My Turn: ANWR is more precious than just oil

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2001

I see that the Empire has published near back-to-back diatribes by Mr. Williams of Ketchikan panning Alaskans who hesitate at the rush to develop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil development. Alaska has been very, very good to Mr. Williams, I know. But for Alaskans like him I have to ask, is there anything so precious that he would not sell it for money?

He is so enthralled with the almighty dollar that he cannot imagine a motivation for environmental organizations other than to raise membership dues. Can he imagine that people are members because they care, because they don't want to trade the last great precious place for more American waste and inefficiency?

Can he imagine that there are Alaskans like myself who think that ANWR should not be developed because there are so many things we should do first? If we cannot even demand greater gas mileage from SUVs what business do we have despoiling America's last great wilderness?

What is precious to Mr. Williams? Is there a document, a place, a person, an idea which is so precious that it simply cannot be despoiled for a price? I used to be a park ranger for Gates of the Arctic National Park adjoining the Dalton Highway, (the Haul Road) next to ANWR. I have hiked from Wiseman to Anaktuvuuk Pass. I could smell the dust of the Haul Road from six miles away. The lakes alongside the road are devoid of fish. The caribou have long since abandoned Atigun Pass.

The sportshunters in Fairbanks pressured the Alaska Department of Transportation to such a degree that they retreated and allowed open access up the Haul Road all the way to Prudhoe Bay. Soon after it was opened I saw sportshunters heading south on the road towing trailers with four wheelers 13 caribou piled high.

A photo in last month's National Geographic on grizzlies showed bears in the Dumpsters at Deadhorse, the "no impact" oil community at Prudhoe Bay. Bears in the Dumpster is no impact? Prudhoe itself looks like the back of an old radio.

I say that all Americans do without something rather than develop ANWR. I say that we all walk a day a year, recycle so much more plastic, that we take one less jet trip, that we call off the Indianapolis 500, that we turn down or up the thermostat, that George Bush call for some sort of sacrifice, that we pay some taxes on oil like they do in Europe and use the money to promote efficient energy use.

ANWR is that precious. I know that for Mr. Williams that is hard to understand. Perhaps like an old Alaskan he sees the wilderness as so much clutter between him and his stake. What makes the Arctic National Wildlife precious is more than the potential ooze from its ground. In the world what ANWR has is rarer - what the rest of the world only envies - untrammeled wilderness. ANWR hosts the last great animal migration.

Mr. Williams, before your time for decades children throughout America sacrificed pennies, nickels and dimes to build the Washington monument. Let us all sacrifice something to save this place.

And Mr. Williams, let's get back to something you can relate to: money. You know how to many Alaskans you can touch this or dip into that, but you better not touch the principal of the Permanent Fund? If we're so protective about our money why would we be so cavalier about what truly makes Alaska unique? ANWR is our Permanent Fund. And we better damn well demand a whole host of efficiencies before we ever sell our most precious place cheap. I hope the Senate saves ANWR, Mr. Williams. What ANWR has is more precious than oil.

Steele lives in Douglas and teaches at Floyd Dryden Middle School in Juneau.

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