Letter from a Grateful Caribou: Thank You, Presidents Eisenhower and Carter!

Dear Presidents Eisenhower and Carter,

I am a caribou from the Alaska Refuge. You didn’t hear from us much when the Refuge was created and enlarged (we caribou are not born lobbyists), but on the 50th birthday of the Arctic Refuge, we thought it high time to express our gratitude.

We caribou are wanderers, and we need the big refuge that you created. Over the course of a year, we may meander 3,000 miles chasing food, avoiding predators and insects, and finding the perfect place to raise our young. Over the course of a year, we call many places within the Arctic Refuge home.

flickr | Martha de Jong-Lantink

Spring is our favorite time in the Arctic Refuge.  Just as the snow melts and the vegetation greens up on the coastal plains, we arrive in this oasis.  Here, mother caribou give birth.  These stomping grounds are ideal (there aren’t many grizzly bears, golden eagles, or wolves) and almost all caribou from my herd (the Porcupine Herd) and many from the Central Arctic Herd come here.  For the first weeks of spring we thrive – gaining weight after a long cold winter and enjoying a respite before the pesky insects of summer arrive.

However, the coastal plains are just one special place, of many, that we caribou have in the Arctic Refuge. During the worst days of July when mosquitoes bite, we retreat to the refuge’s beaches and mountains where winds give us a respite.  As winter approaches we move south of the Brooks Range and even into Canada’s Yukon Territory to enjoy rich lichen and safe haven from winter weather in the Arctic’s boreal forests.

You see, the refuge is a special place, precisely because it is many different places all at once. It’s not just the mountains, or the coastal plains, or the forest.  The Arctic Refuge is all of these places- and caribou are grateful because we need each type of place at a different time of year.

Caribou aren’t alone in their gratitude. Musk oxen thank you for the coastal plains and the marmots for the mountains.  Moose love the refuge’s bogs and polar bears thank you for ice on the Beaufort Sea.  All of us know that the refuge is the size of South Carolina for many good reasons.

So thank you, Presidents Eisenhower and Carter, for creating and enlarging the Arctic Refuge. We hope you’ll tell your predecessors to follow in your footsteps and to abide by Teddy Roosevelt’s awestruck prescription for the Grand Canyon when deciding the fate of our homeland:

“Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”


A caribou from the Arctic Refuge

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