Why the Arctic? Braided River’s Legacy of Alaskan Arctic Impact Publishing

As a Washington state-based publisher, books featuring the Arctic may seem outside of our mission. Yet, the Arctic is emblematic of our fight for all American public lands. Learn more about our history of impact publishing in the Alaskan Arctic.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
September 22, 2020
Why the Arctic? Braided River’s Legacy of Alaskan Arctic Impact Publishing

For nearly 20 years, our conservation imprint Braided River has published stunning multimedia books about the wildest places in North America. In particular, the western Arctic and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have been a special focus. Award-winning books like We Are the Arctic and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land have been used by senators, grassroots groups, and Indigenous tribes to help people experience this remote corner of the world through images and stories, and be inspired to protect it.

The Arctic and our local Pacific Northwest Mission

As a Washington state-based publisher, books featuring the Arctic may seem outside of our mission. After all, few people will ever travel there personally to hike, ski, or climb. Yet, the Arctic  is a proverbial canary in the coal mine for biodiversity, climate change, Indigenous sovereignty, and public lands protection in the United States. That is exactly why the Arctic has been a central program area for Braided River’s publishing.

“This place is so vast, wild, and untouched,” said Helen Cherullo, executive director of Braided River. “The Arctic is emblematic of our fight for all American public lands. But people have to see it to comprehend the national treasure it is. That’s what our books do.” 

TTA_Cover-smallest.jpgCover of To the Arctic. Photo by Florian Schulz.

The 19-million acres of wilderness in the far northeast corner of Alaska includes 200 species of resident and migratory birds, caribou, polar bear, and arctic foxes. It is sacred to the Gwich’in peoples of Alaska, and the basis for their subsistence lifestyle. And, it currently faces a dire and irreversible threat of oil drilling. 

Washington State has a special interest in keeping the Arctic Refuge free of drilling. Just last week, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit asserting that harm to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would do irreparable harm to Washington State’s economy due to the climate impacts, as well as negatively impact local bird life migrating from the Refuge to our Pacific Northwest backyards (and remarkably to all fifty states and six continents). Senator Maria Cantwell has also been a long-time champion to keep development off the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge - a place the Indigenous Gwich’in people call “the sacred place where life begins.”

Braided River's Legacy of Advocacy

But how did Mountaineers Books start down this path, using books as the spark to generate awe, build excitement, and leave people inspired to protect the Arctic? Join us for a tour through Braided River’s biggest moments and legacy of leveraging our books to advocate for this unique place to understand how the Arctic plays a critical role in our daily lives in the Pacific Northwest.


Seasons of Life and Land cover.jpgCover of Seasons of Life and Land book cover. Photo by  Subhankar Banerjee.

In 2003, a fierce battle for the future of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was underway. 

Senator Barbara Boxer held a book from Mountaineers Books up high on the Senate floor—Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land with photographs by Subhankar Banerjee. She offered the images as proof of the vibrant life on the coastal plain during all four seasons of the year, refuting comments from other senators who had characterized this place as one devoid of life.

When the final votes were counted, the Arctic Refuge was saved from development by a narrow vote of 52 to 48. This proved to be a defining moment for the Arctic. And for Mountaineers Books  it marked a clear turning point.

After the controversial vote, the book and photographer Subhankar were catapulted into the national media. Through the generous and unexpected philanthropic support of three extraordinary foundations, Mountaineers Books leveraged the images and stories into a national media and advocacy campaign, over 50 multimedia events, six traveling museum exhibits, and partnerships with numerous groups working to preserve the Arctic Refuge.

_DSC4113.jpgAn Arctic public event. photo by Florian Schulz.

Subhankar’s honest, persuasive images and stories changed perspectives and influenced decisions at the highest levels of our society. Exhibits, media, and presentations by the photographer ultimately reached millions more people than we ever could have with the book alone. Through this experience, we saw what was possible with beautiful images, a compelling story, and the support of visionary donors.

Those who took a risk to support this project wanted to realize this kind of conservation victory again. We published another handful of conservation books made possible through philanthropic support, and in 2007 with the approval of The Mountaineers board of directors, established Braided River as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization affiliated with The Mountaineers dedicated to preserving the last wild places in western North America. This was four years before The Mountaineers became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Almost two dozen books have been published under the Braided River imprint, with each project serving as the visual foundation for robust multimedia and impact campaigns including media, exhibits, education, and advocacy that has supported  the protection of millions of acres of public land.


The Last Polar Bear cover.jpgCover of The Last Polar Bear book cover. Photo by Steven Kazlowski.

In fall 1999, Steven Kazlowski began photographing polar bears in the wild Alaskan Arctic, a delicate ecosystem changing drastically as a result of global warming. His images of polar bears helped make them the faces of climate change. In 2008, Braided River published his book,
The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World. Grassroots groups have used the book to support climate change policy, a campaign to list polar bears as threatened species, and campaigns to prevent drilling and development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore Arctic. Steven has provided Congressional testimony, and been awarded the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography. 

The Last Polar Bear exhibit at the Burke Museum in Seattle inspired two summer camps for children centered on climate change education, as well as an exhibit that toured nationally for two years. All told, this project has reached more than 26.5 million people through national media appearances, including mainstream media like Good Morning America.

2012: On Arctic Ground

On Arctic Ground cover web.jpgCover of On Arctic Ground. Photo by Joel Sartore.

The National Petroleum Reserve in northern Alaska is one of the most wild and least understood places in North America. It is a place so remote that many members of the Bureau of Land Management staff tasked with managing this huge region had never seen the Reserve. Debbie Miller, the intrepid author and photographer of On Arctic Ground: Tracking Time Through Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve
, has experienced the National Petroleum Reserve like no other. She’s hiked and paddled hundreds of miles to bring back stories from this incredibly diverse wildlife and landscape.

Leading conservation groups, including Alaska Wilderness League, Earthjustice, The Wilderness Society, and Alaska Audubon, brought the book to meetings with key decision makers and the media. Debbie presented at the Department of the Interior and gave Congressional testimony. Powered by funding and strategic guidance to the Campion Foundation, this coalition secured over a million letters to President Obama asking him to protect America’s Arctic. In 2013, the BLM and DOI announced a management plan that preserves 11 million acres of critical habitat for caribou, migrating birds, and other wildlife. Our partners confirmed: On Arctic Ground made the difference.


WeAreTheArctic_PRINT (1).jpgCover of We Are the Arctic. Photos by multiple photographers.

In 2015, Braided River teamed up again on a campaign to permanently protect the remote, life-sustaining coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Beautiful images from ten of the world’s best conservation photographers showcased the vast beauty of this untouched wilderness.

A range of voices, from Terry Tempest Williams to former president Jimmy Carter, shared precisely why this place is so special to them through eloquent essays. Each book included a postcard that could be sent to President Obama asking for permanent protection. Through the help of the Campion Foundation and the Alaska Wilderness League, thousands of We Are the Arctic books were given away to tell the story and inspire future Arctic protectors. The book helped inspire a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Refuge, with images from Braided River photographer Florian Schulz featured on the White House website announcement. 


Snowy-owl-large-A016_C003_0701VG.0000138-2.jpgA snowy owl in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Florian Schulz.

Only 16 percent of Americans identify themselves as active in the environmental movement, but many more—41 percent—consider themselves to be “sympathetic” to environmental concerns.* Across the political spectrum, 70% of Americans have consistently said that they are in favor of Arctic protections. Braided River targets our books and campaigns at this “sympathetic” segment of the market on a national basis, as we seek broad-based engagement on critical environmental issues.

In every campaign, we feature individuals who are acting on behalf of the earth’s last remaining wild places. By showing individuals making a difference, we’re working to shift people away from apathy and inaction to positive action to benefit our collective community.

Emil-Florian-large-AK08-043419.jpgFlorian Schulz and Emil Herrera-Schulz on expedition in the Arctic Refuge. Photo by Florian Schulz.


In 2017, the Federal Administration’s Tax bill opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge up to drilling once more, and plans are rapidly moving ahead to hold lease sales before the end of 2020, auctioning off public land to the highest bidder. Braided River is in the middle of the fight again—this time using the stunning images of National Geographic photographer and Braided River author Florian Schulz in a national impact campaign called Protect the Arctic. The campaign will complement a Giant Screen/IMAX(r) film and a television documentary, both to be released in 2021, to engage the public in calls to action, including an Indigenous-led coalition of grassroots groups across the country. 

By connecting people emotionally and artfully to the critical conservation issues facing the Arctic, Braided River plays a unique role in protecting America’s irreplaceable wild places for generations to come. 

B510_C066_0101TS_001.R3D.02_21_03_11.Still001.jpgNanuk and Silvan Schulz on expedition in the Arctic Refuge. Photo by Florian Schulz.

In the Pacific Northwest, we know how important protecting public land is to our quality of life. And while Alaska and the Arctic may seem far away, Braided River’s work has shown time after time how interconnected we really are. Bird watchers who love to witness Washington State’s snow geese and red-throated and pacific loons migrating each year from the Arctic Refuge to our state have a stake in what happens. Mountain climbers and hikers experiencing the effects of climate change in our mountains do as well.

Braided River’s deep ties to the protection of the Arctic is a generations-long story of beauty, connection and empowerment. We all have a stake in what happens next, and we all have a voice. 

It all begins with a book! 

*Gallup poll, 2015

This impact publishing work is made possible through books sales and the generosity of donors. Support Braided River

Main Image of Polar Bears by Florian Schulz. 

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Amber Carrigan
Amber Carrigan says:
Sep 22, 2020 06:08 PM

Incredible work!! This blog made me beam with pride.