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Trading Away Wildness For Oil And Tax Breaks

A Wyoming Conservationist Schools A U.S. Senator After He Votes To Open The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge To Drilling

Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Margaret E. Murie, left, and husband Olaus at their home in the Tetons in 1956. Besides being major figures in the American wilderness movement, they helped secure protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Photo courtesy Murie Center
Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Margaret E. Murie, left, and husband Olaus at their home in the Tetons in 1956. Besides being major figures in the American wilderness movement, they helped secure protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy Murie Center
Few members of the younger generations may realize this, but what remains of wildness in America has an arc of human connection that runs from Moose, Wyoming to the northern tundra of Alaska.

Generations of the Murie clan, still with us and passed, embraced as part of their heritage the national movement to draft a landmark federal law, codifying the establishment of capital-W “wilderness” lands. In 1964, Margaret E. Murie left her home in Grand Teton National Park bound for Washington D.C. to witness President Lyndon Johnson sign the Wilderness Act.

Between them, the husband and wife couples of Mardy and Olaus Murie, and Louise and Adolph Murie, were deeply committed to advancing conservation in the Lower 48 but their favorite muse was Alaska—in particular the mountains around Denali and a sweep of public land that became the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Countless numbers of Americans, Democrats and Republicans, regarded the refuge, often referenced by its acronym, ANWR, as inviolate, particularly in recent years as climate change is rapidly altering the environment for animals that live there. ANWR is a seasonal home to the famous Porcupine caribou herd which is rivaled only by the elk, mule deer and pronghorn movements in Greater Yellowstone for its long-distance seasonal migration.

But ANWR also has oil beneath it. In December, Republicans from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho voted as part of the new tax bill promoted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump Administration to open up ANWR to drilling.

A recent poll shows that 70 percent of Americans are against energy development in ANWR and those who "strongly oppose" outnumber those who are "strongly in favor" of drilling by a 4 to 1 margin.

After many Wyomingites protested the Republicans embedding the controversial development of ANWR in a tax bill, U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, from Gillette, Wyoming crafted a form letter mailed to some of his angry constituents.

What follows is Enzi’s note to one constituent, the conservationist/biologist Ann Harvey (who also was a friend of the late Mardy Murie and Louise Murie Macleod) and Harvey’s reply to the senator.

Mountain Journal wanted to share it with you.  Enjoy.   —MoJo Eds

Constituent Form Letter From U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi

From: "Senator Michael B. Enzi" <Correspondence_Reply@enzi.senate.gov>
Date: Tuesday, December 19, 2017 at 2:33 PM
To: Ann Harvey
December 19, 2017

Ms. Ann Harvey
Wilson, WY 83014

Dear Ann:

I believe responsible, limited energy development should occur in places like the ANWR and Outer Continental Shelf as a way to help us meet our energy needs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. 
U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming
U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming

By developing less than three percent of the ANWR, we could create new jobs and generate billions of dollars while preserving the vast majority of the area. Alaska’s senators, the folks who know ANWR the best, have advocated for this limited development for many years.

I keep in close contact with the Fish and Wildlife Service, officials at the National Elk Refuge and the Wyoming Game and Fish when there are any legislative proposals that might affect the wildlife these folks manage.

I believe our tax reform bill would help grow the economy, encourage job creation at home and, in turn, drive up wages. We would reduce taxes on average in every tax bracket.

Sincerely,
Michael B. Enzi
United States Senator

An Answer/Rebuttal From Ann Harvey

December 21, 2017
Senator Mike Enzi
379A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Enzi,

In response to your email above, I have a question for you: Have you ever actually been to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? I have. As a young field biologist I, along with another young woman, spent more than 3 months camping and hiking throughout the upper Sheenjek River drainage in the heart of the Refuge, studying Dall Sheep for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Our base camp was more than 100 miles from the nearest road.

The pristine wildness of the Refuge was absolutely stunning to me, even though I had grown up in the Colorado Rockies and spent a great deal of time as a young person out hiking, camping, and backpacking. I spent that long Arctic summer in awe of the quiet, the gorgeous landscape, and the amazing wildlife that surrounded me every day, including dozens of species of nesting birds (birds who migrate to the Refuge to nest from all over the world), bears, wolves, Arctic foxes, Dall sheep, caribou, and many small mammals. It was rich, it was beautiful, and it was wild. It was an unforgettable experience of immersion in the intact natural world, in a place where humans had not yet torn apart the fundamental fabric of that wilderness. It taught me what wilderness really is. 
Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
After returning from my months in the field, I also had the opportunity to fly over other portions of the Refuge, including the coastal plain, conducting aerial wildlife counts, and to float the Sheenjek River to survey hunter use in the fall. One thing that is apparent from the air is that scars inflicted on this land do not heal. I saw tracks of a vehicle that had driven, just one time, over the tundra many decades before—still perfectly visible, not grown over at all. 

The tundra is fragile, Senator Enzi. It will not recover from the impacts of energy development in our lifetimes, nor in many lifetimes to follow.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is wild in a way we can’t even imagine in the Lower 48. 

You speak of “responsible, limited energy development in places like the ANWR”—but there is no other place like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and no energy development that in a place so pristine and so fragile can be considered “responsible.” Your statistic that “less than three percent of the ANWR” would be developed is completely misleading. That “three percent” would be a spiderweb of roads, pipelines, pump stations, and other infrastructure spread out over many thousands of acres. 
"Your statistic that 'less than three percent of the ANWR' would be developed is completely misleading. That 'three percent' would be a spiderweb of roads, pipelines, pump stations, and other infrastructure spread out over many thousands of acres." —Ann Harvey in her response to Sen. Mike Enzi 
If someone drew a spiderweb of permanent lines over a great work of art, making sure that only 3 percent of the actual surface area were covered and plenty of paint still showed between the lines, would the artwork still be intact, in your opinion? The “1002 Area” opened by the tax bill is 1.5 million acres, not some insignificant little piece of land, and the two lease sales envisioned over the next decade would cover 400,000 acres each. Please don’t try to downplay the size and significance of these leases.

I don’t agree that Alaska’s senators are “the folks who know the refuge best.” The folks who know the refuge best are those who have actually spent time living and breathing the wildness of the Refuge, experiencing the 24-hour daylight of the Arctic north, sleeping under the shimmering light of the aurora borealis in the fall, noticing how the tundra plants change color through the seasons, hiking the trailless terrain, watching the play of light and shadow across the great expanses of mountain and valley, observing the flow of caribou migrating, hearing the calls of the birds, adapting to the sudden changes in the weather. 
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Gwich’in people who have depended on the Porcupine caribou herd for generations (and who strongly oppose development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) would not agree either that Alaska’s senators know the refuge best. Alaska’s senators (and many of Alaska’s citizens) want money from oil, period. They do not care about the magnificent wildlife or any other values that the Refuge provides. 

But we as a nation should and do care.

As for generating billions of dollars, the $1.1 billion that the Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal government might receive in the first decade would offset less than one tenth of one percent of the $1.5 trillion lost to the treasury from this corporate-giveaway tax bill you just voted for. And to get even that $1.1 billion, the two lease sales would have to bring in $2,750 per acre—more than ten times what lease sales elsewhere on the North Slope have been averaging. 

According to the Center for American Progess, revenue from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is likely to net only $37.5 million to the federal treasury over the next decade. How can destruction of this irreplaceable wilderness be worth such a paltry return? As for longer-term revenues, it’s a crap shoot. Your projections of billions in revenue are based on probably unrealistic assumptions about what reserves might lie under the Refuge and what is going to happen to the price of oil (at present far below the break-even price for drilling on the North Slope). 

The USGS says there is probably no large pool of oil under the Refuge and that what oil there is is probably scattered in as many as 35 small traps. If that’s the case, your projections are certainly unrealistic. What is certain is that exploration and development will irreparably damage this irreplaceable wildlife refuge that we ought to be protecting, in exchange for unknown amounts of oil that we will probably export. 
This is the vision of full-field natural gas development as permitted on public land by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the Jonah Field of western Wyoming near the foot of the Wind River Mountains. It has had devastating consequences for ungulate populations and sage grouse. Photo courtesy Ecoflight
This is the vision of full-field natural gas development as permitted on public land by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the Jonah Field of western Wyoming near the foot of the Wind River Mountains. It has had devastating consequences for ungulate populations and sage grouse. Photo courtesy Ecoflight

I’d like to close by reminding you of what a great Wyoming woman, Mardy Murie (who as you ought to know was a passionate advocate, along with her husband Olaus, for establishing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), said about the value of this wild land: 

“When I think about that return to the part of Alaska which has meant so much in my life, the overpowering and magnificent fact is that Lobo Lake is still there, untouched. Last Lake is still there, untouched. Although the instant you fly west of the Canning River man is evident in all the most blatant debris of his machine power, east of the Canning the tundra, the mountains, the unmarked space, the quiet, the land itself, are all still there.” 

Your legacy, and that of the other legislators who voted for this abomination of a tax bill and the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to needless destruction, will be to destroy that overpowering and magnificent fact, that untouched wild land that Mardy dreamed might persist to the time of her great-grandchildren and beyond. Shame on all of you for your short-sighted destructiveness.

Ann Harvey
Wilson, Wyoming
 
Ann Harvey
About Ann Harvey

Ann Harvey is one of Jackson Hole’s best-known conservationists. With decades of experience in field research, teaching, policy analysis and writing, she has been a leader in melding conservation policy with science. Her current focus is on the use of logging or forest thinning to modify wildfire behavior on public lands amid the realities of climate change. She also has been at the forefront of public discussions aimed at identifying the value of wilderness and wilderness study areas for wildlife.
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