At least five businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley have joined the effort to forestall oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — the nation’s largest such area.


So far, over 100 businesses in Colorado — mostly with roots in the outdoor recreation industry — have signed a letter admonishing Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet to oppose newly introduced federal legislation that would allow oil and gas drilling in the 19-million-acre ANWR, located in the North Slope of the Last Frontier.


The letter-writing effort was spearheaded by a for-profit outfit called Conservation Communications, which was founded last May by Anna Peterson.


Her Durango-based communications firm helps nonprofits, as well as small and large businesses, “have a voice in conservation-focused campaigns,” Peterson said. “I have worked with outdoor industry businesses for many years, which is why my interest was piqued with this effort.”


According to a 2005 broadcast on National Public Radio, the question of whether to drill in ANWR has been “an ongoing political and media controversy since at least 1977.”


There was an unending series of congressional attempts to open ANWR for oil and gas drilling. Some have been killed in committee and some by a lack of consensus between the House of Representatives and the Senate.


In 1996, when both houses of Congress were controlled by the Republican Party, a bill was passed to open ANWR to drilling. President Bill Clinton vetoed it.


In 2005, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, attached a bill that would allow drilling in ANWR to the annual defense appropriations bill. A group of Democratic senators led a successful filibuster against the bill, and, as a result, Stevens’ language was removed.


Almost every year, rumblings about opening ANWR to drilling emerge from Congress.


This year is no different.


“In the recently released 2018 budget resolution, Congress included instructions that would authorize drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge through the federal budget process,” Peterson said.


Last spring, Bennet and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) introduced legislation with 38 other senators to designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness and protect the land from future development.


The letter Conservation Communications sent in June to Gardner and Bennet states, in part:


“The undersigned Colorado businesses are writing to request that you protect and preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by leaving the Refuge closed to oil and gas drilling. Outdoor recreation contributes substantially to our economy. In Colorado alone, our industry generates over $4 billion in wages and salaries, almost $1 billion in state and local tax revenue and over $13 billion in consumer spending annually.


“Our contribution to our economy, including the number of jobs and the amount of consumer spending we generate, is significant. So is our voice. We are powerful, and our need to protect our public lands is crucial to our bottom lines and our quality of life.


“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a national treasure. It is an inspiring, wild landscape stretching from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean, and is home to polar bears, wolves, migratory birds and the Porcupine caribou herd, which consists of more than 180,000 animals. We have a moral responsibility to preserve and protect this precious American treasure for future generations. We urge you to not open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil-fuel development.


“Drilling in the Arctic is incredibly risky. The massive infrastructure needed to extract and transport the oil, as well as accompanying air, water and noise pollution from drilling, would have devastating impacts on this pristine and fragile natural area. Chronic spills of oil and other toxic substances in the fragile tundra would forever scar this now-unspoiled land while disrupting its wildlife and harming indigenous populations that rely on the Arctic and its animals to maintain their traditional subsistence lifestyles. Please hear our business voices, an economic powerhouse in our state, and do not allow any fossil fuel development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

SkiCo among signatories to letter

The five Roaring Fork Valley signatories to the letter are the Aspen Skiing Co., Backbone Media, EcoFlight, Elliott Yeary Gallery and Ute Mountaineer.


“While EcoFlight is not an ‘economic powerhouse’ as the letter states, we are a nonprofit business that does care about this issue, to protect a landscape that enviros have been long been advocating for,” said Jane Pargiter, conservation director of EcoFlight. It is dedicated to educating and advocating for wild lands and wildlife habitat using small airplanes.


“We sign on to letters like this occasionally as part of our mission to advocate for remaining wild lands” Pargiter continued. “We are not against oil and gas. We believe it can and should be done responsibly and that there are some places where it doesn’t belong — ANWR being one of those places. We have thousands of members and passengers who support our mission, and we use the airplane to allow the landscape to have a voice and believe this is an important enough issue to use our voice in conjunction with the powerful aerial perspective, and on behalf of our members.”


Auden Schendler, SkiCo vice president of sustainability, said the letter to Gardner and Bennet reflects the company’s commitment to environmental issues.


“This is consistent with our policy positions,” he said. “We signed because we think oil and gas exploration on public lands is a climate problem, and given what we know about climate science, we have to keep as much of our remaining fossil reserves in the ground.”


Those sentiments are echoed by Bob Wade, who has owned the Ute Mountaineer for 40 years.


“With this new administration, there have been more attacks on our public lands, like the current attempt to downsize Bears Ears National Monument,” Wade said. “It is more important than ever to push back and not let the good work that has been done over the course of the past couple of administrations go to waste.”


Wade thinks that, with ANWR, the issue transcends protecting public lands from development. It goes to the heart of climate change.


“I realize we are still a gas-centric country,” he said. “My family owns several cars. I get that. But I think ANWR is the wrong place to drill. ANWR is already being impacted by climate change, and drilling there will exacerbate climate change. It’s also a place that will be hard to get to in case of a spill.”


When asked if the letter carries with it an implied threat on the part of the state’s increasingly powerful outdoor recreation industry, a threat that basically states, “support us on this issue, or else,” Peterson was diplomatic.


     “The outdoor industry is a powerful economic force in Colorado, and it’s important that Sen. Gardner listens to our voices and [that we request he] protect public lands across the country,” she said. “We thank Sen. Bennet for his work on co-sponsoring legislation that would protect the Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain. Protecting our public lands is imperative to safeguarding the land, air and water that are crucial to keeping the outdoor industry viable. It’s good for business to have public lands that are protected from drilling and development so people have places to explore and connect with the great outdoors.


“Sen. Gardner has yet to announce his stance on the issue, and we hope he sees that Colorado companies want him to protect the refuge and stand for public lands in the same way he recently defended Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, as well as increased funding for Rocky Mountain National Park,” Peterson continued. “An attack on one protected place is a threat to them all.”


“A lot of people haven’t really realized the value of the outdoor recreation industry, especially as compared to oil and gas,” Wade said. “Numbers from the Outdoor Industry Association show how much money is spent. It’s important to remind people how important the outdoor recreation industry is.


“The outdoor recreation industry is not boom and bust like oil and gas,” he added. “And it doesn’t have the associated drug problems. It promotes a healthy lifestyle.”