Writer to offer personal perspective on Arctic refuge

Talk, photos to be presented tonight at glacier visitor center

Posted: Friday, March 25, 2005

While a closely divided U.S. Senate has voted for opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, some people believe the refuge is an economic opportunity that can generate billions of barrels of oil.

For Fairbanks writer Debbie Miller, the refuge is where her oldest daughter learned how to walk, where she first witnessed the beauty of a golden plover and where her husband has monitored the migration of the Porcupine caribou herds.

Miller, who has traveled to the refuge almost every year for 30 years, will share her pictures of the refuge and the various animals living there this evening at 6:30 and 8 at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

"In the one-hour presentation, I will take people through a journey of the refuge and read from my books," Miller said. "I want to show them the beauty of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

Those who voted for opening ANWR have said it represents an important energy source in a place that can be drilled with environmental sensitivity. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, argued before the Senate vote this month that development of the oil field would not ruing a national treasure.

"We know we've got to do it right," Murkowski told The Associated Press. "It's a fragile environment."

Murkowski said then that oil companies in Alaska are subject to the most stringent environmental requirements in the world.

Miller, however, is an unabashed advocate for the area's protection.

People often talk about how important the refuge is to the caribou, she said, but it is the birthplace for a wide variety of animals.

"More than 130 species of birds from five continents nest and breed here," Miller said. "In the winter, it offers sanctuary to the greatest density of land-denning polar bears in America."

The refuge has also inspired Miller to write numerous pieces and books, including "Midnight Wilderness: Journeys in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," and "Flight of the Golden Plover," which the National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council chose as Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children in 1997.

Miller said she was outraged by the Senate's decision.

"In Alaska, we have a vast amount of land and waters dedicated for the extraction of oil and gas," Miller said. "What on earth do we need to go to a wildlife refuge like this?"

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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