Now that Christmas is over, it’s time to look forward to the year to come. As you plan your whereabouts for Kris Kringle’s next visit, perhaps you should consider spending the Yuletide at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Politicians of every stripe have praised its beauty. Jimmy Carter has called ANWR part of the “wild music of the Arctic” comparable to “heart of Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.” The problem is that, in the winter months, that’s a very hard comparison to make, as much of the area is in darkness 24 hours a day, with temperatures around 70 degrees below zero.
Perhaps Santa and his elves would feel at home in that kind of wild music, but most humans aren’t as entranced by the melody. Perhaps that’s why the area has virtually no visitors whatsoever during the winter months.
According to the official ANWR FAQ provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the region plays host to “approximately 1,200 and 1,500 each year,” almost all of whom arrive during the “short summer season of June, July and August.” Compare that to, say, Grand Teton National Park, which was visited over 4.8 million times in 2018.
Perhaps the reason attendance at ANWR is stuck at .0003125 times the numbers they see at the Tetons is that there’s really no way to get to ANWR. There are no roads and no commercial flights. And walk-in traffic is negligible.
ANWR is so large, and so remote, that drilling for oil will hardly be noticeable
Yet to hear the weeping and wailing of environmentalists lamenting the opening up of ANWR for oil exploration, you would think we were putting an oil derrick on Old Faithful. Robert Thompson, an anti-drilling activist who’s daughter operates the only bed and breakfast in a tiny village in ANWR, told TheAtlantic.com that “[i]f the oil company comes in here, they’ll turn it into an industrial area.” That’s a relatively moderate assessment.
Strident protests from activists conjure up visions of ANWR’s transformation post-apocalyptic landscape akin to the Fire Pits of Apokolips, home to the intergalactic DC-Comics despot Darkseid. In that same Atlantic article, activist Bernadette Demientieff describes gazing upon ANWR’s splendor and falling to her knees.
“I started crying and crying,” she said. “And I asked the Creator for forgiveness.”
Forgiveness for what? The reality is that ANWR is a massive tract of land, and it would be impossible to rip it all up even if we tried. The area encompasses over 19 million acres, a region roughly the size of the entire state of South Carolina. The recently passed tax bill only authorizes exploration in a 1.5 million acre portion of that area, which means that over 90% of the refuge would remain completely untouched.
And actual drilling would be confined to areas much smaller still, in regions where there is total darkness for much of the year and swarms of mosquitos during the balmy 40-degree summer. In 1987, the Washington Post called the targeted area “one of the bleakest, most remote places on this continent, and there is hardly any other where drilling would have less impact on surrounding life.”
But those realities are obscured by fables of “wild music of the Arctic” which plays in the hearts of outraged activists who have very likely never heard it themselves. Perhaps they should stop asking for forgiveness and spend next Christmas in the Tetons.
(Photo of an area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, looking south toward the Brooks Range mountains by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)