A number of bipartisan lawmakers today took steps to permanently protect one of America’s last untouched wild places- the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the north coast of Alaska. Working across the aisle, Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) introduced the bipartisan Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act to designate the 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain as wilderness, codifying into law permanent protections from damaging activities like oil and gas drilling.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure and it’s more important than ever that we protect this uniquely American area,” said Rep. Huffman. “Only by designating the threatened Coastal Plain as wilderness can we fully protect the intrinsic value that this land holds – for those who live in the region, and for future generations. As Edward Abbey said, the idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders. I thank Representatives Fitzpatrick, Gallego, and LoBiondo for stepping up as defenders of wilderness and engaging in the fight to permanently protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

“Serving as good stewards of our environment is something each of us are called to regardless of location, background or political ideology. Protecting our nation’s open spaces and wild places unites us as Americans,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in support of this bipartisan legislation and urge others to join us in the defense of America’s wilderness.”

“Preserving our public lands and protecting our unique wildlife is critical to ensuring that future generations have access to our country’s national treasures,” said Rep. Gallego. “The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge is home to incredible ecological diversity and I’m happy to join Congressman Huffman in this conservation effort.”

"Whether it is in South Jersey or the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, it has long been a focus of mine to preserve and maintain these pristine areas for future generations of Americans to enjoy,” said Rep. LoBiondo. “I applaud this bipartisan effort focused on conservation and environmental stewardship, and thank Congressman Huffman for his leadership in preserving America’s great outdoors."

This bill introduction represents a continuation of more than a half-century of bipartisan effort in Congress to protect this pristine region: in 1960, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower led the effort to protect this area for future generations when he set aside 8.9 million acres as the Arctic National Wildlife Range. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed into law Rep. Morris Udall’s legislation doubling the size of the territory and providing additional protection for the land by converting it into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, the 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain was not protected as wilderness, leaving it vulnerable.

President Obama also asked Congress to permanently protect Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) by designating it as wilderness.

The Arctic Refuge and its Coastal Plain is home to polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, muskoxen, and more than 130 species of migratory birds.

The bill permanently codifies the current on-the-ground practice, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Coastal Plain essentially as if it were wilderness.

Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act in the 114th Congress.

The Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act is supported by: Alaska Wilderness League, Braided River, Climate Hawks Vote, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice,  Environment America, Eyak Preservation Council, Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Gwich’in Steering Committee, National Audubon Society,  National Wildlife Refuge Association,  Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Sierra Club, Soul River, Inc., Trustees of Alaska, Vet Voice Foundation, and The Wilderness Society.