Environmentalist, photographer urges conservation of the National Petroleum Reserve

Sarah Bressler/Sun Star Reporter
March 6, 2012

Richard Kahn, stands in the center of a large crowd after his footage for the Alaska Wilderness League. This event was sponsered by the Northern Studies Student Organization, the Alaska Wilderness League and the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. Kayla Hajdukovich/Sun Star

Richard Kahn, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, presented in the Schaible Auditorium on March 3. His presentation consisted of a slideshow of photos he took in the National Petroleum Reserve and a reading of the journal he kept during his time in the North.

Every summer, Kahn and his wife travel different forks of the 450-mile Colville River by means of a 13.5-foot inflatable canoe, spending months at a time above the Arctic Circle.

“I live in New Hampshire, but I love Alaska. Everyone here has their own Alaska and what I’m sharing with you is mine,” Kahn said before he started his slideshow and reading.

Kahn read from his poetic journal, reminiscing about a summer spent floating down the Colville River, inviting the audience to relive the memory through his words.

“It was amazing,” freshman Michael Segura said. Segura attended the event because he is interested in outdoor activities such as camping and canoeing, he said. “I have never been to the National Petroleum Reserve, but I feel like I could describe it in  detail after attending tonight.

Kahn described the animals that inhabit the area around the Colville River.

“The wolf sat halfway up the ridge from us, howling, singing a song of the Arctic. The sound of the camera disturbed the wolf, as she stopped singing and ran silently into the wilderness. The technology, my technology, had ruined the moment, as I was left only with the sound of the gentle river flowing.”

Throughout the presentation, Kahn mentioned the possibility of petroleum development in the reserve and the effects that it would have on the land and animals.

Richard Kahn, talks to audience members on Saturday, March 4, 2012 after his footage for the Alaska Wilderness League. This event was hosted by NORS Student Club and The Alaska Wilderness League. Kayla Hajdukovich/Sun Star

“The hills are scattered with 50-gallon oil drums,” he said. “The footprints of a culture with no respect for this place are everywhere … the rusting barrels make it clear that there is no place to throw things away, there is no away.”

The National Petroleum Reserve is the largest single unit of public land in the United States. President Warren G. Harding founded the reserve in 1923 as an emergency oil reserve for the U.S. Navy. While the land has never been developed for its oil, there have been a number of congressional bills to open the reserve.

“The threat to the land is real, as real as the helicopter that I see flying back and forth over the tundra,” Kahn said.

The Northern Alaska Environmental Center, the Alaska Wilderness League and the Northern Studies Student Organization at UAF sponsored the presentation.

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