“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”
In Washington, D.C., there’s not been a lot for environmentalists to stop and give thanks for the last year and half. But change is afoot.
Recently, Members of Congress with vision and courage have stood up with increasing success against attacks on the public’s federal lands estate. They’re limiting the damage, beating some bad legislation outright, starting to go on offense—and earning our thanks. Nowhere more so than in Alaska.
What we have in Alaska—the public lands that past generations have passed on unspoiled—is about as good as it gets when it comes to American wildlands. Massive, pristine landscapes and seascapes; wildlife and fish populations unlike anything left in the Lower 48; massive old growth stands. These mountains, plains, rivers, seas, and forests lie deep at the heart of our national identity, our sense of what makes and has made our country so blessed, so rich, so extraordinary.
If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t been, go. If you can’t go, know that you are part owner of this vast treasure. Its keeper more than owner, really. With a chance to help pay forward to future generations the good fortune and good stewardship that have brought these wonderful, rich, and stunning lands intact to the present day.
Know, too, that they are under assault today as never before.
The Trump administration and its congressional allies have them in their sights. President Trump says that his megalomaniac vision of global fossil fuel dominance leads through Alaska. And his Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is hard at work to make that come true.
Secretary Zinke held the largest oil and gas lease sale on American soil in history last December in the Western Arctic. He’s proposed a whole series of lease sales in the Arctic Ocean. And jumped on powerful Alaska Senator Murkowski’s sneaky tax bill provision to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to Big Oil. Our splendid, untouched Arctic Refuge.
These fragile and heart-stoppingly beautiful places are the absolute worst on Earth to open to drilling. Crucial habitat for iconic wildlife from musk oxen and polar bears to gyrfalcons, Arctic foxes, beluga whales, and walruses. Vital to Alaska Native peoples whose subsistence and cultural practices depend utterly on the ecological health of natural systems.
In Southeast Alaska—home to the enormous Tongass rainforest, the largest and wildest of our national forests, and the heart of the biggest remaining temperate rainforest in the world–Trump’s Forest Service is planning the biggest sale of old growth trees the U.S. has seen in at least a quarter century. And talking with the State of Alaska about gutting the landmark rules that protect national forest wildlands there and elsewhere.
But the country is fighting back. Americans have filed millions of comments opposing these raids. Investors are signing up to swear off companies that despoil federal reserves in Alaska.
And, critically, courageous Members of Congress are mobilizing against these attacks. When Senator Murkowski tried to legislate away protections for the Tongass wildlands (or “roadless areas”) in an appropriations bill, her colleagues rose up and stopped that effort in its tracks. When Alaska Congressman Young ran a similar amendment last month on the Farm Bill, Republicans joined Democrats in voting no. In fact, they carried the day, until House leaders orchestrated a re-count and let Young twist arms enough to win by a single vote—a margin so razor-thin Senate leaders excluded the Tongass from their version altogether.
Even when Sen. Murkowski prevailed in ramming her dappalling Refuge drilling measure onto the tax bill last fall, public lands champions in the Senate managed to strip off numerous provisions that would have made the drilling harder for the public to challenge.
And last month, House champions introduced the first bill to undo that tax bill outrage. It will be no mean feat to pass it. But the tide has started to turn.
That’s why major public interest groups recently gave those champs a big, public Thank You. Organizations representing conservationists, women voters, Latinos, and vets published this full-page ad in Politico, a newspaper that’s delivered to every congressional office.
They deserve it. It's not so easy standing up to powerful, entrenched interests. And we don’t say thank you often or loudly enough, when they do. you can help with that, help make sure that these marvelous public lands survive—for all of us, for our kids, forever. Shoot your representative and senators your own message. Tell them thank you if they’ve been part of this wave of resistance. And tell them to get on board if they haven’t.