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Jane Alexander

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Arctic Birds: Global Travelers at Risk in Rush to Drill

Posted: 06/27/2012 2:24 pm

I can't remember a time when I wasn't captivated by birds and their ability to fly. But try as I might as a child I could not get lift off flinging myself from endless sand dunes. When I grew up my love of birds only intensified and now I travel the planet to witness their miraculous migrations, their remarkable diversity and their unparalled beauty. And when you love something you seek to protect it.

Each species has a great life story to tell and as an actress I always appreciate a good story, so I am pleased to be working with my friends at Audubon and the American Birding Association to tell the story of Arctic birds in Alaska and the peril they are facing.

Every summer a colorful and melodic pageant unfolds across the vast Arctic stage.

Millions of birds stream in from every continent on earth to court, to breed and to raise their young. From the southern Antarctic waters come the Arctic Terns, long distance champs who will cover as much as 40,000 miles a year, every year of their lives, in their bid to nest. Snow Geese and Brant return from North America's heartland and the Pacific Coast. Sandpipers, plovers and falcons come from Argentina and Chile, the Dunlin from Asia, the Bar-tailed Godwit from New Zealand and the Northern Wheatear from Sub-Saharan Africa, a 9,000 mile journey of Olympic proportions for this small songbird.

Birds have been coming to this grand wilderness for millennia, far longer than human beings have been on earth. But they are not the only ones. Also calling the Arctic home are caribou, foxes, wolves, bears and wolverines as well as whales, seals and other marine mammals. Unique plants and marine organisms are all part of the story also; as are the Alaskan Native people who have forged a life for thousands of years in this sometimes ferociously harsh environment.

Well, every story has conflict and conflict is raging in the Arctic now over oil and gas drilling. Enormous oil giants are lobbying furiously for the rights to drill in more and more places with fewer and fewer safeguards. If they get their way the destruction they could cause would be enormous.

It seems to me that two things are clear:

First, we must protect the Arctic's most important places for birds and all wildlife. If we ruin them through desecration of habitat or oil spills these great creatures of our planet will be gone and the result will ricochet around the earth. Remember that these Arctic birds are global citizens; some of them probably stop in your own backyard.

Second, wisdom must overrule arrogance and greed when making decisions about drilling and technology. Nobody really knows how to clean up an oil spill in the ice. We can't ruin irreplaceable habitat, foul pristine waters and put entire species at risk to satisfy our dependence on oil or the greed of the huge oil companies.

I believe that this a critical time for our planet and all the species, us included, that call it home. I believe that all of us, whatever our passions or professions must come together to raise a voice for those creatures in the Arctic who cannot speak for themselves. Some people believe that the bounty of the earth is there solely for the exploitation of human beings. I believe that we are here to protect and safeguard the birds and animals who also call our planet their home. The value and majesty of each one is inestimable. And as the naturalist William Beebe said, " ...when the last race of a living being breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again." Let's give the story of the Arctic a happy ending.

 
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