Porcupine caribou threatened by drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

October 30th — Whitehorse, Yukon

The birthing grounds of one of North America’s last healthy barren-ground caribou herds are at serious risk. Porcupine caribou are seen as a beacon of hope amidst swift declines of the species across the arctic. With both U.S. Congress and the White House pushing to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling, the health of this herd is now in jeopardy.

Last week the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Yukon Chapter (CPAWS Yukon) launched a nation-wide petition urging Prime Minister Trudeau to take a stand against the U.S. government’s recent efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the caribou give birth every spring. The organization is pressing the public to join forces and speak up against any industrial development in this fragile ecosystem, both for the health of the herd and the Vuntut Gwitchin in Old Crow, who rely on the Porcupine caribou for their very survival. In just a few days the petition has garnered over 4,000 signatures.

“If drilling in the Arctic Refuge is allowed to go ahead, the threat to the north and its people cannot be understated,” said Chris Rider, CPAWS Yukon’s Executive Director. “That’s why it’s so important that Justin Trudeau stands up in solidarity with the Gwitchin on behalf of all Canadians to tell the U.S. that this just cannot happen.”

The Porcupine caribou’s calving grounds on the coastal plains of the wildlife reserve have been at risk before, but with U.S. Congress pushing through a budget bill that advances drilling in the refuge, this is the biggest threat in decades.

Barren-ground caribou have the longest land-mammal migration on earth.  Scientists raised the alarm last year after numbers declined by more than half, with some of the largest herds in decline by over 80 per cent. The Porcupine caribou is the exception. Thanks to a relatively intact range, this herd’s numbers helped give scientists the confidence to designate this species at risk as “threatened” rather than “endangered”.

Caribou are incredibly sensitive to any environmental changes. Any construction in their territory could lead them to abandon their calving grounds altogether. This could have a grave and irreversible impact on the health of the herd and the Vuntut Gwitchin in Old Crow, who have been fighting to protect these sacred birthing grounds for decades.


Media Contact: Nadine Sander-Green, 867-393-8080 ext.108, nsander-green@cpawsyukon.org