This week, Americans celebrate our wildlife heritage during National Wildlife Refuge Week. In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge. Today, the National Wildlife Refuge System has grown to include 556 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska that recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
On Dec. 6, 1960, President Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Range (what was to become the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) for its "unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values." The Arctic Refuge's Coastal Plain is known as its biological heart and the birthplace of countless iconic species including wolves, grizzly bears, and caribou. Close to one hundred species of birds begin their lives each summer on this vast expanse of tundra and then journey to all 50 states and across six continents -- including the Arctic tern, which has the longest migration of any bird on the planet. In the winter, polar bear mothers build dens on the Coastal Plain, where they give birth and nurse their young.
One thing that makes America truly great is our natural treasures, like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is one of this country's last tracts of wilderness, and Americans want to keep it that way. During the Department of the Interior's long-term management planning process, the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), the Fish and Wildlife Service received nearly one million comments in support of Wilderness for the Arctic Refuge.
Americans have spoken. They want to see this iconic wilderness protected for future generations. We are hopeful that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar will recommend Wilderness for the Coastal Plain of the Refuge through the CCP.
We have a lot to celebrate during National Wildlife Refuge Week. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, national wildlife refuges "play a crucial role in conserving America's wildlife legacy" and "offer glorious and protected places to hunt, fish, hike and share the outdoors with a new generation." We agree and are hoping for a bit more to celebrate by the time the year is over when Secretary Salazar recommends Wilderness for the Coastal Plain of the Refuge -- to recognize that the Arctic Refuge should be protected as one of our greatest treasures, as Americans want it to be.