A Place Worth Saving...
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest unit in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Refuge is America's finest example of an intact, naturally functioning community of arctic/subarctic ecosystems. Such a broad spectrum of diverse habitats occurring within a single protected unit is unparalleled in North America, and perhaps in the entire circumpolar north. When the Eisenhower Administration established the original Arctic Range in 1960, Secretary of Interior Seaton described it as: "one of the world's great wildlife areas. The great diversity of vegetation and topography in this compact area, together with its relatively undisturbed condition, led to its selection as ... one of our remaining wildlife and wilderness frontiers."
Eco-Publishing: Indie Presses Saving the Planet, One Book at a Time
Standing Up for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:New Book and Exhibit Start a Political StampedeThe Mountaineers Books is the publishing arm of The Mountaineers, a nonprofit organization "dedicated to the preservation, exploration, and enjoyment of outdoor and wilderness areas" based in Seattle, Washington. Born from the wilderness passion of members of the nearly 100-year-old Mountaineers Club, the press was established in 1960 “to express and share its love of the natural outdoors.”
The quiet little publisher made national headlines recently when a newly released book became a political hot potato. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land -- a full-color photo essay book by Subhankar Banerjee with original essays by Peter Matthiessen, David Allen Sibley, and others, plus a preface by Jimmy Carter -- is designed to reveal what's at stake as Congress renews debate over allowing drilling for oil within the Refuge.
The controversy began when an exhibit of Subhankar's images was to open at The Smithsonian in Washington, DC, in a prime location on the first floor of the National Museum of Natural History. Banerjee had worked with museum staff members on the 48 photos’ captions, describing the region's fragility and grandeur. Suddenly, just weeks before its scheduled opening, the Smithsonian moved the exhibit downstairs to a less-traveled location, and Banerjee’s captions were replaced with simple one-line descriptions.
Smithsonian officials claim the photos would be displayed better downstairs, but Banerjee believes he’s been caught in the political crossfire. It is well-known that the Bush administration and Alaska's congressional delegation have been lobbying to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic refuge, and when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) recently used an enlargement of a Banerjee polar bear photo to illustrate her case against drilling, she may have inadvertently sabotaged the very exhibit she urged her fellow congressmen and women to visit.
The Smithsonian has gone so far as to have its lawyers contact The Mountaineers, requesting that all references to the Smithsonian in the book be deleted. They claim the Institution's registered trademark had been used without authorization, and demanded a correction in every book that had been printed and removal of all references to the Smithsonian Institution in future editions. The Alaska Wilderness League, a conservation advocacy group, alerted Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the ranking Democrat on the Senate government oversight subcommittee, and Durbin asked the museum for an explanation. "I don't think these decisions are made by accident," Durbin said in an interview. "I think someone has made a decision that they don't want visitors to the museum to see the reality of the Arctic refuge."
This is a rather abrupt turn of events for a much-anticipated book with endorsements from Robert Redford, Jane Goodall, Barry Lopez, and E.O. Wilson. An excerpt ran in the February issue of Outside magazine, and excerpts and reviews are scheduled in publications including Audubon and National Wildlife. Banerjee will embark on a national author tour during May and June. The Smithsonian exhibit runs May 2-September 2, 2003 and moves to the American Museum of Natural History in New York in October 2003.
The Mountaineers Books Publisher Helen Cherullo takes it all in stride: “We recently articulated a new strategy that will allow us to continue producing important conservation titles in this tough economic climate -- and reach more people with our message than ever before.”
“In past years, we focused on the message behind a conservation book regardless of how many copies we expected to sell,” she says. “Today, we measure the success of conservation titles by asking this question: ‘Will they reach a large enough audience to create an impact on the public's consciousness and contribute to beneficial change?’"
The current hubbub over Seasons of Life and Land (simultaneously published in hardcover at $35.00 and trade paperback at $22.95) may be just the kind of publicity to get the book out into the public eye and make the kind of impact Cherullo and the press hope for.
“By doing this book 'right,' we are not only producing an authoritative conservation book, but we are poised to reach a large audience with the message of why they should care about the preservation of this far-away place,” says Cherullo. “If The Mountaineers Books can contribute to the recognition of the issues impacting this remarkable ecosystem, we will have accomplished our mission. And dollars notwithstanding, we will feel successful.”
The Mountaineers Books sought -- and received -- grants to help produce a conservation title of the highest quality, with funds allocated to defray a portion of the editorial, production, and marketing costs. This in turn allowed them to lower the retail price -- making the book attractive for a wider audience including those who may be undecided or persuaded to take a second look at the Arctic Refuge issue -- while funding a national author tour to further raise the visibility of the book and the issue.
This is the first book for Banerjee, a free-lance photographer specializing in wildlife, environmental and cultural imagery. Born in India in 1967, he moved to the U.S. to obtain his Masters degrees in physics and computer science (1994). Over the next six years, he worked with the Los Alamos National Lab and Boeing before starting his full time professional career in photography. Now based in Bellevue, WA, Banerjee’s outdoor and environmental education started with a Sierra Club group in New Mexico while he was a graduate student. A desire to photograph polar bears in the wild led him to the Wilderness of the Arctic Refuge, where he fell in love with the land, the wildlife, and the indigenous people who depend on this ecosystem for their survival. He spent 14 months in the field over two years, and covered nearly 3000 miles during winter months traveling with his Inupiat Indian guide.
Banerjee’s mission: to tell the year-round story of the refuge teeming with life in all seasons, to educate the public and our elected officials about the importance of this magnificent wilderness and why it should be preserved for all future generations.
Cherullo and company plan to press on with more new titles “with impact.” They are working on a conservation title closer to home -- a hiking guide to the "Wild Sky" area -- the area along Stevens Pass Highway that is currently being considered for Wilderness designation by Congress. The book is written by Rick McGuire, a well-known Northwest environmentalist.
“Our book describes the interesting history, geology and biology of the region. And by including the information in a detailed hiking guide packed with maps, elevation profiles and beautiful photographs by renowned Northwest photographer Ira Spring -- it has a dual purpose that will hopefully equal a commercial success as well.”
“We are fortunate that a number of our authors ‘give back’ to the environment as well. As an example, Ira Spring donates all of his royalties to a family trust that finances trail maintenance initiatives. We publicize this on the covers of all of his Northwest titles. It gives our customers the benefit of knowing a portion of their dollars are going back to keep the hiking areas accessible and safe.”
ARCTIC NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE: SEASONS OF LIFE AND LAND
By: Subhankar Banerjee
Paperback, ISBN: 0-89886-438-0
Though beautifully illustrated, this is not just another nature coffee-table book. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land is a two-year photographic investigation documenting the necessity of preserving this land in its pristine state.
ALSO OF INTEREST:
ALASKA'S BROOKS RANGE
By: John Kauffmann
Paperback, ISBN: 0-89886-347-3
A richly drawn, in-depth profile of one of the world's last unspoiled wildernesses. Facts about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
* The Arctic Refuge was established in 1960 as a promise to the American people to preserve “wildlife, wilderness and recreational values.” Vast and remote, this 19.5 million-acre refuge is the size of South Carolina. While 8.9 million acres are designated as wilderness, the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, the biological heart of the refuge, does not yet have wilderness designation. Oil drilling has been proposed on the coastal plain.
* The refuge shares a common border with Ivvavik and Vuntut National Parks in Canada, which in combination constitutes one of the largest conservation areas in the world. North to south, the refuge extends 200 miles—from the Arctic coast, across the tundra plain, over glacier-capped peaks of the Brooks Range, and into the spruce and birch forests of the Yukon basin. The refuge preserves a continuum of Arctic and sub-Arctic ecozones.
* It contains the greatest variety of plant and animal life of any conservation area in the circumpolar north. It is home to thirty-six species of land mammals; nine marine mammal species live along its coast; thirty-six fish species inhabit its rivers and lakes; and 180 species of birds converge here from six continents.
* The 120,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd migrates throughout the refuge and northwestern Canada. The pregnant females come to the coastal plain to give birth in late May and early June. The annual migration of this herd is the reason the refuge is sometimes called “America’s Serengeti.”
* All three species of North American bear (black, grizzly, and polar) range within its borders. The refuge is the only national conservation area where polar bears regularly den, and it is the most consistently used polar bear land-denning area in Alaska. The pregnant bears dig their dens in November and give birth to one or two tiny cubs in December or January. The mothers nurse and care for the young at the den until March or early April.
* The once-endangered muskox, an Ice-Age relic, lives year-round on the refuge coastal plain and gives birth to its young from mid-April through mid-May, when the coastal plain is still fully covered in snow.
* The refuge contains North America’s northernmost Dall sheep population. A year-round resident, they have lived in the Arctic Refuge since the Pleistocene. The refuge contains North America’s northernmost moose population.
* Millions of birds come to the refuge each year. Their migrations take them to each of the fifty states, and they cross great oceans and follow distant coastlines to reach the lands and waters of six continents. About seventy species of birds nest on the narrow Arctic Refuge coastal plain. Each autumn, the coastal plain of the refuge supports up to 300,000 snow geese, which leave their nesting grounds in Canada and detour here to feed on cotton grass to build fat reserves and gain energy before heading south to their wintering grounds.
* It is a place of wildness, where timeless ecological and evolutionary processes continue in their natural ebb and flow. The refuge is a place where the mystery of nameless valleys remains alive, where one can experience solitude, self-reliance, exploration, adventure, and challenge. The spirit of wilderness prevails here.
* The majestic Brooks Range rises from the coastal plain here only ten to forty miles from the Beaufort Sea. The refuge includes the four highest peaks and most of the glaciers in the Brooks Range. More than twenty rivers flow through the refuge, and three are designated as wild: the Sheenjek, Ivishak, and Wind. It contains North America’s two largest and most northerly alpine lakes -— Peters and Schrader.
* Numerous prominent geological formations, including a range of permafrost and glacial features, are found here. It contains several warm springs, which support plant species unique to the area. In this land of seasonal extremes, the summer sun remains above the horizon for months; in winter, the dark sky is enlivened by the multicolored aurora borealis.
* The refuge has been a homeland for thousands of years to the Inupiat Eskimos of the north coast and the Gwich’in Athabascan Indians of interior Alaska. The Inupiat people primarily depend on bowhead whales and other marine mammals for food. The Gwich’in people depend on the Porcupine caribou herd for food, clothing, tools, and cultural identity.