To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune this week will embark on a journey through the winding rivers in one of our nation’s greatest wilderness icons, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Joining him will be composer, writer, musician and 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer Paul D. Miller, known as DJ Spooky; and Rue Mapp, Founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a national and social network designed to help re-reconnect African Americans to nature.
The only refuge specifically designed for wilderness purposes, the Arctic Refuge is home to spectacular scenery and some of our most beloved wildlife, including polar bears, caribou and birds from all 50 states. The group will share stories with the Gwich’in residents of Arctic Village, then raft through the Brooks Range on the Aichilik River all the way to the Arctic Ocean, and there they will meet with the Inupiat people in the village of Kaktovik to learn more about their sacred connection with the land and wildlife. The journey will be a testament to both the enduring legacy of the Wilderness Act but also the ongoing need for it, as they will float through a landscape protected for future generations in the Mollie Beattie Wilderness area, but end up in one of the areas most threatened by oil and gas exploration— the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.
Right now the Porcupine Caribou Herd is traveling through the Aichilik River region, according to reports in the field. The caribou herd is nearly 170,000 animals strong, and each year they migrate 1,500 miles from their wintering grounds in Interior Alaska and Canada, to the coast of the Beaufort Sea, and back. On our trip we’re hoping to see the caribou herd as it heads to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—the crown jewel of the refuge. These caribou come to the coastal plain each year to birth their young, and they’re far from alone. Millions of birds nest of the coastal plain and it's where polar bears den their young.
Over the past fifty years the Wilderness Act has protected nearly 110 million acres of public lands for all Americans to enjoy. Worthy in their own right, these lands also provide clean air and water for communities, provide landscapes for wildlife, help fight climate disruption, and contribute to the $646 billion outdoor recreation economy. Wilderness areas provide opportunities for people to reconnect with the outdoors and with each other in an increasingly disconnected world.