Photographer shares what he believes is at stake in ANWR with one image

There are no photographs of bison spilling by the thousands across the Great Plains. By the time cameras came along, most of the bison were gone. John Wright of Fairbanks believes he has an Alaska version of what that photo might have been.

His image, 12 slide frames stitched together to show the Brooks Range rising from northern tundra, is papered on a wall of the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

It takes 10 steps to walk past the panorama, a vinyl print mounted at eye level just across the hall from Otto, a preserved brown bear that stands 6 feet tall.

Wright’s image shows purple mountains above the orange-brown flats of northern Alaska. The coastal plain — miles of tundra carpet between the mountains and the ocean — is packed with caribou of the Porcupine herd. The animals resemble tan ants scrambling over treeless hills. Counting them is an intimidating proposition.

Wright, 69, was doing just that when he captured the image on July 4, 1979. The biologist and a colleague were on the ground identifying caribou as newborn calves, yearlings, bulls and cows while other biologists were taking pictures of large groups of animals from the air.

Despite the efforts of Wright and many more who lobbied against opening ANWR, a portion of the coastal plain of the refuge became available for oil companies to explore as part of a tax/budget bill passed in December 2017.

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