Canada unites to protect the porcupine caribou herd
Two weeks ago we launched a petition urging Prime Minister Trudeau to speak up against Donald’s Trump’s plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Any industrial activity in the Porcupine caribou’s calving grounds could have disastrous and irreversable effects on the health of the herd and the Gwitchin of Old Crow.
We have been overwhelmed with how the petition has taken off. Over 6,300 signatures! And that number is still rising. What has become perfectly clear: we are uniting in this fight. Yukon Government has spoken out against drilling in the arctic refuge, Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S. has asked U.S. Senate to rethink this dangerous plan, and Yukon MP Larry Bagnell just spoke in the House of Commons about the urgency of protecting these incredible caribou. The Globe and Mail published a powerful editorial emphasizing how the drilling proposal represents an “existential threat to survival” for Gwich’in communities in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska. The Vuntut Gwitchin of Old Crow have been raising alarm bells for decades, travelling to Washington and throughout the United States in an effort to share the intrinsic connection between their lives and the Porcupine caribou.
Now we need Justin Trudeau to stand up for Canada. We need his voice telling Donald Trump that drilling for oil and gas in the incredible Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a disastrous plan. We need him to speak up for the caribou and the Gwich’in, before it’s too late.
Time is off the essence. At the end of October, the U.S. Senate passed a budget resolution that brings them one step closer to opening the arctic refuge. Northerners have been resisting industry here for decades, but it’s clear we are now at a critical turning point. We need to step up the fight. If the Republicans keep getting their way, oil could be flowing from this fragile ecosystem within five years.
This is a deeply northern issue. The health of an entire herd and so many Gwich’in communities are at stake. It’s also a global issue. With a population of almost 200,000, Porcupine caribou are one of the last healthy-barren ground herds left in North America. Scientists raised the alarm last year after numbers of barren-ground caribou declined by more than half, with some of the largest herds in decline by over 80 per cent.
The Porcupine caribou herd 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”. Porcupine caribou are seen as a beacon of hope amidst swift declines of the species across the arctic, but this herd, too could see quick drops in population should their calving grounds – which the Gwich’in consider sacred – turn into a construction site.
We knew Canadians were ready to speak up against Trump’s disastrous, short-sighted plan. That’s why we launched a petition. It’s one step in this fight to show our solidarity, to show that we value the few wild, intact ecosystems we have left on this earth over the short-sighted goals of the extractive industry.
In the words of Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, a leader in the fight to protect the arctic refuge: “In 50 years, we are going to be dead and the only thing that’s going to matter is whether we’ve preserved a place as unique as this.”
As this political — and deeply local and personal for so many — story continues to heat up, we’ll be doing anything and everything we can to protect the Porcupine caribou and back the incredible efforts of the Vuntut Gwitchin in Old Crow. We’ll keep the petition open until November 24th, so please share widely. We need as many voices as we can get.
Porcupine caribou photo by Peter Mather