Congress Passes Legislation to Open the Arctic Refuge to Drilling


Congress today passed tax legislation that includes a provision to open the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. In a year notable for a steady stream of discouraging news about public lands and our wild places, this one stings. It is an iconic step in the wrong direction for our most iconic landscape. But this battle is far from over.

Pick your superlative. The Arctic Refuge is our wildest landscape. It is our largest refuge. It is the source of sustenance for the Gwich’in people. Its caribou migrate in herds of thousands. Its rivers, flowing north into the Arctic Ocean, offer once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Everything about the place humbles visitors.

Sadly, very few members of Congress who voted to drill in the Arctic have been there. The passion with which leaders of the outdoor industry have advocated for protecting the Arctic Refuge might surprise these members for whom the Arctic drilling provision in the tax bill was irrelevant. Because our members, who know something about adventure, understand that the Arctic Refuge is singularly special.

Roughly half of the 20-million-acre refuge is already protected as Wilderness. But, in 1980, Congress designated the 1.5-million-acre Coastal Plain as a special area that should be studied for its natural resources, and determined that only Congress could open that area to oil drilling. For nearly 40 years, the Coastal Plain has been a prize for conservationists who want to permanently protect it, and for drilling advocates who want to tap its oil reserves.

For more than 20 years, The Conservation Alliance has funded organizations working to secure permanent protection for the Arctic’s Coastal Plain. Our engagement sparked curiosity among industry leaders who had never been to the remote area. Over the past decade, a steady stream of outdoor industry leaders traveled to the refuge to experience the place first-hand. Most were inspired to visit by Zumiez founder Tom Campion, and Eagle Creek founder Steve Barker.

I had the privilege of running the Canning River with several industry leaders – including Tom and Steve – back in 2009. During that trip, my belief that the Arctic Refuge was too special to drill moved from my head to my heart. I recall the midnight sun, the countless ground nests, the wolves crossing the river, the musk oxen huddled in cold fog. Then, on the final morning, a herd of hundreds of caribou migrated through our camp. The Arctic Refuge is nature on its own terms, not ours. And it should stay that way.

After years of asking Congress to designate the Coastal Plain as Wilderness – and subsequent Congressional inaction – our industry urged President Obama to declare the embattled area a national monument. That effort fell short, as Donald Trump took the White House and inherited Republican majorities in both the Senate and House. Which brings us to today.

Congress has approved Arctic drilling with the tax bill. It is telling that oil proponents had to bury the drilling provision in a filibuster-proof tax bill to succeed. Most Americans do not support opening the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling, even if they’ve never seen the place. The mere idea of an untrammeled Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has value. It says that we have the restraint to leave some places alone. That we are not always controlled by our rapacious appetites.

So, until there is an oil well in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, this fight is not over. Why?

  1. Oil exploration and drilling will be subject to environmental review under laws including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Arctic is a notoriously sensitive landscape not conducive to industrial development. The Conservation Alliance will seek opportunities to support legal challenges to any Arctic drilling.
  2. Oil companies that may now seek to drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will have to consider the impact on their reputations and should expect a backlash from shareholders and investors. They will need to evaluate the unfavorable economics and geology that have already led many in the industry to question the expense and viability of Arctic Refuge drilling.
  3. Millions of Americans oppose Arctic drilling, and are willing to speak out against diminishing our greatest wildlife refuge.

What you can do:

  1. Contact your members of Congress. Thank those who voted against the tax bill, and let them know that you support any future efforts to legislate protection for the Arctic Refuge. If your Senator or House Representative voted for the tax bill, remind them that they voted to end protections for our greatest national wildlife refuge for no public benefit, and that you will remember their vote.
  2. Stay engaged! This fight is not over. This Congress and the Trump Administration have launched a systematic assault on our public lands, starting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s farcical review of national monuments earlier this year. That review led President Trump to remove protections for two million acres of national monument lands in Utah. Now the same players seek to despoil our greatest national wildlife refuge. This is a defining moment for public lands in America, and we all need to engage. We have supported three organizations that work every day to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and encourage you to do the same:


Outdoor Industry Leaders Reflect on Opening the Arctic Refuge to Oil Drilling

A caribou calf is calling its mother. Tens of thousands of calfs migrate with the herd immediately after they are born.  Photo:  Florian Schulz

Photo: Florian Schulz

The outdoor industry has a personal connection to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This is not just another landscape, but one that leaders in our industry know well. We asked a few outdoor industry leaders who know the Arctic Refuge first-hand to tell us how it makes them feel to know that one of the most vibrant wild landscapes on the planet will soon be opened to oil drilling.

“By voting to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Congress is attacking America’s public lands. Having firsthand knowledge of this magnificent place only strengthens my resolve to defend the Refuge from this administration and the oil companies that want to exploit it.”

-Ron Hunter, Patagonia Activism Manager and frequent visitor to the Arctic Refuge.

“We are talking about the wildest place on the planet where I have seen polar bears, wolverines and herds of thousands of caribou with my own eyes. Every trip to the coastal plain, I am blown away by this incredible spectacle as I imagine how America was before Europeans arrived on the continent. A place where Caribou migrate in the hundreds of thousands to give birth in the place the Gwich’in Athabascan Americans call the “sacred place where life begins.” I am struck that still today in our urbanized world I can, for the price of a plane ticket and some camping gear, visit this iconic place and be a witness to this all. I am reminded that it belongs to me and you, and to all Americans. It is our legacy handed down to us from our ancestors to be protected and given to our children. For generations we as Americans have restrained our instincts to exploit this special place. So it breaks my heart to hear our leaders are moving forward with selling our incredible refuge to the oil industry. Are we so poor a nation that we have to sell off our grandchildren’s legacy to pay for tax cuts? Are we so rich a nation and people that we can afford to carelessly despoil the most pristine wilderness in North America? Did we learn nothing from our great grandfathers after the near extinction of the buffalo or the genocide of Native American peoples? Or did we learn all too well? This is a defining moment for our nation.”

-Steve Barker, Founder of Eagle Creek Travel Gear

“The Arctic Refuge is truly the last wild area in the United States. A far-sighted legacy would be leaving this area as it is for the people and wildlife who depend on the Arctic landscape. Future generations should have the opportunity to visit a truly unique and remarkable landscape. There are many more commercially-viable areas for energy development and we should be focused on transitioning to renewable forms of energy anyway. It’s a truly short-sighted and extremely disappointing decision.”

-Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Association

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is North America’s and perhaps the planets last remaining major, pristine, wildlife rich ecosystem. It’s a place of incredible beauty and soul searching majesty and home to more major wildlife herds and bird species that migrate through the continent than any other place in our country. To think our Congress just stealthily slipped into the tax bill a provision striping all protections from this ecosystem of unimaginable richness that all Americans have rallied to support over its 60 years of existence, is not only personally devastating but challenges the fundamental premise that elected representation exists to represent the interest of their constituents vs a small number of corporate interests. “

-Peter Metcalf, Conservation Alliance Board Member and Co-Founder of Black Diamond Equipment

Great News for Canada’s Peel River Watershed

Photo:  Peter Mather

Early this month, conservationists and Canada’s First Nations won an important legal victory that clears to path to protect more than 13 million acres of wilderness in the Peel River Watershed in the Yukon Territories. This significant victory is an important step toward establishing one of the largest protected areas in the world.

Between 2010 and 2014, The Conservation Alliance made four grants totaling $140,000 to Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) to support their efforts to protect the Peel Watershed. The first three grants helped CPAWS participate in a land use planning process instigated by the Yukon territorial government that was designed to determine how the lands and rivers within the watershed would be managed. Working closely with three First Nations – the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the Na Cho Nyäk Dän, and the Vuntut Gwitchin – CPAWS helped develop a plan that called for protecting 80 percent of the 16-million-acre landscape.

In 2014, the Yukon government rejected the final plan, and sought to implement their own vision for the Peel, which called for opening 70 percent of the watershed to industrial mining development. In response, CPAWS and the First Nations took the Yukon government to court, challenging their rejection of the land use plan. We funded what became a three-year legal fight that went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. The court ruled on December 1 that the Yukon government must honor the plan that protects most of the Peel, delivering a historic conservation victory.

With the Supreme Court decision in hand, CPAWS and its allies now will engage in a final “consultation” that will essentially certify the land use plan, and then participate in the plan’s implementation.

“Today, we celebrate a court decision that will lead to permanent protection for a landscape that is twice the size of Massachusetts,” said John Sterling, Executive Director of The Conservation Alliance. “Thanks to the First Nations with support from CPAWS and other conservation partners, the Peel Watershed is saved.”

Click here for more details.

The Conservation Alliance Funds Legal Challenges to Trump Assault on National Monuments

The Conservation Alliance Staff, left to right: Kirsten Blackburn; Josie Norris; John Sterling and Serena Gordon.

The Conservation Alliance made a $75,000 grant to Earthjustice today, supporting the organization’s legal challenges to President Trump’s unprecedented changes to national monument boundaries. The grant is the largest contribution The Conservation Alliance has ever made to one organization, and will support litigation aimed at halting changes to national monuments throughout the Western US.

Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order that attempts to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. His order reduces Bears Ears by 85 percent, and cuts Grand Staircase-Escalante in half. Within hours, Earthjustice filed suit to defend Grand Staircase-Escalante, and plans to file in support of Bears Ears later in the week. Earthjustice is representing eight organizations charging that the president violated the 1906 Antiquities Act by stripping monument protections from these national treasures.

“President Trump is attempting what could be the largest rollback of public lands protections in American history by axing the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments,” said Heidi McIntosh, Earthjustice’s managing attorney in the Rocky Mountains region. “But his proclamations are illegal. And they will be met by a roar of disapproval from the American people who love these lands and who stand by the Native American tribes for whom these lands are sacred.”

The Conservation Alliance invested heavily in the organizations that led the effort to secure national monument designation for Bears Ears and nine other monuments during the Obama Administration. Each of these landscapes has significant outdoor recreation, cultural, wildlife, and scientific value. President Trump ordered a review of national monuments earlier this year, during which three million Americans submitted comments. More than 99 percent of those comments urged President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to leave all monuments under review unchanged.

“The President has chosen to ignore millions of Americans to put at risk two places he has never seen,” said John Sterling, Executive Director of The Conservation Alliance. “We are proud to protect our investment in these landscapes by supporting Earthjustice’s efforts to challenge this assault on our public lands.”

In addition to defending Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Earthjustice is prepared to go to court to defend national monuments in New Mexico and California. The law firm is already engaged in litigation to protect Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon.

“In this reckless assault on our shared natural heritage, the President is proposing to remove protections for wildly popular National Monuments that drive local economies and hold great concentrations of Native American antiquities, stunning recreation opportunities, and areas with unique scientific value,” said Sterling. “Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are exactly the kind of landscapes the Antiquities Act was intended to preserve.”

This grant comes from The Conservation Alliance’s new Public Lands Defense Fund, a special fund designed to make emergency grants to organizations working to defend the integrity of our public lands system. The Conservation Alliance established the Public Lands Defense Fund in January, 2017 with contributions from Patagonia, The North Face, Arc’teryx, GU Energy Labs, KEEN Footwear, Ruff Wear and Ibex Outdoor Clothing. Together, these companies have contributed more than $270,000 this year to support efforts to defend public lands. The Conservation Alliance welcomes additional contribution to grow this fund.

The Conservation Alliance Responds to President Trump’s Unprecedented Attack on National Monuments


Today, President Trump launched an unprecedented attack on America’s public lands. In a move that favors short-term profits for extractive industries over Native American cultural heritage and a sustainable outdoor recreation economy, Trump signed an executive order that attempts to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. His order reduces Bears Ears by 85 percent, and cuts Grand Staircase-Escalante in half. Like many of President Trump’s executive orders, this one is likely illegal, and will immediately be challenged in court by Native Americans, conservation organizations, and outdoor recreation interests. The Conservation Alliance opposes any attempt to reduce the boundaries of existing national monuments by executive action, and is prepared to fund legal challenges to this assault on or national and natural heritage.

When President Trump ordered a review of national monuments earlier this year, we supported efforts to show how strongly local citizens and businesses support both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. During the national monument review, three million Americans submitted comments, more than 99 percent of which urged President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to leave all monuments under review unchanged.

At the behest of Utah’s political leadership, the President has chosen to ignore millions of Americans to put at risk two places he has never seen. It is no coincidence that Trump ordered the dismantling of two of Utah’s most iconic national monuments just days after Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, ushered the tax cut bill through the Senate. In this reckless assault on our shared natural heritage, the President is proposing to remove protections for wildly popular national monuments that drive local economies and hold great concentrations of Native American antiquities, stunning recreation opportunities, and areas with unique scientific value. Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante are exactly the kind of landscapes the Antiquities Act was intended to preserve.

President Trump’s action is part of a broader attack on our public lands by Congress and the White House; an attack that we expect to play out over the next year. The Conservation Alliance will work closely with our member companies and our partners in the conservation community to respond to this and any subsequent attempt to undermine our special wild places. We will use our Public Lands Defense Fund to fund grassroots conservation groups in their efforts to defend our public lands. And we will continue to organize our member companies and their employees and customers to speak out forcefully in support of our public lands.

Since President Trump and Secretary Zinke launched their national monument review, our member companies and their employees have joined an unprecedented movement in support of public lands. That movement is only growing, and we will continue to stand strong as we defend our national monuments now, and make plans to secure new protections for public lands in the future.

If you want to join the effort to support our national monuments, here are three actions you can take today:

  1. Join the effort to establish a Bears Ears Visitors and Education Center in Bluff, Utah. Friends of Cedar Mesa, a longtime Conservation Alliance grantee and local Bears Ears conservation nonprofit, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to build a center to educate and inspire the ever increasing visitation to the Bears Ears region.
  2. Continue to stand up for our national monuments. Visit for suggested social media messages.
  3. Remain engaged, motivated, and passionate. We will continue to share updates and opportunities for engagement through our channels. Please sign up for our e-newsletter to be informed of these opportunities.

Trump to Shrink Utah Monuments on Monday

BE_JoshEwingC2017 (1) (1)

Photo: Josh Ewing

President Trump will fly to Salt Lake City Utah on Monday, December 4th to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

Documents leaked from the White House and obtained by a variety of sources such as The Washington Post, Outside Online, and the Salt Lake Tribune, suggest that President Trump will issue an order, which, if eventually upheld in court, would dramatically reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah.  If these obtained documents are true, Trump will dismantle Bears Ears National Monument into two smaller monuments encompassing just 201,000 of the monument’s original 1.35 million acres. Grand  Staircase-Escalante National Monument will also be broken into three smaller monuments with a combined acreage of less than one million acres, roughly half of its original size.

The Conservation Alliance and our member companies have worked vigorously to demonstrate support for National Monuments, and to oppose any changes to their boundaries. Nearly three million Americans commented during the review period, 99 percent of whom urged Trump to leave these special protected areas alone.

Native Americans, conservation and recreation groups, and outdoor businesses are preparing to file lawsuits against the Trump Administration immediately following an announcement on Monday, and The Conservation Alliance will make grants from our Public Lands Defense Fund to support this litigation. In the meantime, there are still ways to make our voices heard. Below are two ways to take action immediately.

  1. Attend Saturday’s Rally in Salt Lake City. Join Utahans on the south steps of the Utah State Capitol to resist Trump’s efforts to dismantle our national monuments. RSVP here.
  2. Make your voice heard on social media. Visit to quickly do so.

Please stay tuned. We will compile a concise list of ways to take action promptly following any Trump announcement on Monday. 


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