When you look out your window, the northern reaches of Alaska are probably not the first thing you think about. But maybe you should. The reason: So many of the beautiful birds you see and hear likely migrated to our state from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. While it’s something we may take for granted, if you appreciate these beautiful creatures, now is the time to pay attention to this special place.

Often called “America’s last great wilderness,” the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge covers approximately 19.3 million acres but features no roads or other human infrastructure. Unfortunately, the Trump administration recently finalized plans to begin oil leasing in the refuge, which puts birds and so many other things we hold dear at risk.

It’s mystifying that this blatant disregard for our natural world comes just weeks after the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law. Thanks in part to support from Arizona’s U.S. Sen. Sinema and U.S. Sen. McSally, that key legislation will not only provide $9.5 billion over five years to fix maintenance problems plaguing America’s public lands but also permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million annually.

With more than 42,000 grants awarded, the LWCF is America’s most successful conservation program. It has safeguarded more than 15 million acres of land and funded everything from national parks and iconic landmarks to local hiking trails and ballfields in Arizona.

Not surprisingly, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recognized that our lives are made richer if we’re surrounded by more nature and more open spaces -- whether it’s a local park or the Grand Canyon. In fact, there’s strong evidence suggesting that time spent outdoors can improve our physical and mental outlook. This is particularly true during this pandemic when so many have been under stress over concerns about employment and the safety of our loved ones. In fact, The Centers for Disease Control has highlighted the importance of outdoor activity during the pandemic, mentioning the use of parks and trails as a stress reliever. And soon after the pandemic hit, park visitation in Arizona soared.

And yet, on the back of this victory for all Americans, the Trump Administration is now showing a willingness to bulldoze a national treasure in Alaska. If the Administration is willing to do that there, why wouldn’t they do something similar right here in Arizona? We simply can’t let that happen.

We need our national and state leaders to stand strong for public lands in Arizona and across the country. To do otherwise, in this instance, would not only lead to the desecration of an American jewel but would also set a perilous precedent for oil and gas across America. We need our leaders to prioritize the protection of wild places.

Alex Petersen is the conservation advocate for Environment Arizona. For more information, visit www.EnvironmentArizona.org.

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