Couple crosses country to fight to save Alaskan refuge

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    By AMY ISOM

    The world’s largest national wildlife refuge is being threatened by its own economy.

    In Northeast Alaska the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be overrun by Alaska’s major product, oil, if a bill to protect it is not approved when Congress meets. The 19.8 million acres of land is currently open to development. The area is the size of South Carolina.

    Jeff Barrie and Alex Tapia spoke last week at BYU as a part of their cross-country tour, on their own time and money, to educate students and encourage movement toward action that could save Alaskan wilderness.

    Their fight for the wildlife, though, pinches the pockets of Alaskan residents who are not eager to give in to pressure.

    Many Alaska residents favor opening the land to development because it’s an important part of the economy. Eighty percent of their revenue is dependant on oil, according to the informational video by Barrie, Arctic Quest.

    Jeff Robison, 22, a junior from Bountiful majoring in conservation biology, will join a group of students in Washington, D.C., this month. Because he believes in fostering economic growth, he recognizes the need for compromise.

    “You have to define the needs of the people; you can’t save the earth and forget the people,” he said.

    However, Robison said the Alaskan wilderness is home to many indigenous people that depend on hunting, fishing and gathering to subsist. The land is also a critical habitat for caribou and other animals.

    “People need to make a living, feed their families, but we have to look at the way we’re doing it. If past ways of making money serve as a deterrent to society as a whole, it’s not worth the buck made tomorrow,” Robison said.

    Because the northern slope is already open to oil drilling, and with support from members of both the House and the Senate, expectations are hopeful this upcoming session of Congress, said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wildlife League.

    “We had the support of 150 members of the House last Congress and 20 to 25 co-sponsors in the Senate,” Shogan said.

    Since the beginning of the Arctic Quest at an Environmental Summit in Colorado, where many global issues were discussed the summer of ’95, the group has done much to meet their final goal. They have encouraged thousands of students to contact senators through mail, have hosted rallies, and have held a massive press conference. In an effort to learn about the area a group of teens planned a short trip to Alaska, also on their own time and money.

    They recently premiered a self-made film in Los Angeles to 150 people. The second leg of the tour includes Utah and Colorado and ends in Washington, D.C., at the close of the month where some BYU students will join the fight in lobbying Congress.

    “Personally for me and the environmentalists in Eco-Response (BYU’s environmental group), it’s close to the heart. We’re doing it because we believe in it,” said Mark Lambert, 22, a junior from Paradise Valley, Ariz., majoring in geography.

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