This summer, I experienced a part of Alaska few people get to see. I took a rafting trip down the Canning River from the Marsh Fork to the Arctic Ocean, along with seven others—none of whom I’d met before the trip. I spent ten days in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and experienced more beauty, amazement, wonder, and awe than I could have ever possibly imagined. True, I was often uncomfortable, anxious, and exhausted, but mostly, I was happy and grateful to have this opportunity to see first-hand a part of the world I have spent much of my time working to protect.
Many people are under the impression that the Arctic is a barren wasteland. I can assure you this is not the case—certainly not in the summer months. I have never seen a place so vibrant and full of life. The list of wildlife we saw is long and impressive. It includes grizzly bears, muskoxen, foxes, wolves, caribou (oh so many caribou), ground squirrels, and belugas. And, the number of amazing birds we saw was overwhelming. The species include Bluethroat, Arctic Tern, Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Merganser, Rough-legged Hawk, Red-throated Loon, Lapland Longspur, and more.
The landscape was green and lush accented with bright purples, yellows, and pinks from flowering plants. A symphony of birdsongs, calls, buzzing, chirps, and more filled my ears each night as I drifted to sleep. Each day the list of one-of-a-kind experiences grew as did my appreciation for this wild and remote part of Alaska.
Friendships were also in full bloom. The people on this trip formed a bond through unique, awe-inspiring—sometime challenging—experiences. We departed on the trip as strangers, but returned as friends.
To think this special place is currently at risk from oil and gas development (not to mention impacts from climate change) is shocking and appalling. It makes me angry, sad, and incredibly disappointed—not just in those pursuing development but in all of us who are allowing this to happen. These are our public lands, and we all need to stand up and say “No—not here!” If there are places worthy of protecting, surely the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of them.