book burning Republican style

seasonsoflifebookcover.jpgThis book: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, is threatening to Republicans. So much so that Republicans have the allegedly apolitical Smithsonian running scared -- very disheartening since I always thought of the Smithsonian as a bastion of integrity in Washington DC.

It seems that a scientist and photographer, Subhankar Banerjee, spent a year in the Arctic refuge taking photos of what Republicans characterize as a "barren wasteland" and clearly demonstrating that it is neither barren nor a wasteland. Which threatens the Republicans' plan for drilling for oil in the Arctic refuge. The Smithsonian was planning to mount a major exhibition of Banerjee's Arctic photos, but instead shoved the exhibition into a basement gallery and truncated the photographer's captions, providing lame excuses for doing this and demonstrating that they, too, are running scared of current government. Two articles explain what's going on better than I can:

Book on Arctic refuge gets a chilly reaction, by Eric Sorensen, Seattle Times.

Last month, Subhankar Banerjee's book on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge got the kind of publicity money can't buy: an endorsement on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

But after U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., used the book to argue against oil and gas leasing in the refuge, the Bellevue photographer saw the Smithsonian Institution relocate an exhibit of his photographs and drastically trim the pictures' captions.

Meanwhile, the Office of the General Counsel has written The Mountaineers Books, Seattle-based publisher of "Seasons of Life and Land," asking it to remove from all future editions any references to the Smithsonian or a Smithsonian-sponsored traveling exhibit.

"It is perceived the book has been politicized," a disappointed Banerjee said yesterday.

From the New York Times, May 2, 2003, by Timothy Egan:
Smithsonian Is No Safe Haven for Exhibit on Arctic Wildlife Refuge

"I want the world to see the caption of the little bird that the Smithsonian says is too controversial for the public," Mr. Durbin said. "There was political pressure brought on this exhibition. And it's a sad day when the Smithsonian, the keeper of our national treasures, is so fearful."

Smithsonian officials are angered and embarrassed at being in the middle of a Congressional fight over whether to open the refuge to oil and gas drilling. "We do not engage in advocacy," said Randall Kremer, a museum spokesman. "And some of the captions bordered on advocacy."

Documents from the Smithsonian give an idea of the changes. For a picture of the Romanzof Mountains, the original caption quoted Mr. Banerjee as saying, "The refuge has the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen and is so remote and untamed that many peaks, valleys and lakes are still without names."

The new version says, "Unnamed Peak, Romanzof Mountains."

This year the Smithsonian is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the national wildlife system; the first refuge was created by President Theodore Roosevelt, on Pelican Island in Florida.

But perhaps no other refuge has received as much attention as the Arctic domain, which was first protected by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and enlarged by President Jimmy Carter.

As the centerpiece of his national energy policy, President Bush wants to open about 1.5 million acres of the refuge's coastal plain to drilling. It is, supporters of the move say, a potential motherlode of oil.

Led by Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who heads the Appropriations Committee, drilling supporters have derided the refuge as largely barren, frozen and lifeless for nearly 10 months a year. Most pictures of the refuge show the vast caribou herd that migrates to the coastal plain, or the birds that fly in to feast on the fecund grounds in the refuge's brief but intense summer.

Mr. Banerjee's breakthrough was to record four seasons of life on the refuge, particularly around the area where drilling would take place. Mr. Banerjee used his life savings and cashed out his retirement account to pay for the 14 months he spent in the refuge with a digital camera.

Banerjee's website, World without Borders, contains a gallery of his work. Here are just two of the amazing photos of the "barren wasteland" that is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:





You can find links to other articles about his work, and links to conservation organizations, on Banerjee's site. Buy the book, write to your congresspeople (House of Representatives, Senate), support conservation efforts, write to the Smithonian (it's OUR museum).
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