunately, global biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate. One million species face extinction by 2050, including the red-winged blackbird, which travels through Asheville and the Arctic Refuge.

Fossil fuel extraction on the refuge’s coastal plain threatens biodiversity by exacerbating the effects of climate change, endangering wildlife and jeopardizing the livelihoods of the Gwich’in Nation. For 20,000 years, the Gwich’in have stewarded this land and honored its abundant wildlife, calling the coastal plain The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.

The refuge’s ancient heartbeat is felt in the graceful strides of polar bears as they traverse land and ice; it’s seen in the many hoofprints left by the Porcupine caribou herd during their yearly migration to the coastal plain; it’s heard in the gentle spouting of bowhead whales gliding under the frigid surface of the Beaufort Sea; it’s supported by the stories and experiences of the Gwich’in, whose ancestral connections to the land run like deep roots beneath its mountains, meadows, sands and seas.

Let’s stand up for each other, wildlife, our planet and future generations by protecting the Arctic Refuge and establishing a National Biodiversity Strategy.

— Maddy Watson


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