FAIRBANKS -- Hundreds of Fairbanks area residents showed up for a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service meeting in hopes of helping decide the future of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and whether the oil-rich coastal plain should be put off-limits to oil development.
The Carlson Center was filled with people Wednesday who were eager to speak to federal land managers about the refuge in Alaska's northeast corner, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Thursday. Federal land managers at the refuge will decide next spring whether to recommend that Congress designate the ANWR coastal plain as wilderness.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing six management alternatives for ANWR as part of an update of its comprehensive plan for the refuge. Two alternatives recommend wilderness status for the coastal plain, a designation that would ban oil and gas development in the area.
At Wednesday's meeting, supporters of development wore red T-shirts with the slogan "ANWR Drill Team." They mingled in line next to people sporting prominent "Protect the Arctic Refuge" stickers. Union members clad in hard hats waved "ANWR (equals) JOBS" signs.
David Solomon arrived three hours before the meeting to claim the first spot in line. Solomon, who grew up in Arctic Village, said protecting ANWR is a role he inherited from his late father, Jonathan Solomon, and his uncle Peter Solomon, who died in February.
"We need to protect this land so my kids and grandkids can hunt and fish up there," he said.
Zeb Woodman, a union member with Laborers Local 942, said he's an advocate of both unspoiled nature and the benefits of responsible exploration.
"At this time there's a need to create American jobs and energy," Woodman said. "This is a place we can do both."
But supporters of the wilderness designation said it's appropriate to set aside a portion of such a unique Arctic environment to remain pristine. Pamela Miller, Arctic program director for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, said the coastal plain is an area that should be preserved.
"It's just a positive recognition of the actual purpose of the refuge, and retaining those incredible values," she said.