Whitehorse, Yukon, April 19th, 2018 – Canadians have just been given a chance to speak directly to the U.S. Government about its reckless plan to allow oil and gas development in the birthing grounds of an international barren-ground caribou herd.
The Porcupine caribou herd undergoes the longest land-mammal migration on earth, beginning in their calving grounds in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, then travelling into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Gwich’in communities have placed themselves strategically along this herd’s migration routes in order to sustain themselves from this seasonal cycle. They call the calving grounds in the Arctic Refuge “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit,” which translates roughly to “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”
Last fall, the Trump Administration made international news by putting this globally significant herd — one of the last healthy barren-ground herds left in North America — in jeopardy when U.S. Congress snuck a provision to drill in the Arctic Refuge into an unrelated federal tax bill.
The Vuntut Gwitchin in Old Crow, Yukon, have been fighting for the past four decades to keep development out of the Porcupine caribou’s caving grounds. Though it happened without proper consultation or debate, the passing of this provision marked the first legal step towards peeling back longstanding protections of the Arctic Refuge.
Today, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued a Notice of Intent, which initiates a scoping period for a mandatory environmental review of this decision. The bureau will be collecting public comments from both Americans and Canadians for the next 60 days. Canadians now have the chance to speak directly to the U.S. government about how this oil and gas development would have an impact on our country.
“This is a deeply Canadian issue,” said Chris Rider, Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), Yukon Chapter. “Disturbing this fragile ecosystem could have a disastrous effect on the health of the Porcupine caribou herd and the Gwich’in. We need to tell the Trump administration that the only option at this point is simple: stop. Oil and gas development has no place in the heart of the Porcupine Caribou’s calving grounds”
Caribou are incredibly sensitive to light and sound, and any construction in their calving grounds — during one of the most vulnerable phases of their lives —could lead them to abandon the area altogether. The Porcupine caribou have been highlighted as a beacon of hope in the midst of sharp declines by other barren-ground herds across the Canada.3
For the Gwich’in, who rely on the caribou as a main food source, this is an essential food security and human rights issue.
“The Gwitchin’s timeless relationship with the caribou has secured our existence to this day, a relationship that we hold in high regard and with the deepest of respect. The needless threat of developing the Porcupine Caribou Herd’s calving grounds on the coastal plain of Alaska has now elevated this issue to involve all of North America. It is not just the Gwich’in or indigenous peoples’ loss, but all of North America’s last healthy caribou herd whose future is now in question. What does this mean for our collective futures when we no longer show respect for the foundations of our existence? This is a day that signals to the Gwich’in of the northern arctic that our knowledge from before written history and our warnings about the stability of arctic ecosystems are disregarded by US leadership. It is our future generations’ right to continue to enjoy this life-giving relationship with the caribou as we have as the first peoples of these lands. Heed the call, stand with the Gwich’in for what is right, we must each ask ourselves what is more important to us, life, or oil.” – Dana Tizya-Tramm, Councillor, Vuntut Gwitchin Government
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has said they plan to rush through the environmental review process for the lease sale in just over a year. Using a hurried, predetermined plan to complete this process is incompatible with protecting the ecological integrity of the Arctic Refuge.
“By pushing for a lease sale next year, the administration is admitting that they have no intention of seriously evaluating the negative impacts of oil development on wildlife and these wild lands, which science tells us are significant,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, a leading American non-profit land conservation organization that CPAWS Yukon is working with on this issue. “The Wilderness Society remains opposed to opening the Arctic Refuge coastal plain to drilling. Local communities and the public’s concerns should be fairly considered and addressed. Americans should be outraged at what is being done to the crown jewel of their National Wildlife Refuge System.”
This scoping period is the first phase of that environmental review process. The information gathered during this comment period must inform what will be reviewed as part of the Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed lease sale.
CPAWS Yukon stands with the Gwich’in as they continue to fight for the land that has sustained them for millennia. For more information read our backgrounder on the scoping period, and visit our campaign page.