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U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd), who has represented Cape May in the U.S. Congress for 12 terms, will soon be retiring from his seat after nearly a quarter-century fighting for New Jersey’s environment. Because of his work, the people of Cape May have more access to outdoor spaces, cleaner waters, and thriving wildlife. 

It’s especially significant for Cape May that LoBiondo co-sponsored the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act and signed on to fund the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program. Our location in the Delaware Bay is home to the largest population of American horseshoe crabs and a meeting place for red knots.

LoBiondo also has shown leadership and commitment to the National Estuaries Program and to addressing the risks of climate change. He has also stood against rollbacks of regulations that are critical for protecting our water resources and was the primary sponsor of H.R.728, which aimed to prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from issuing oil and gas leases on portions of the Outer Continental Shelf located off the Jersey Shore.

Just as he now stands as a strong voice fighting against drilling off our Atlantic Coast and loudly opposing the recently released administration plans to commence wide-spread drilling, one of the hallmarks of his career has been fighting to prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, further afield from the New Jersey shores but no less important.

Some important background: the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act of 1960 was passed by President Eisenhower to designate the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as protected lands. The 19.6-million-acre refuge in northeastern Alaska is one of the most pristine areas in the U.S. and hosts nearly 200 species of birds, some of which pass through Cape May when migrating to or from the Arctic, while others spend the entire non-breeding season in our portion of the state.

Because food for Arctic birds is not available during cold, winter months, many birds migrate south to forage in warmer climates. Arctic birds migrate to the Cape May area because our latitude is about midway between the equator and northern forests and the Arctic.

The Cape May peninsula is a well-known and well-traversed stopover site because the area provides migrating birds with the opportunity to refuel and rest during their journey. It is also why so many bird-watchers from across the globe flock to Cape May for the Cape May Fall Festival and World Series of Birding.

Some Arctic breeding bird species commonly found in Cape May include the red-throated loon, brant, northern pintail, semipalmated sandpiper and the snowy owl. This winter, several breath-taking snowy owls have been sighted around Avalon and Stone Harbor Point. So while the Arctic may feel distant and removed from our state, turning to the skies shows that the separation is not so large for our shared wildlife.

Unfortunately, in Washington D.C. during the past year, there has been a multi-pronged and sustained threat to open the Arctic for drilling, most recently with the late addition of a provision allowing for drilling in the Arctic, somehow added to the Tax Reform legislation. The consequences are grave for the Coastal Plain, a biological center of the Refuge with more abundant and diverse wildlife than any protected area in the polar north.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last pristine places in the U.S. and drilling there will irreversibly damage this landscape not only through industrialization but also through spills of drilling chemicals or oil spills. This is not out of the ordinary, as the North Slope of Alaska averages more than one oil spill per day.

In early November, 37 leading Arctic wildlife scientists united to oppose drilling in the Arctic, which further solidifies that wildlife and oil drilling don’t mix.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s natural wonders and we have an obligation to protect it from oil and gas development. It is irresponsible and unthinkable to turn this natural treasure into an oil field. LoBiondo has always agreed and has stood as a defender for this jewel through many actions over his career including most recently signing onto a letter to protect the Refuge and voting against the tax reform legislation that included the rider.

We are grateful for LoBiondo's efforts on behalf of the Arctic in the past and for his current efforts to protect the shores of the Atlantic from drilling. We all have an obligation to future generations to protect this valuable habitat and all the wildlife that call it home. The environment has an ally on its side from Cape May, LoBiondo.

ED. NOTE: The author is president and chief executive officer for New Jersey Audubon.

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