Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Arctic Refuge is one of the world’s last untouched wild places. Located in the northeast corner of Alaska, the Refuge is unique in many ways: it is the only refuge specifically designed for wilderness purposes, and at 19.6 million acres it is the largest wildlife refuge in the country. Its habitats range from boreal forests, to rivers, tundra, lakes and wetlands to coastal lagoons, barrier lands and bays of the Arctic Ocean. Even for those who may never set foot there, the Arctic Refuge is an important symbol of the wild, and a cornerstone of the hope and peace of mind that can only be found in connecting with nature.

The Arctic Refuge is home to some of our most iconic species of wildlife, including caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, musk oxen, Dall sheep, wolves, wolverines and many more. Each year, the Arctic Refuge coastal plain’s vast expanse of lush tundra acts as the birthing grounds for much of this wildlife. Birds we see in our own backyards, in all 50 states and across six continents, begin their lives in the Arctic Refuge. The Refuge’s coastal plain is the most important land habitat for mother polar bears, who build dens there each year to give birth to their cubs. The Porcupine Caribou Herd also returns each year to the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain to give birth to their calves, traveling hundreds of miles to do so. For the caribou, and for other Arctic wildlife, there is no alternative to this vital and sensitive habitat that they have depended on for millennia.

The health of the landscape is vital to the subsistence way of life of Alaska Native communities. For centuries the Gwich’in and Inupiaq people have relied on the bounty of the Arctic for their livelihood. The Gwich’in refer to the coastal plain as the “Sacred Place Where Life Begins” The protection of the coastal plain is a matter of survival and food security for the Gwich’in people, whose way of life is tied inextricably to the health of the caribou.

The wonder of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has not stopped continued attempts to open this special place to oil drilling. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act officially opened the coast plain to drilling, predicting it would raise significant revenue. Ultimately, there were only three bidders and the lease sale on January 6, 2021 raised a fraction of what was predicted. The majority of the tracts were bid on by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a state-owned corporation with a history of being involved in unpopular and unprofitable development such as Ambler Road. 

Latest News: The Biden Administration has put a temporary halt on the leases held by The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, who are the only remaining leaseholders. All other leaseholders have forfeited their leases, in part because of public pressure and divestment from major banks. 

How we’ve fought back: Since Sierra Club launched its corporate campaign, all major U.S. banks have agreed to not fund drilling in the arctic. At the lease sale held on January 6th, no big or medium sized oil companies bid. This is in large part because of the work of volunteers and activists who made it clear that drilling in the arctic is bad business. We will continue to explore legislative solutions to permanent protections We encourage everyone to go to to learn more about the lands and the Gwich’in people.