Canadian Gwich’in leaders against oil drilling | Polarjournal
Caribou in the coastal plain of the “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”. The coastal plain is the calving ground of the Porcupine caribou herds, with 85 percent of the herd births taking place in Canada. (Photo: Florian Schulz)

Gwich’in leaders in the Yukon and Northwest Territories are calling on opponents of oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to step up their efforts. The Gwich’in lived as nomads and live mainly by hunting caribou. Even today, the tribe obtains a considerable part of its food from the Porcupine caribou herd. According to a report by CBC News, the call came after the US government announced on Monday that it would sell oil and natural gas mining licenses in the reserve this year.

By July 2017, the Porcupine caribou herd had reached a record high of about 202,000 to 235,000 animals. Sixteen years earlier, in 2001, the same herd was only half as large. While other caribou herds have decreased by 90%, the porcupine caribou herd has remained relatively stable. (Photo: CPAWS)

“The Gwich’in will remain united with all our allies to do everything possible to delay a license sale, and we will not stop this work until the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is permanently protected from oil and gas exploration,” said Grand Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan of the Gwich’in Tribal Council. He said in a press release on Tuesday that the U.S. government’s environmental assessment of oil drilling in the protected area was rushed and inadequate and “failed to recognize these areas as the livelihood of the Gwich’in.”

Gwich’in chief Dana Tizya-Tramm spoke in Washington in 2019 in front of a subcommittee of the US Congress on the protection of the “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”. (Photo: CBC)

Time to sharpen awareness

The Gwich’in’s head of government, Dana Tizya-Tramm, said the area designated for development included the calving areas of the Porcupine caribou herds, a haven for 200 species of migratory birds and other wildlife. “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is just that,” Tizya Tramm said.

As species around the world are threatened with extinction due to climate change and other causes, it is now time to take a stand. “People in the United States and Canada already know what is right or wrong, no matter what complicated excuses may come from some department, a director or an economist,” Tizya Tramm said.

Politically motivated, says the analyst

The rush to sell oil drilling licenses in the future appears to be politically motivated, said oil and gas analyst Doug Matthews, who became a consultant after a 25-year career with the Northwest Territories government. If the Republican party administration is thrown out of office in the November U.S. elections, the sale of at least one oil lease before a Democratic government takes over would make it more difficult for Democrats to prevent oil drilling, Matthews said.

The pink area shows the current migration area of the Porcupine caribou herd; yellow is the border of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; orange shows where the two overlap. (Photo: CBC)

Proponents of drilling say that the planned area could contain billions of barrels of oil. However, Matthews said that there may not be any buyers. “Given today’s oil price and the prospect of falling demand for oil, I would be very surprised if a company bid for any of these packages,” he said.

An additional deterrent factor, according to Matthews, is that controversial issues often lead to legal challenges in the United States. “I think any company that gets involved in this area would approach the matter with their eyes open”, said Matthews.

Heiner Kubny, Polarjournal

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