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Congress Should Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge | Commentary

By Steve Barker Recently, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell traveled to Northwest Alaska to discuss multiple public lands issues, including President Barack Obama’s recent recommendation that Congress protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, the highest level of conservation protection possible for America’s public lands. ANWR is one of the most pristine and beautiful places on Earth. The recommended protections ensure this area will continue to provide wild and remarkable recreation opportunities that inspire our businesses and consumers. And while many more Americans will have the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, ANWR stands on equal ground with these spectacular, long-protected areas.  

Natural resource leaders recognize the wisdom of the administration’s move. Former Deputy Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes stated, “This is a day many of us have fought for and worked for, and it’s an important step on the road to the more balanced natural resources policy we so desperately need.”  

The outdoor recreation economy depends on getting people outside, which in turn means conserving and protecting public lands for activities such as camping, trail sports, snow sports, bicycling, water sports, hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing. Each year, the outdoor industry supports more than 6 million American jobs, generates $646 billion in direct consumer spending and contributes $80 billion in federal, state and local taxes. In Alaska, outdoor recreation generates $9.5 billion in consumer spending, supports 92,000 jobs and generates $711 million in state and local tax revenue.  

Over the past several years, I have taken more than 24 industry executives on trips north of the Brooks Range and into ANWR. We have rafted wild rivers, fished for Arctic char and seen polar bears, brown bears, wolves and musk ox. We have watched the wildlife spectacle of thousands of caribou moving past our camps as they migrate to their calving grounds on the coastal plain. Without exception, each one of us regarded the trip as a life-changing experience and has devoted time and resources to protecting recreation assets like this one for our grandchildren.  

As business leaders, the health of our industry depends on land and water that are protected for people to enjoy America’s beautiful natural landscapes, pursue healthy and active lifestyles and use our products to have the best experience possible. The president’s proposal meets those goals.  

This is the first wilderness protection any president has recommended to Congress for a refuge since 1974. Besides providing home to polar bears, caribou and birds that migrate from six continents, the Arctic Refuge is home to and provides sustenance for the Gwich’in people. By offering protection of this ecosystem and tourism destination, Obama and Jewell have done the right thing, and I thank them. Preservation of ANWR is far more than a conservation legacy opportunity, it is a gift to all Americans for generations to come.  

Steve Barker is interim executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association.

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