The Alaska Wilderness League Talks Climate and Public lands

Emily Sullivan
Alaska Wilderness League Conservation Associate

In the alpine—and especially in Alaska—evidence of climate change is now so pervasive that I’m left ruminating about it nearly every time I go to the mountains. Just this month, I served on a volunteer mountaineering patrol with the National Park Service at basecamp on Denali.  Camped next to us, glacier scientists were gearing up for ice core extraction on Mount Hunter, where they would examine melt rates over the past hundreds of years. Outside our cook tent, baking in the June sun, they filled us in on their ongoing study which shows that 60 times more snowmelt occurs today on Mount Hunter’s summit plateau than did 150 years ago. The summit has also seen a 2°C increase in summer temperature in that time. Sadly, none of this news surprises me anymore. As a result, I’m looking for ways to be part of the solution.

While Alaska serves as the nation’s ground zero for climate change, our government is racing to lease out one of the last remaining protected areas of Alaska’s northernmost coastal plain by pushing to hand the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over to the oil industry. If we are serious about addressing climate change, this scenario cannot be ignored. Fortunately, Congress is pushing back, and the House of Representatives will soon consider a bill soon to stop this drilling program.  You can help us pass this legislation by signing on to the letter below.

Even Senator Lisa Murkowski, a driving force for drilling in the Arctic Refuge, admits that climate impacts are real in Alaska—it’s hard not to when your state is warming twice as fast as the rest of the nation. Here, sea ice is melting, glaciers are receding, and permafrost is thawing. Traditional ways of life, the fishing industry, tourism, and recreation are all at stake. I moved to Alaska a decade ago in order to experience wilderness, and I stayed for the abundance of world-class recreational opportunities, many of which are now threatened by warming temperatures across the state.

Winters are becoming shorter, parts of our incredible alpine ski terrain will be overrun by trees in the next 100 years, and human waste is melting out of the glaciers on Denali at an alarming rate. Coastal Alaska Native villages are soon to be swallowed up by the ocean, and lives are lost each spring as snowmachines break through lakes and rivers months before they should be thawing. Yet the Trump administration turns a blind eye: the financial lure of oil reserves (that may or may not even exist) carries more weight than the future of our planet.

A Pacific Loon in the Arctic Refuge.  Photo Credit:  Malkolm Boothroyd/

A Pacific Loon in the Arctic Refuge.
Photo Credit: Malkolm Boothroyd/

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an American treasure—a public land that was created to protect the Porcupine Caribou herd and allow Americans to experience an iconic landscape that exists as it has for thousands of years. Alaska Native communities have been stewards of this land since time immemorial and rely on its Coastal Plain to support an abundance of life. This is not the place for oil and gas development. With our rapidly changing climate, we can’t even afford to burn through existing oil reserves. So why on Earth are we searching for more? Please act today and join us in voicing your opposition to oil extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The future of our planet, its inhabitants, and our mountain livelihoods depend on proactive conservation now more than ever.

Banner Photo: Ken Masden