Audubon: “All-hands-on-deck to defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

Audubon files federal lawsuit to stop the administration’s efforts to drill in the Refuge.

WASHINGTON — “Birds can’t vote and they can’t file a lawsuit—but we can. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment to defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and protect America’s bird nursery from drilling,” said David Yarnold (@david_yarnold), president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, after the Department of the Interior took the final administrative step to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.   

Earlier this month Audubon won a federal court victory defending the Migratory Bird Treaty Act after a federal court invalidated the Department of the Interior’s new interpretation of the law that allowed companies a free pass to kill birds. This law is also key for protecting birds in the Refuge and throughout the country.

“On the darkest days I like to think about the perseverance of the Tundra Swan that travel in family groups from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over three thousand miles to spend their winter with us on the Potomac and the Chesapeake. They never give up and neither do we. If we don’t look out for them and the 200 other bird species that depend on the Refuge, who will?” Yarnold added.

National Audubon Society v. Bernhardt was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Alaska. The lawsuit argues that the Department of the Interior failed to comply with the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, and the Endangered Species Act, as well as the Tax Act of 2017.

“The Department of Interior blocked scientific review, dismantled its own agency processes, and ignored the concerns of Indigenous Peoples from across the Arctic to pander to politicians who have close ties to North Slope oil companies,” said Natalie Dawson, executive director and vice president of Audubon Alaska. “Alaskans will not be duped into thinking oil and gas from the Arctic Refuge is a path to prosperity. We need political action to address climate change in our most vulnerable communities, and investment in sustainable and regenerative economies like Indigenous-led cultural tourism in the Arctic, not a legacy of leaking well heads rotting out our permafrost and poisoning our world’s cleanest waters.”

“Drilling in the Arctic is a political victory with a price that’s too high to pay,” said Nada Culver, vice president for public lands and senior policy counsel. “Public lands are critical for the survival of so many species and are central to so many people’s lives, yet this administration has dismissed their value beyond potential profits from fossil fuels development. As we’ve done for decades, Audubon will continue to defend public lands in Alaska and across the country for everyone who enjoys and relies on them, feathered or not.”

The Gwich’in Steering Committee, a voice for indigenous traditional hunting communities, also filed suit to challenge the oil and gas development plan. Gwich’in people revere the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain as a sacred place because it serves as calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, animals that are essential for food and cultural tradition in Gwich’in villages.

More than 200 species of birds, including the Long-tailed Duck, Snowy Owl and Northern Pintail, depend on the Arctic Refuge. Many migrate through six continents and all 50 states to breed in the Refuge. The Refuge is an iconic American treasure on par with the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Yosemite. First protected by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, leaders from both parties have worked together for generations to stop attempts to open the biological heart of the Refuge—its pristine coastal plain—to oil and gas drilling.

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need —today and tomorrow —throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more how to help at and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @audubonsociety.

Robyn Shepherd, 
Matt Smelser, 
Lisa Hardaway