Historic Chance to Permanently Protect the Arctic Refuge
We have a chance to protect the Arctic for wildlife! The ecosystem of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska exemplifies the epitome of our wilderness heritage. President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated protection of this refuge in 1960 when he set aside 8.9 million acres for the sole purpose of “preserving unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values.”
Continuing Eisenhower’s vision, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced an amendment to the SHARE Act seeking to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain as a Wilderness area — safeguarding it from oil and gas development and ensuring the flora and fauna it encompasses remain unspoiled. This means brighter futures for wildlife and awe-inspiring scenery for us!
This untarnished land is home to 270 wildlife species, including 200 species of birds that migrate there each year from around the nation. Let’s look at some of its native inhabitants we can help to protect.
MuskoxenThis stoic mammal sure conjures up images of the arctic realm. The Inupiat Eskimos call it “omingmak” or “the bearded one.” Muskoxen disappeared from the refuge over 100 years ago, but they were brought back in 1969 to balance the ecosystem and have been thriving ever since.
To survive the nine-month-long winters, muskoxen have adapted wool as an insulation device. Their short legs are also very good at retaining heat. And with temperatures routinely dropping to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, the woolier they are the better.
Tufted PuffinThe tufted puffin honors a monogamous mating system to help rear the young. To feed their families, puffins use their adaptive beaks to carry 5-20 fish back to their nests at a time. The world record holder, a puffin in Maine, travelled with 62 fish at once!
Sadly, thousands of these magnificent birds are killed as by-catch (accidently caught during commercial fishing) in fishing nets. Elimination of drift-nets has mitigated much mortality, but it is still a matter of great concern.
Snowy OwlAlthough their ghostly-pale appearance may remind you of a haunt in the night, this species of owl is actually diurnal (they are active during the day). With remarkable eyesight and just as keen hearing, these majestic birds can find prey that is almost invisible under thick vegetation.
A snowy owl’s preferred meal is lemmings, and I don’t mean just one. An adult may eat more than 1,600 of these rodents a year, or three to five every day.
Polar BearTaking the title as the world’s largest carnivore, the polar bear is true to its name in power and beauty. Every year, polar bears congregate along the coast of the Arctic Refuge to give birth to the next generation.
After giving birth in December and January, the mothers will nurse and care for their young through April. They then move back to the icy waters to hunt for ringed seals. The cubs will learn hunting strategies from their mothers for almost three years! The Arctic Refuge is the only national conservation area where polar bears regularly den, and this is one of many reasons to protect these sacred lands.
Beluga WhaleThe word beluga comes from the Russian word “bielo,” meaning white. However, these whales are actually born a shade of dark grey. They gain their white color when they reach sexual maturity.
Beluga whales do not have dorsal fins. Dorsal fins cause heat loss, and in a climate where water temperatures are below zero, maintaining body heat is an integral part of life.
These social mammals are threatened by climate change, hunting, oil and gas development, and industrial and urban pollution, but you can take a stand to protect these majestic creatures.