Douglas Yates

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The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a productive yet fragile wilderness. Hundreds of plant and animal species have adapted to a climate characterized by a severe temperature regime and a short growing season. Within the refuge's boundaries, spanning north and south of the Brooks Range, lies an intact ecosystem. It is the only one in America's arctic and one of only a few in the entire circumpolar north. Its survival depends of our ability to recognize its value unto itself, to local people and to future generations of Americans.

Gwich'in Athabascans on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border revere its northern limit, the coastal plain. This narrow strip of land, hard by the Beaufort Sea, is the birthing place and nursery of the 130,000 strong Porcupine Caribou Herd. Threatened by proposed oil development, the coastal plain's ability to provide caribou with protection and nutrition is at risk. A visiting Bush administration official told the Gwich'in they needed to enlarge their world view. The message: oil trumps all other values.

In the midst of a political battle, the refuge remains a place of sweeping vistas, soaring peaks and swift rivers. Its geography of mountain valleys and broad plains is magnified by its remote location in northeast Alaska. It's the continent's northern edge. By rounds, it is stark and austere, welcoming and tender. Bounded by arctic ice and buttressed by the Brooks Range, it is the last true place.

Wilderness is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Yet as a value wilderness defies quantification. It's this gap in our accounting-of-what-matters that spurs the oil developers' cocksure sales pitch. National security and energy independence are trotted out as a rationale for drilling. Yet the best data available indicates the refuge holds roughly 3.2 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil (USGS, 1998), less than six months of annual domestic consumption. By contrast, the United States uses more than 19 million barrels per day (DOE, 2000a), which is about 7 billion barrels per year. If Congress caves in to the oil lobby's tactics security will not be enhanced; oil prices will not drop. But we will have lost one of the nation's crown jewels, a wildlife refuge of indisputable value.

Artists and others who travel in this place discover at least two things: an invigorated imagination and a sense that technology can go too far. While there is no substitute for being there, photography and other media make both discoveries accessible. As witnesses, we offer testimony in defense of wilderness. At a time when greed clouds the precautionary principle, these galleries are intended to help quantify the intangible, vivify the protective response.

Caribou-shaped lake Rainbow on Hulahula River August Shadows Lichen Habitat Coastal Plain
Caribou in Lake
Ground Heating
August Shadows
Lichen Habitat
Coastal Plain View of Brooks Range
Riffles in water, Hulahula River Headwaters, Hulahula River Mt. Chamberlin Hard Left, Hulahula River Lichen on Hulahula River
Clearwater Riffles
Headwaters of the
Hulahula River
Mt. Chamberlin,
Midnight Sun
Hard Left, Hulahula River
Lichen on the Diagonal
  Bore Tide, Lichen No One Home Dwarf Rhododendron  
Bore tide, Lichen
Winter Shelter
Dwarf Rhododendron, Lapland Rosebay
Photographs ©1985-2007 by Douglas Yates. Used with permission of the photographer.