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Stepping up to protect our majestic landscapes

By: Lydia Gorrell
December 17, 2017 Updated: December 17, 2017 at 4:05 am
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The beautiful "purple mountain's majesty" landscape described in "America the Beautiful," may be hard for some to imagine. But we Coloradans have no difficulty. That's because the words to "America the Beautiful" were written by Katharine Lee Bates at the pinnacle of Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs. She was describing Colorado's mountains in what has become one of America's most popular patriotic songs.

Similarly, Coloradans will find it easy to envision the beauty and majesty of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Famed bird illustrator and expert David Sibley recently said of this pristine regions "It's the only place I've ever been where I really felt I could imagine what Lewis and Clark might have felt like as they stood on the plains looking at the Rocky Mountains . a landscape filled with so much life."

Colorado and the Arctic Refuge stand tall in the pantheon of God's majestic landscapes. Unfortunately, the refuge is once again under threat, this time by the Trump administration and Congress who want to allow oil drilling there. For many reasons, we must not allow this to happen.

The effort to drill in one of the most untouched places on earth is part of a larger, reckless approach to managing America's public lands. Just recently, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke suggested an extreme interpretation of the Antiquities Act signed by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, a law that allows the president of the United States to designate national monuments. By Zinke's reckoning, Roosevelt would never have been able to establish the Grand Canyon National Monument, which subsequently became one of our most beloved national parks, and is now a worldwide symbol of the American West.

This same limited attitude about the value of America's public lands is also what imperils our nation's largest national wildlife refuge in the Arctic. The irreplaceable treasures of the Arctic Refuge abound. More than 200 types of resident and migratory birds nest and rest in the refuge, with those that migrate flying to all 50 states and six continents. As Sibley has noted, "If you care about the birds in your neighborhood . protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is really an essential part of that."

In addition, 37 land mammals live in the refuge, ranging from the tiny Pigmy shrew, weighing 1/10th of an ounce, up to the bull moose, weighing nearly 1,400 pounds; in between are all three North American bears, the Arctic and red foxes, lynx, mink, river otters, and caribou. It is the latter, specifically the porcupine caribou, which is of particular concern. Drilling could significantly impact their existence, which is growing more precarious. Canada just labeled them as "threatened."

For evangelical pro-life Christians, the question of drilling in the refuge is not about our personal enjoyment of the beauty and majesty in this restive and remote part of our national heritage. Rather, the question is whether we will be faithful to God's command to be good stewards of His creation, and as citizens support the protection of this wildlife refuge.

Genesis 1:26 (NRSV) tells us:

"Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.'"

The words of "America the Beautiful" remind us that the command to practice good biblical stewardship can come together with patriotism in our efforts to save places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from harm. The final verse begins, "O beautiful for patriot dream, that sees beyond the years." This is our calling in the Arctic Refuge: to dream that years from now the unspoiled grandeur of God's creation still shines forth, that when it was our turn to stand up for what's right, we did so. Just as Theodore Roosevelt rose to the occasion and protected the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon over a century ago, let us now stand tall to protect the splendor of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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Lydia Gorrell is a member of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, a group of young evangelicals in the United States who are coming together and taking action to overcome the climate crisis as part of their Christian discipleship and witness. She lives in Littleton.

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