Episcopal Church letter in support of Arctic protection

June 1, 2010

Sharon Seim
Planning Team Leader
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
101 12th Ave., Rm. 236
Fairbanks, AK 99701

Dear Ms. Seim:

The Episcopal Church has more than 2.4 million members in 7,679 congregations in 110 dioceses (and one similar geographic convocation) situated in 15 countries plus the United States. It is divided into nine geographical provinces. It is governed by a bicameral General Convention, which consists of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies and meets every three years, and by an Executive Council during interim years. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Executive Council and the House of Bishops have issued repeated resolutions and statements calling on the U.S. Congress to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and encourage the development of a clean, reliable and just national energy policy.

In keeping with the call to permanently protect the Arctic Refuge, the Episcopal Church urges the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to conduct a full wilderness review and recommend wilderness designation for all non-designated Refuge lands, including the coastal plain (1002 area). This review and recommendation for wilderness designation will help ensure the unique wildlife, wilderness, and subsistence values of the entire Arctic Refuge are protected for future generations.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Arctic Refuge, we have a historic opportunity to promote wilderness protection for this incomparable landscape. The Arctic Refuge is unique among Refuges - it was the only one established specifically to preserve wilderness values. The Refuge's coastal plain is a vital part of a larger ecosystem and connected to existing wilderness through its scenic landscapes, watersheds, rivers, migrations, and broader ecosystem. It is home to some of America's most iconic wildlife species, including wolves, grizzly bears, muskoxen, and caribou. Numerous bird species begin their lives in the Refuge each year, before journeying across the nation and the globe. Such a broad spectrum of diverse species and habitats occurring within a single protected unit is unparalleled in North America.

The Episcopal Church has long opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge not only because of our concern for and stewardship of God's creation, but because of our commitment to standing with the Gwich'in Nation, which represents one of the only native Anglican nations in the world. The exploitation of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming threatens both the subsistence rights of the Gwich'in people—more than 90 percent of whom are Episcopalian—and their culture as well. The calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou in Alaska’s North Slope are sacred to the Gwich'in people, and the Episcopal Church supports the Gwich'in in calling for full protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The caribou are essential for Gwich'in cultural, social, and spiritual needs and it has been that way for over 10,000 years. Disturbances that lead to reduced calving success for the caribou may cause significant, irreversible, negative consequences for all involved in this unspoiled web of life.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's new Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) is the only effective means by which to preserve the Gwich'in way of life for future generations. The CCP should strive to preserve the wildlife, wilderness, and subsistence values that protect "Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit," which translated means "the sacred place where life begins." Development in the coastal plain creates enormous risk to the symbiotic relationship of the Gwich'in to the Land, raising the risk factors of development to unacceptable levels.

The Arctic Refuge is a national treasure that stands alone in its wildness, ecological integrity, beauty, and unique recreational opportunities. The agency should emphasize protecting these values so we can pass this incredible place on to our children undiminished. An important step for ensuring long-term protection is conducting a full wilderness review and making a wilderness designation recommendation in the Arctic Refuge CCP, along with instituting a management regime that aims to maintain the wildlife and wilderness values for which the Refuge was established.

A liturgical and theological discipline of the Episcopal Church is recalling the Scriptural account of creation and God's proclamation that each piece of it was good, and that the whole of it – when viewed together and in relationship – was very good. Ultimately, scripture is an account of relationships: the bond of love between God and the world, and the interconnectivity of all people and all things in that world. It is only when we take seriously those relationships - when we realize that all people have a stake in the health and well-being of all others and of the Earth itself - that creation can truly begin to realize the abundant life that God intends for every one of us. The Episcopal Church urges you to preserve that abundance made manifest in the beauty and dynamic ecosystem of the Arctic Refuge.

The Episcopal Church