Explorers, artists, activists, and storytellers are coming together in support of The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Home to the greatest variety of plant and animal life in the circumpolar north, land of the indigenous Gwich’in and Inupiat people, and what some call the “last great reserve” of untapped oil in the US, The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is under threat. Alaska has always been a special place for The North Face. In 1972, we sent our first fully supported expedition to the Brooks Range to protest a proposed pipeline in the area. We’ve been back countless times over the years, but now that it’s threatened again, we took a special trip. This summer, we sent a delegation of young activists, artists, creators, and storytellers to the region on the trip of a lifetime to experience the land and people connected to the Refuge and share stories with you.
The Arctic Refuge, home to 19.6 million acres of incredibly beautiful tundra and mountains, is an icon for explorers everywhere. It’s also land that is held sacred by the Gwich’in people, who are connected to Caribou as their main food source and way of life, as they have been for thousands of years. Other wildlife call this place home, including polar bears and over 200 species of migratory birds from every continent. This land is also ground zero for climate change; temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The Arctic has permafrost that stores huge amounts of carbon, releasing into the atmosphere as it melts.
Language to open the Arctic Refuge for oil development was included in the 2017 tax reform bill as a way to generate $1 billion in new revenue for the federal government to help in small part offset the $1.5 trillion tax package. This public land, owned equally by all Americans, has been protected for generations and has been mostly out of the spotlight for over a decade, with many young people growing up without knowing its legacy. A study conducted for The North Face by YPulse, a youth-focused research organization, found that 68% of Generation Z Americans are unaware of threats to the region.
In efforts to raise awareness about this issue with young Americans and others, six young creators, from a youtube comedian to a bronx-based oil painter, were paired with The North Face athlete and Arctic advocate Kit DesLauriers, on an expedition into the Refuge. For many of this group, it was an introduction to the outdoors and camping for the first time, far from home, in one of the most remote places left in the United States.
KIT DESLAURIERS, Ski Mountaineer and The North Face Athlete, @kitdski
“Science tells us that temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Arctic Refuge as they are in other parts of our country and every time I’m in the Arctic Refuge, I see something new that shows me how acutely this is true. What stuck with me this trip was that while some changes are gradual, when you are close like we were, camped within view of the migrating Caribou, it’s that much easier to understand what climate change means directly, for the local people, the animals, and the landscape. I’m passionate about protecting the Arctic Refuge for its breathtaking landscape, but also because of its role in the future, which has an impact on us all.”
JULIA FISHER-SALMON, Gwich’in Steering Committee, @juliansley
“This trip was my first trip to get closer to the land that is held as the sacred place where life begins. It's beauty and purity brought me to my knees. I’m thankful for this opportunity to be near my ancestral homelands, which also doubles as the calving grounds, as the Gwich'in are known to be the people of the caribou.”
MAIA WIKLER, Writer and Climate Justice Activist, @MaiaReillyW
“I see this as a human rights issue, it is a matter of spiritual, cultural and physical survival. If drilling is allowed to happen here, it will cut off countless communities from their most reliable food source and sense of identity, I see that as the ultimate human rights injustice. Many community members and elders have told me that the survival of the Gwich’in depends on the survival of the Porcupine caribou herd. The Refuge and caribou are the basis of their identity, wellbeing and life. Protecting the coastal plain is protecting Indigenous sovereignty. Now is the time to be on the right side of history. The staggering biodiversity of this planet represents the diversity needed in this movement, a testament that there is a place for every single human to make a difference. There is power in the strength of community, and that shouldn’t be dismantled by political decisions.”
MONICA HERNANDEZ, Visual Artist, @monicagreatgal
“The Arctic is very far and very different from where I’m from, from any place I’ve ever experienced, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect me. Being fortunate enough to visit the Refuge, seeing it firsthand, having it broken down to me not only the environmental problems, but the social and political, I started to realize how we are all tied to this land, how we’re responsible for its preservation. Learning the basics gives you the tools to take action. There’s people for whom this fight is their direct lives, they’re at the front lines of the crisis and hearing their stories felt like I was being let in some majorly consequential secret I was never told and maybe never bothered to seek out. It sucks to realize you’re not as helpful as you could be because turning a blind eye in the moment can spare you the discomfort of feeling like the world around you is falling apart, but help comes in many forms. Your involvement can be as direct as going there and, can be simple as getting informed, signing petitions, calling representatives. Everything helps and it’s not too late to learn and become an ally.”
NATHAN ZED, YouTube Personality & Comedian, @nathanzed
“On midnight of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year giving us 24 hours of sunlight in Alaska, we tried to cross the river. The sun was blood red. In a 24-hour day, the last four were devoted to this seemingly never ending sunset, one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. However, I later realized that this sight was caused by the smoke of nearby wildfires. Again and again, we would experience a moment of beauty and simultaneously grapple with the effects of the immediate danger to the area. It’s completely surreal to stand somewhere that has survived for thousands of years, and know it is at risk of completely changing within the next decade. Not only was this trip a chance to appreciate the beauty of nature, it was also an opportunity to make an agreement with myself: to help preserve what I’m seeing for future generations."
AUNDRE LARROW, Photographer & Storyteller, @aundre
“The thing that struck me most was the effect our temporary presence had on such a pristine environment. Even just camping there for a couple days, when we picked our tents up, the ground was different. Where the snowmobiles were in Fort Yukon, the ground was different. If we sat still for long enough, animals would just walk really close to our campground. We were visitors in their home. Being out there was a recalibration of self and made me realize that we as humans have a responsibility to understand the impact we make on our shared environment.”
Check out Aundre's project around this issue at TheLastExpanse.com
Sign onto Alaska Wilderness League’s statement to congress, telling them that young Americans are in favor of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
A bill restoring protections to the Refuge, Bill HR 1146, is heading to the senate this summer. Contact your senator directly to let them know what you think.
For over 50 years, we’ve worked to protect wild places and create connections to outdoor playgrounds, both on mountaintops and in city parks. We are founding members of The Conservation Alliance and long time supporters of Alaska Wilderness League, one of the key groups advocating for the protection of the Arctic Refuge. In early 2019, we submitted a public comment to the Bureau of Land Management, outlining our support and advocating against oil leasing in the region. Prior to that, as steadfast supporters of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, we championed a petition to give the Arctic Refuge and its Coastal Plain increased protection back in 2016, which was signed by 20,000 of our customers. We will continue fighting for the Arctic, and for all public lands that make exploration possible. You can learn more about our work at TheNorthFace.com/ExploreFund.