Protecting the Arctic Refuge

Protecting the Arctic Refuge

Protecting the Arctic Refuge

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 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in the northeast corner of Alaska, past the Arctic Circle and beyond Alaska’s Brooks Range mountains.

The Refuge is critical to the survival of Alaska Native communities. For centuries the Gwich’in and Iñupiaq people have relied on the bounty of the Arctic for their livelihood. The Gwich’in refer to the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain as the “Sacred Place Where Life Begins” because the Porcupine Caribou Herd returns each year to the 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 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 Refuge has not stopped decades-long attempts to open this special place to oil and gas drilling. In 2017, this work began a new phase as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act officially opened the coastal plain to drilling and the Trump administration rushed to hold a lease sale there. Since then, Sierra Club has been part of a movement Native Alaskans, environmental organizations, and other justice-minded groups to prevent drilling in the Refuge.

The fight to defend the Refuge is more than just environmentalists versus Big Oil. This is the work to stand in solidarity with Native Alaskans like the Gwich’in and Iñupiat. This is about human rights and cultural traditions to remain able to thrive in a way of life without development that benefits very few at the expense of many. 

Congressional Action

The path for permanent protections to the Refuge must be through Congress, but first we must stop the mandatory lease sale process that was passed in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Executive Action

Whoever is in the White House holds the power over the Arctic Refuge, unless Congress acts. We are working to pressure the Biden administration to cancel the leases, and applaud the recent pause of the leases.

Going after the Leases

We are targeting the companies that bid on these lease sales on social media as well as pressuring insurance companies to not fund any projects in the Refuge.

At 19.6 million acres, the Refuge 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.

Campaign History

Our long term goal is to secure permanent protections for the Arctic Refuge, that ensure Native Alaskan access and keep the lands, water, and wildlife healthy.

Read More

Film: Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee

The Gwich’in people are fighting to protect the lands and caribou from oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—a place that has provided them with a rich and bountiful existence since time immemorial. Watch the film.

Fim: The Refuge | Fighting for a Way of Life

With their traditional culture now threatened by oil extraction and climate change, two Gwich'in women are continuing a decades-long fight to protect their land and future. Watch the film.

Film: The Sacred Place Where Life Begins: Gwich'in Women Speak

This film shares the voices of Gwich’in women at the 2010 gathering, who speak out for their sacred land, the caribou and their way of life. Watch the film.

Threshold Podcast: The Refuge

How did the fate of this remote area in Alaska become one of the most hotly contested environmental issues in America today? Listen.

Midnight Oil Podcast

Midnight Oil is the hit podcast from Alaska’s Energy Desk. Listen.

How to Advocate for the Arctic Refuge During August Recess: Lobbying 101

VIdeo training to create a lobbying plan and how to use our Lobbying Toolkit to schedule meetings with your lawmakers. Watch now.

Corporate Accountability: Targeting the Lease Holders

Training to join our Arctic "corporate hecklers." Join us on Slack by creating a profile: sierra club distributed.slack.comWatch now.

Path To Undoing the Tax Act: Budget Reconciliation

Indigenous Solidarity and the Arctic Refuge: What It Looks Like

Training on Indigenous Solidarity and the Arctic Refuge. Watch now.

Art for the Movement: Arctic Art Building

Training on using photography to defend the refuge. Watch now.