On Wednesday, Sept. 18, members of the University of Maine community came together at the first unofficial meeting of the Defenders of Wildlife. The students involved in this group are in the process of getting the Defenders of Wildlife recognized as an official club at UMaine. Until then, they are acting as an extension of the nationwide Defenders of Wildlife organization.
The Defenders of Wildlife is a non-profit organization that spans the United States. They were founded in 1947, and since then have dedicated their time to the protection and restoration of endangered species and habitats. The volunteers work in communities across the country to provide resources and education about endangered wildlife and habitats. They also work on grassroots campaigns to combat federal motions that seek to harm the environment and fragile ecosystems. Throughout the years that they have been active, members of the group have testified in front of the national legislature in defense of their campaigns.
Attending the meeting was Robert Hooke, of the UMaine Climate Change Institute. Hooke, who has been involved with environmental activism throughout his life, spoke in coordination with the Defenders of Wildlife in front of Congress to advocate for the responsible management of predatory wolves.
Currently, the Defenders of Wildlife are working on both the local and national scale to raise awareness of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in northeastern Alaska and has garnered attention recently. The wildlife refuge is home to hundreds of species, as well as indigenous people called the Gwich’in. The Gwich’in have a close relationship with the land, and call the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge the “Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”
In 2017, Congress introduced the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, known as Public Law 115-97, which would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to gas and oil drilling. However, the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act which was proposed in 2019, known as H.R. 1146, amends that law to prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The UMaine chapter of the Defenders of Wildlife, although they are not fully recognized as a club at the university, worked hard to ensure that H.R. 1146 was passed on Thursday, Sept. 12 2019. Through public outreach, the Defenders of Wildlife were able to secure 46 calls to Rep. Jared Golden, who voted to pass the bill. Now, the Defenders of Wildlife are working hard to ensure that a sister bill is passed in Congress which will classify the wildlife refuge as “wilderness,” the designation for land with the highest amount of conservation protection.
“The arctic environment, in which I’ve spent a lot of time, is a very fragile environment. It is a very beautiful environment. Putting roads and drilling platforms into an environment like this is just desecration of the landscape,” Hooke, whose work focuses on glacial mechanics, said. “Most of the countries on earth have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions over the next few years, and if you add up those pledges, they aren’t nearly enough to prevent a serious increase in Earth’s temperature. We’ve seen many effects from what can be attributed, in part, to climate change. We don’t need more oil. What we need is an emphasis on renewable energy resources.”
As the semester progresses, the Defenders of Wildlife will continue to campaign for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They are planning on sending out petitions to Maine State Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to urge them to vote to protect the wildlife refuge and classify the land as wilderness. Currently, the UMaine Defenders of Wildlife have 663 of the 1,000 signatures that they need to send to Reps. Collins and King.