Audubon Takes the Administration to Court to Save America’s Arctic

With our allies we will bring voices of opposition to protect vital bird habitat and one of our country’s last untouched places from oil and gas drilling.

A quiet world of ancient caribou paths, nesting shorebirds, clean air, and free-flowing rivers could soon be replaced with roads, gravel pads, airplane traffic, retention ponds, and the smells and smog of low-lying methane clouds. The Trump administration has decided to move forward with oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge and relinquish protections for millions of acres of wetlands and river corridors in the Western Arctic. Their actions would leave no portion of America’s Arctic free from oil and gas development.  We’re taking action to stop them.

Before the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act, the United States set aside portions of the American Arctic for wildlife values, acting on the behalf of the majority of Americans who continue to support these protections for the Arctic. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, originally the Arctic Wildlife Range, was established sixty years ago. In 1980, it was expanded to include the Coastal Plain, under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

To the west of the Arctic Refuge lies the single, largest block of federal land in the United States - the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA, or, the Reserve). First established in 1923, the Reserve has always been a balance between responsible oil and gas development and the habitat needs of iconic Arctic species as well as migratory waterfowl from every continent.

The Refuge and the Reserve together represent a stretch of intact Arctic coast unlike any other region of the world. And for decades the United States has had the foresight to keep much of it protected, understanding that our need to supply ourselves and the world with fossil fuels should be balanced by our need to ensure longevity of our fish and wildlife species, and the importance of protecting Indigenous Peoples’ ways of life.

A decade ago, Audubon worked closely with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other stakeholders to ensure protections for about half of the 23.5 million acre Reserve, setting aside special areas like the Teshekpuk Lake wetlands complex, one of the most important wetlands networks in the global Arctic, where tens of thousands of molting geese stage each year and millions of shorebirds and migratory waterfowl feed, nest, and fledge their young. The BLM has gone back on their word.

In the span of two days this week we joined with a coalition of conservation organizations to file separate lawsuits to protect and defend the Refuge and the Reserve. What the administration is doing here is not only unconscionable, it is illegal.

The administration says it cares about fish and wildlife as they give Bristol Bay a possible reprieve from the Pebble Mine, but is sacrificing irreplaceable resources across the Arctic. The administration says oil and gas development can be responsible, even as they strip away regulatory requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act. They ignore their own scientists and the majority of Americans, pushing an aggressive oil and gas industry-friendly agenda without proper consultation with Tribes, communities, all in the midst of a global pandemic.

The pandemic has taught us about the world’s fragility in the face of climate change. The Reserve and the Refuge are the heart and soul of our rapidly warming world, and to threaten this region with oil and gas development is to threaten the future of all species trying to adapt to climate change.

Polar bears are finding ways to adapt by denning on land, which is incompatible with oil and gas development. Whales are shifting their feeding patterns, but are sensitive to sounds from offshore and nearshore industrial activity. The Arctic holds some of the cleanest, largest freshwater resources in the world. We need to give each other, and all other species, the room to adapt, to find resilience, to center our future on hope and inspiration. At Audubon, we recognize the Arctic as one of the places we draw our collective inspiration for action, and we intend to make sure it stays this way for our future.