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Upper Valley activists, businesses join forces against Arctic drilling

  • Jason Atwood, of Green Corps, a Denver, Colo. organization that trains environmental organizers, gathered several Upper Valley locals to hold a news conference at Colburn Park in Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, to announce the formation of a local coalition opposing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. From left are Dartmouth College senior Maleah Wenzel, of Wrangell, Alaska, Atwood, Jean Gerber, of Thetford, Kim Quirk, of Enfield, and Carol Weingeist, of Hanover. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/9/2019 10:13:22 PM
Modified: 10/9/2019 10:13:14 PM

LEBANON — A coalition of Upper Valley environmental groups, businesses and people is rallying around a national effort to protect indigenous people and wildlife in and around Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling for oil and gas.

In addition to leaders of organizations such as the Upper Valley Sierra Club and Sustainable Woodstock, field organizer Jason Atwood estimates that during his first six weeks of canvassing the area, at least 875 people — including more than a dozen business owners — agreed to sign the Arctic Refuge Defense Campaign’s petition opposing the Trump administration’s opening of the refuge to extractive industries last month.

Under a provision in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the government is required to hold at least two lease sales on ANWR’s coastal plain within seven years. The area, spanning 19 million acres between the Porcupine River and the North Slope leading to the Beaufort Sea, contains the hunting grounds of the indigenous Gwich’in people, the lands through which tens of thousands of caribou migrate each year, and habitat for polar bears and millions of migratory birds.

“I knew almost nothing about this until (Atwood) came in with his petition,” Karen Smith, owner of the Eyeglass Outlet on the downtown Lebanon mall, said Wednesday. “The more I learned, the more I thought it was something we should protect: the wildlife and the people.”

Other businesses signing on to the coalition include, in Hanover, the Base Camp, Han Fusion and Noodle Station restaurants, Umpleby’s Bakery and Cafe, Roberts Flowers and Hill Opticians; in White River Junction, Tuckerbox restaurant, River City Machine, Main Street Furniture, the Juel Modern Apothecary and Little Istanbul; in Lebanon, professional photographer Darla Bruno; and, in Enfield, ReVision Energy.

The group held a press conference Wednesday at Colburn Park in Lebanon to try to reach more people about the cause.

“That is just the beginning,” Atwood said. “The goal is to reach 30 businesses by the end of my time here. Preferably, we’ll reach more.”

Atwood didn’t need to do much convincing at ReVision Energy, which installs solar infrastructure at homes and businesses around New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.

Office manager Kim Quirk pointed to U.S. Department of Energy estimates that solar-energy businesses employ more than 370,000 Americans, nearly double the workforce in the fossil-fuel industry, as evidence that drilling in sensitive areas not only hurts the people and wildlife living there, but that “it’s also bad for business.”

East Thetford’s Jean Gerber knows a lot about the refuge and surrounding lands, after years of leading wilderness enthusiasts on trips through the Arctic outer reaches of North America and incorporating the landscapes and wildlife she’s seen into her art work.

The Gwich’in, who count their time on the land in millennia, have been alerting her to the stakes at risk for their way of life, from their symbiotic relationship with the caribou herds to the thawing of permafrost along the Porcupine River, which scientists attribute to climate change.

“The people are always wanting to talk to me about their difficulties,” Gerber said. “I’ve seen traditional fish camps that are falling into the river. If the drilling goes forward, that just further threatens everything their culture is built on.”

Hanover resident Carol Weingeist, a member of the board of the Upper Valley Sierra Club, welcomes every voice willing to join the coalition.

“It’s important to spread the word,” she said, “to get out there and talk about it.”

Dartmouth College student Maleah Wenzel is spreading the word among her classmates and others on campus. While she belongs to the Tlingit people of southeast Alaska, 1,300 miles from the refuge, she identifies with the plight of the Gwich’in, in part because of climate change that has led to drought and to less snowfall in her home region.

“It is our right to continue living off the land,” Wenzel said. “Drilling in ANWR is a violation of that right. Your temporary money is not worth our permanent damage. We have lived in our homeland for over 10,000 years, and we intend to live there for 10,000 more.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

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