HISTORY OF PROTECTION
Close and Yet So Far
The push to protect
the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd isn’t new and
is more urgent than ever as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has risen
to the top of the Bush administration's hit list for 2005.
the past 80 years advocates such as Olaus Murie, Jimmy Carter, Robert
Redford and a number of national and international conservation groups
have rallied beside the Gwich’in First Nation to protect this
sacred section of the Alaskan Coast. Despite tremendous international
support for protection, pro-development forces within the Republican-controlled
US government threaten to unravel the millions of hours and dollars
invested in this decades-old conservation effort. A brief history follows:
- 1950s: Early Non-Native Awareness
In the early
1920s, the land known today as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was “discovered” by
non-natives. Olaus Murie and his wife Margaret explored the drainages
of Alaska’s Brook’s Range and, after marvelling at the wildlife
they saw, joined Forest Service employee Robert Marshall to recommend
that almost the entire area north of the Yukon River be set aside for
wildlife and recreation. Times of war factored into the equation. In
the 1940s the US Department of the Interior reserved all lands north
of the Brooks Range for national defence. Public support for a wildlife
reserve grew, but so did the call to open the north to industrial development.
In 1957, Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton opened up 20 million acres
of the North Slope (including the area around Prudhoe Bay) to oil and
First Formal U.S. Protection… And Prudhoe Bay Riches
Support for an
Arctic reserve grew into a national issue in 1960, leading Secretary
Seaton to establish the Arctic National Wildlife Range by executive proclamation.
For the first time, the Porcupine Caribou Herd actually had a portion
of its range formally protected. Meanwhile, North America’s largest
oil field was discovered and development started just west of the reserve
at Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay.
Across the border,
the Prudhoe Bay oil rush gave the Canadian government hope of similar
riches. Justice Thomas Berger was sent to the Yukon and Northwest territories
to hold hearings on future development and he came back with an unexpected
story: he concluded that native cultures and the integrity of the land
must not be discarded in favour of resource development.
recommended protection of habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd.
Carter's Big Step…With a Compromise
Back in the US,
President Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation
Act in 1980 which doubled the size of the Arctic Range and renamed it
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The entire refuge was designated
as wilderness with one key exception: Section 1002 of the act, a last
minute compromise to ensure the bill passed, outlined additional research
would be needed before Congress could designate the area as wilderness.
The “1002 lands” as this 1.5 million acre parcel is known,
formed the most important part of the herd's habitat and the core of
their calving grounds, but were also suspected of harbouring vast reserves
responded to Carter’s conservation efforts in 1984. In co-operation with
the Inuvialuit people, the Canadian government protected their portion
of the caribou calving grounds by establishing Ivvavik National Park
adjacent to the Arctic Refuge. Vuntut National Park, also in the Yukon,
was created a few years later in co-operation with the Vuntut Gwich’in
First Nation, thereby protecting vital spring, summer and fall habitat
for the herd on the Canadian side.
To Current Day: The Missing Piece
of Ivvavik and Vuntut national parks in Canada and the Arctic Refuge
in the United States left only the most critical portion of the Porcupine
Caribou Herd’s range – the calving grounds – unprotected.
Conservation groups, key scientists and the Gwich’in people pushed
hard for protection, but supporting bills never passed. In the early
2000s, a turn for the worse: pro-development Republicans took control
of both the US Congress and Senate, leaving little opposition to the
overtures of ex-oilman-come-president George Bush Jr. to open the 1002
lands to exploration. Uncertainty over traditional sources of foreign
oil have only served to strengthen his desire to develop domestic stocks,
regardless of ecological and cultural costs.
Where Are We Now?
After 80 years
of effort by Americans and Canadians, the range of the Porcupine Caribou
Herd has eluded development for the most part, but this means very little
if the most critical habitat of the Porcupine Caribou Herd – the
calving ground on the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain – is
not secured. Not only will one of the world’s last great mammal
migrations be at risk of disappearing, but so too will one of North America’s
last true subsistence aboriginal cultures (see Caribou People).
What stands to
be gained for putting an entire Arctic ecosystem, complete with its people,
at risk? According to US Geological Survey estimates, somewhere between
five months and one year of the total US demand for oil.
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has become of the highest priority
in 2005, for the Bush administration. They have promised to push a bill
allowing development through the House of Congress and the Senate in
Sooner or later,
oil supplies will run out, forcing people to conserve or switch to other
energy sources. Why put off this inevitable next step for only a few
more months of cheap oil? Why not deal with today’s problems today,
instead of tomorrow?
the Environmental Protection Agency, increasing fuel efficiency standards
for new vehicles by just 3 miles per gallon would save five times the
amount of oil the refuge is likely to yield. Achieving an average of
39 miles per gallon would save 51 billion barrels of oil over the next
50 years - more than 15 times the likely yield from the Arctic Refuge.
Honda, Toyota, and others are already selling hybrid gasoline-electric
vehicles that get more than 50 miles to the gallon. Ford has announced
plans to use this hybrid technology to improve the fuel economy of two
of its sport utility vehicle (SUV) models. Decreasing fuel consumption
would not only benefit the caribou, but would help solve such global
crises as climate change and ozone depletion as well.
For The Caribou Calving Grounds
Many have called
for an international park to be established in the Western Arctic, similar
to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park that straddles the Montana-Alberta
border. That park, created in 1932, demonstrates the good will between
the US and Canada to preserve shared wildlife populations. Such a park,
which would include the Arctic Refuge, the 1002 lands, and Canada’s
Ivvavik and Vuntut national parks, would not only bring 80 years of Canadian
and American conservation effort to fruition, but would also ensure the
longevity of a transboundary caribou population whose fate determines
the future of hundreds of thousands of plants, animals, and aboriginal
people on both sides of the Canada-US border.