Wilderness and ANWR

My peer teaching project for this semester will be on the National Park System and Wildernesses. Wilderness are areas of the upmost protection that cannot be touched by development. Wildernesses primarily exist within national parks, national forests, or wildlife refuges. In order to declare land a wilderness a piece of legislation must makes its way through Congress and pass. There are 759 Wildernesses Areas in the US, which is composed of 109,754,604 acres of land out of the 2.3 billion acres in all of the United States. Wilderness areas began with the Wilderness Act of 1964. In 1964 the United States population was exiting the baby boom years and had a vast expanse of suburbia. The Act was passes to insure that the rapidly growing US population did not completely overtake all the available land in the US. So far there has never been a precedent to strip land of its protection as a wilderness.

One of the most well known Wildernesses is located within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the northern floodplains of Alaska, also known as ANWR. It is one of the few pristine wildernesses left in the United States and the primary arctic reserve. There is a potential for oil to be found the in refuge, oil having been found in areas surrounding ANWR. Currently in politics ANWR is a huge controversial issue with Republicans wanting to drill for oil within the refuge and democrats trying to block it. Last year President Obama attempted to have more of the land declared a Wilderness in order to prevent any drilling from occurring in the refuge. If ANWR was drilled for oil it would be catastrophic to the ecosystem, the arctic is an extremely fragile ecosystem in which a minor disturbance could nearly destroy the whole ecosystem. Minimum exploratory drilling has been done within ANWR and thus far no substantial oil deposits have been found.

ANWR provides one of the last refuges for polar bears to breed and summer. These great predators need large amounts of sea to support themselves and they barely survive the summer. Without ANWR polar bears would begin to decline even more rapidly. Many other arctic species depend on ANWR to summer and breed, arctic foxes inhabit ANWR as well as grizzly bears. May arctic plants also call ANWR home and one of their last refuges. ANWR is extremely important for biodiversity and should remain a natural treasure rather then exploited for economic gains.

While National Parks and Forests are representations of conservation at its best, Wildernesses are representations of Preservation instead. Conservation balances human need and protection the environment while preservation puts the environment before people, something discussed in my environmental bio course this semester. I am hoping in my upcoming research for the peer teaching project I can find more examples of these two ideals around the globe, and how different countries deal with conservation and preservation.

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2 comments

  1. andrewwingfield · February 23, 2016

    I like your idea of finding out how other countries handle wilderness preservation. This is a concept that the US helped to create, and it truly has spread around the world. One of the interesting aspects of the topic is access. Much of the space protected in the US as wilderness can only be accessed by small numbers of people with the physical hardiness, outdoor training, and financial resources required to go deep into back country. Is that fair to all others who can’t access wilderness? Is it important (to all Americans) to have wilderness even if the vast majority of Americans never directly access it? I find these questions fascinating.

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  2. sonamka12 · February 23, 2016

    Its very interesting how mere definitions can change the way land is used. Last semester in my ecology class I learned the difference between National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks. The parks are for the people and the environment, while refuges pertain to reserving the land for just natural habitats. I did not even think about the difference conservation and preservation! I guess if you really care about the purest form of habitats you work to preserve and if you wish to allow some human activity, then you conserve. Great post!

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