Celebrating 50 Years of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

This weekend, September 23 & 25, The Murie Center in Jackson Hole Wyoming will host a series of events to celebrate 50 years of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. WILD’s VP for Conservation Strategy, will speak on Thursday evening on “Connecting Jackson Hole to the Arctic Wildlife Refuge via the Yellowstone to Yukon Corridor, Art & Ideas.”

Olaus and Mardy Murie were integral to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1960. 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; so much a part of the Murie Legacy. The Murie Center will host two nights of presentations and films about the Arctic Refuge at the Center for the Arts in Jackson, WY. Our purpose is for public enjoyment and to increase awareness of the enduring value of the wildlife and wildness of the Arctic Refuge. We are fortunate to collaborate with The Art Association of Jackson Hole, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, Mountain Trails Gallery, the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative on this program. See the full schedule of events for the celebration >

Historic Context

Here is historic context provided by Murie Center Advisory Board Member Roger Kaye, author of The Last Great Wilderness, The Campaign to Establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (University of Alaska Press, 2006):

In 1960, overcoming strident political opposition, wide-spread public support persuaded the Eisenhower administration to establish this “Last Great Wilderness” through an Executive Order. The area’s stated purpose was “to preserve unique wildlife, wilderness, and recreational values”—the tangible values for which the Arctic Refuge is renowned today. But beyond perpetuating the wildlife and wildness within its boundaries, there had been another purpose in the minds of those who led the fight. To understand their underlying motive—and the larger significance of their victory—we need to realize that the Arctic Refuge campaign was rooted in a growing fear for the future. The Refuge’s establishment was among the first of the sweeping conservation initiatives of the 1960s that came about in response to concern over worsening environmental degradations accompanying the prosperous post World War II march of progress. The rapid loss of natural landscapes, the destructive logging, mining, and agricultural practices, the spread of pollution and pesticides, and the awesome power and fallout of the Bomb: these were among the concerns that were awakening many Americans to a new order of environmental threat. Some even questioned whether future generations would inherit the same Earth.”

Controversy over this area’s future began as—and is again—emblematic of “the real problem,” as Olaus Murie characterized it, “of what the human species is to do with this earth.” The larger significance of the historic anniversary will be celebrating, the relevance of how the Refuge came to be, our environmental situation today, and the story’s potential to enlighten, inspire, and motivate. It is inevitable, if we are to progress as people in the highest sense, that we shall become ever more concerned with the saving of the intangible resources, as embodied in this move to establish the Arctic Wildlife Range. —Olaus Murie, 1959 Senate testimony

Adolph and Olaus Murie worked as brothers to understand the caribou and wolves of Alaska, meeting and marrying the Alaska territory Murie sisters, Mardy and Louise. This love story is captured in the classic film and book: Arctic Dance, narrated by Harrison Ford with original music by John Denver. For their 1924 honeymoon Olaus took Mardy on a 550 mile winter dog sled trip to study migrating caribou. The Arctic became an important part of their lives.

When President Bill Clinton invited Mardy Murie to the White House in 1998 at age 95 to give her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he noted the work of the Muries on behalf of Alaska:

We owe much to the life work of Mardy Murie, a pioneer in the environmental movement, who, with her husband Olaus helped set the course of American conservation more than 70 years ago. Her passionate support for and compelling testimony on behalf of the Alaska Lands Act, helped ensure the legislation’s passage and the protection of some of our most pristine lands. For her steadfast and inspiring efforts to safeguard America’s wilderness for future generations, we honor Mardy Murie. The Muries impact and influence on wildlands in Alaska reach beyond the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Recently, Adolph Murie was prominently featured in a segment of Ken Burns’ and Dayton Duncan’s newest released film series, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Murie’s role as a challenger of longstanding values in wildlife management inspired series writer Dayton Duncan to make Murie a “hero” in Episode 6. Adolph is depicted as a tenacious defender of wilderness values and wildlife against great odds. Murie’s pioneering wildlife studies, particularly his study of wolves in Mount Mckinley National Park, changed wildlife management in national parks from the single-minded protection of the more popular prey species to protecting all animals and their habitats. Published in 1944, The Wolves of Mount McKinley remains a classic wildlife study and popular account of the lives of wolves. It is available for purchase at the ranch and through the Murie Center’s online bookstore.

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