The Porcupine Caribou Herd: Action Alert

Cows plunge into open water in the Porcupine River, Yukon from intact ice in the middle of the river.

The future of the Porcupine caribou herd in northeastern Alaska and northern Yukon is threatened by legislators in Washington who want to allow drilling for oil and gas on the herd's calving grounds. This is a very serious issue -- one that has motivated CARC repeatedly since its inception in 1971. We are asking all CARC members and supporters to write to the President of the United States about this.

The Porcupine caribou herd sweeps across much of northern Yukon and adjacent Alaska in a never-ending annual cycle. In early June the herd concentrates along the Arctic coast, and here pregnant cows renew the cycle by giving birth to their young. On the Canadian side of the border, the calving grounds lie within Ivvavik National Park and are fully protected. On the Alaskan side, the calving grounds are within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which sounds secure but is not.

When the U.S. Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Act in 1980 to establish the refuge, section "1002" of the bill set aside the coastal plain-the prime calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd in Alaska -- pending assessment of its oil potential by the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1987, the department concluded that oil and gas development in the area would have "major effects" on the herd. In response, the Canadian government urged that development be prohibited on the " 1002" lands and that the area be designated "wilderness" by Congress. Prime Minister Chretien has reaffirmed this policy, and our ambassador in Washington is using diplomatic channels to make sure that all parties understand Canada's position.

There is an interesting and important legal foundation to this issue. Both Canada and the United States have signed international and bilateral agreements that have a real bearing on this issue, including the Migratory Birds Convention, Polar Bear Convention, and the Ramsar Wetlands Convention. Most pointedly, in 1987 both countries signed an Agreement on the Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The objectives of this agreement are

To conserve the Porcupine Caribou Herd and its habitat through international co-operation and co- ordination so that the risk of irreversible damage or long-term adverse effects as a result of use of caribou or their habitat is minimized
Notwithstanding these obligations, on 26 May 1995 the Senate of the United States voted to include oil-drilling revenues from the "1002" lands in its budget package! While not opening the refuge to drilling, the vote created the assumption that authorization to approve oil leasing in the refuge would follow. Further votes in the House of Representatives and various committees will take place this Summer. This issue could be won or lost in the next two months.

Generally, CARC would not suggest that its members and supporters intervene in decision-making in the United States. But this issue is clearly an exception. Moreover, it is not exclusively an environmental issue. Canadian aboriginal peoples-in particular the Gwich'in-rely upon the Porcupine caribou herd for food and sustenance. They need our political help. Please write to Bill Clinton and tell him what you think about this issue:

President William J. Clinton
White House
1600, Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Let CARC know that you have written; we will follow-up your letter.

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