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Tucson Audubon Family has Alaskan Adventure in Washington DC
By Kimberlyn Drew, Tucson Audubon Board Member, with contributions from Susan Culliney, Audubon Alaska, and Andy Moore

This March my husband Andy, daughter Phoebe and I traveled to Washington DC representing Tucson Audubon Society at Alaska Wilderness Week. Wilderness Week is sponsored by the Alaska Wilderness League in cooperation with Audubon Alaska, the Sierra Club, Patagonia and other environmental organizations. This annual event began in the 1990s and brings volunteers from across the US and Canada to share their connections to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with each other, and with members of Congress.

Located in the Northeast corner of Alaska, the Arctic Refuge is one of America’s last truly-wild places and is so ecologically-rich to be sometimes called “America’s Serengeti.” It was first protected by President Eisenhower in 1960, the only place along America’s Arctic coastline that is truly set aside for wildlife and wilderness. The Arctic Refuge is home to more than 200 bird species, as well as polar bears, musk oxen, wolves, and caribou during their summer calving season.

By Arthur T. LaBar

As Arizona residents and members of Tucson Audubon, we were drawn to this event because of the importance of the Refuge to migratory birds. In fact, all four of the North American flyways overlap at the Refuge, and Refuge birds can be found in all 50 states and on 6 continents. Arctic Refuge birds that visit Arizona in the winter include Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes.

Sandhill Crane by David Quanrud

Snow Geese by Howard Ignatius

At our first training day, people around the room introduced themselves and voiced their reasons for making the journey to our nation’s capital. Many spoke of the importance of the Arctic for birds and other wildlife. But other voices were new to us; unfamiliar names and places were mentioned — Gwich’in, Old Crow Yukon, Porcupine Caribou. In their presentations, we learned about the Gwich’in people, whose nation spans across Alaska and the Yukon in Canada, and includes a large portion of the Arctic Refuge. They had made the three-day journey to Washington DC to stand up for the caribou herd that is essential to their way of life. The Porcupine Caribou herd (named after the Porcupine river) migrates between its wintering grounds to the south and its calving grounds on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to the North. The Gwich’in from Old Crow harvest caribou twice a year as they pass by, taking only what they need, and using all that they take for their subsistence livelihood.

Although most of the Arctic Refuge is protected Wilderness, the ecologically-rich Coastal Plain is not. Speculation about possible oil reserves in the plain, known as Area 1002, meant that it was not initially given full protection. This was a compromise to allow the establishment of the Refuge. Pressure to open the plain to drilling has been present for decades, but so far has been successfully resisted. Unfortunately the pressure to drill may soon reach a boiling point. At some point Congress will shift its attention to the Fiscal Year 2018 budget process, where it could try to sneak in an Arctic Refuge drilling provision.

After sharing our stories with each other, and learning how to talk to representatives, our group of about 30 dedicated activists split into lobby teams to go walk the halls of Congress so we could share our stories with representatives. Our team was led by a Lobbyist for Audubon and included a Gwich’in Elder from Old Crow Yukon Canada, a Gwich’in who is also a US veteran from the Fort Yukon area of Alaska, and a veteran from Tucson. We visited the offices of representatives from various states, as well as our Arizona State Senators. At each meeting, we educated the aide about the issue, then we took turns telling our stories. We asked many to thank their boss for supporting the efforts in the past, and we updated them on the status of an upcoming bill to protect the area as well as the likely budget fight. All were very professional and receptive to the information that we shared, several asked great questions, and some even strongly stated support for our cause.

The lobby team

There was a little time for fun, too. The Embassy of Canada hosted our Wilderness Week group at a lovely reception in the Arctic Room, which is filled with wonderful artwork by Canadian artists and has an incredible view of the Capitol. In her address, the Chair of the Gwich’in Elder Council actually called out Phoebe, a Tucson middle-schooler, for using her “strong voice” on behalf of the Refuge. Later that evening, under the city lights, we met some new friends and enjoyed sledding on Capitol Hill, though the conditions felt Arctic-like to us with below-freezing temperatures and very strong wind gusts.

We would love if you would please consider helping the cause. Tucson Audubon is working with our colleagues at Audubon Alaska and National Audubon to protect the Arctic Refuge. More than ever before, we must stand united for birds and public lands. Take action today at www.audubon.org/takeaction, reach out to your Congressional representatives, or consider writing a letter to the editor with your own story about why our birds that use the Arctic Refuge must be protected from development.

Contact Kimberlyn at Kimberlyn@KimberlynDrew.com or www.KimberlynDrew.com

TAKE ACTION

Tucson Audubon is working with our colleagues at Audubon Alaska and National Audubon to protect the Arctic Refuge. More than ever before, we must stand united for birds and public lands. Take action today at www.audubon.org/takeaction, reach out to your Congressional representatives, or consider writing a letter to the editor with your own story about why our birds that use the Arctic Refuge must be protected from development.

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Tucson Audubon Society
300 E University Blvd. #120 Tucson, AZ 85705

Mason Center
3835 W Hardy Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85742

Paton Center for Hummingbirds
477 Pennsylvania Ave.
Patagonia, AZ 85624
520 415-6447

color_square_face_right

Tucson Audubon Society
300 E University Blvd. #120
Tucson, AZ 85705

Mason Center
3835 W Hardy Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85742

Paton Center for Hummingbirds
477 Pennsylvania Ave.
Patagonia, AZ 85624
520 415-6447

color_square_face_right

Tucson Audubon Society
300 E University Blvd. #120
Tucson, AZ 85705

Mason Center
3835 W Hardy Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85742

Paton Center for Hummingbirds
477 Pennsylvania Ave.
Patagonia, AZ 85624
520 415-6447