The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: reurinkjan/Flickr

I don’t know much about Alaska other than what I’ve learned in school or seen online. I still have this picture in my mind of a pristine landscape, untouched by humans and preserved in a layer of glistening snow. In reality, there’s a lot more going on in Alaska.

The 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska is the largest area of protected wilderness in the United States. That’s a ton of land, and it’s pretty diverse, too. ANWR contains arctic tundra, coastal plains and boreal forests. These forests are home to several wildlife species like caribou, polar bears and wolverines. I can’t imagine Alaska without all the wildlife. So in order to keep these animal species around for the future, someone has to continue protecting their forest habitat.

That’s why it’s important to have rules that protect our environment. But sorting through the political process and figuring out who’s in charge of making the rules can get confusing. Did you know that you can actually be a part of that process? Federal agencies, like the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), want to hear what you think. American Forests recently submitted comments to the FWS on the ANWR Comprehensive Conservation Plan, as well as the Everglades Headwaters Proposal.

Like the Keystone XL issue I wrote about two weeks ago, ANWR is also an important environmental concern in America’s energy future. ANWR’s northern coastal plain area contains natural resources like oil and gas. Drilling proponents see the coastal plain as a new resource for domestic energy, while opponents are concerned about the impacts that drilling could have on plants and wildlife. It’s been a politically charged topic since ANWR was formed, from the 1960s to the present day. It will be interesting to see the roles that energy and environment play as the 2012 presidential campaigns unfold.