Wild caribou are seen near the Meadowbank Gold Mine in Nunavut on Monday, March 23, 2009. Three Canadian governments and several First Nations are expressing concerns to the U.S. over plans to open a massive cross-border caribou herd’s calving ground to energy drilling, despite international agreements to protect it. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Canada, First Nations express concern over U.S. Arctic drilling plans

Canada is concerned about the potential transboundary impacts of oil and gas exploration and development

The Canadian government, two territories and several First Nations are expressing concerns to the United States over plans to open the calving grounds of a large cross-border caribou herd to energy drilling, despite international agreements to protect it.

“Canada is concerned about the potential transboundary impacts of oil and gas exploration and development planned for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain,” says a letter from Environment Canada to the Alaska office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Yukon and the Northwest Territories have submitted similar concerns as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump drafts plans to study the environmental impact of selling exploration leases on the ecologically rich plain.

“Much of the wildlife that inhabits the … refuge is shared with Canada,” says the N.W.T.’s letter to the U.S.. “The conservation of these transboundary shared resources is very important to Indigenous groups.”

The Porcupine herd is one of the few remaining healthy caribou populations in the North and a crucial resource for Indigenous people.

Canada says the caribou are covered by one of four different international agreements — including two over polar bears and one for migratory birds — that commit the U.S. to preserve the area. At least three diplomatic notes have passed between the two countries over the issue.

Canada wants assurances from the U.S. about the content of the environmental study. The N.W.T. is asking that hearings be held in Canadian Indigenous communities that depend on the herd.

It’ll be tough, said Bobbi Jo Greenland Morgan, head of the Gwich’In Tribal Council.

“We’re not dealing with the same government we’ve been dealing with for the past 30 years,” she said.

READ MORE: More talk than action on increasing caribou protection, says federal report

In December, the U.S. released a draft environmental impact study proposal for the lease sale with a public comment period until Feb. 11.

The stakes are high for the narrow strip of land along the central Alaskan coast. The Porcupine herd numbers 218,000 and is growing. Greenland Morgan said the animals are a regular source of food for her people.

“We probably have (caribou) at least once or twice a week.”

Adult caribou can co-exist with development, but scientists have shown they avoid any disturbance on their calving grounds.

“Canada is particularly concerned that oil and gas exploration and development will negatively affect the long-term reproductive success of the Porcupine caribou herd,” says the federal letter.

The U.S. is aware of that possibility.

“Potential impacts, particularly those relating to changes in calving distribution and calf survival, are expected to be more intense for the (Porcupine herd) because of their lack of previous exposure to oil field development,” says the draft plan.

It also points out the herd’s importance to Canadian First Nations and acknowledges they take about 85 per cent of the annual harvest.

“These Canadian communities would be among the most likely to experience potential indirect impacts.”

Craig Machtans of the Canadian Wildlife Service represents Canada on an international committee that manages the Porcupine herd. He said he has a good relationship with his counterpart in Alaska.

“He does keep me informed,” Machtans said.

READ MORE: Glaciers in Western Canada retreat because of climate change

But the ties aren’t what they were.

The U.S. representative used to come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The current member is from the Department of the Interior.

“He has a different mandate,” said Machtans. “I’m not sure it’s the same relationship.”

Officials at Global Affairs Canada say the U.S. is living up to the agreement on the Porcupine herd. American officials were not available for comment due to a partial government shutdown in that country.

Machtans said Canada has no special status as the U.S. considers public input on the draft.

“We’re not in the inner circle,” he said. “We’re participating as members of the public.”

International law professor Michael Byers said the U.S. may have already broken a clause in the agreement that commits both parties to consulting the other before a final decision is made on anything that affects the herd’s future.

“There’s an obligation to consult that isn’t being implemented right now,” Byers said.

He noted that the U.S. has already said it intends to sell the leases this year.

Greenland Morgan said her people have been fighting for decades to keep the Porcupine calving grounds free of development — but this time feels different.

“We’ve always had to do this,” she said. ”But with the Trump administration, it’s been more challenging.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Rupert Runners share memories of beloved volunteer Leslie Peloquin

Distance runner Peloquin was a Learn to Run coach in Prince Rupert for years, inspiring many

‘Ruff week over for canine owners as Prince Rupert dog park reopens

McKay Street dog park was temporarily closed for repairs after a car crashed into fence

Prince Rupert marine business adds second catamaran to its fleet

100-passenger Aurora was launched this year for the Rio Tinto Kemano tunnel project

Sustainble economy flourishing in Haida Gwaii and Great Bear Rainforest thanks to First Nations investments

From 2008-2018, funding initiatives led to more than $286 million in new investments

Cats of Third Avenue fire are safe and sound

Boris, Ben, Boomboom, and Bella were found two days after their home was set ablaze

Prince Rupert’s Seamen shine in year end rugby victory

Weekend doubleheader featured a historic win over Williams Lake

WEB POLL: Would you like to see another mural go up where Zorba’s Taverna’s old one used to be?

The iconic quirky mural from Prince Rupert’s Greek restaurant was painted over this week

Victoria mom describes finding son ‘gone’ on first day of coroners inquest into overdose death

Resulting recommendations could change handling of youth records amidst the overdose crisis

Dash-cam video in trial of accused cop killer shows man with a gun

Footage is shown at trial of Oscar Arfmann, charged with killing Const. John Davidson of Abbotsford

Suicide confirmed in case of B.C. father who’d been missing for months

2018 disappearance sparked massive search for Ben Kilmer

Eight U.S. senators write to John Horgan over B.C. mining pollution

The dispute stems from Teck Resources’ coal mines in B.C.’s Elk Valley

Threats charge against Surrey’s Jaspal Atwal stayed

Atwal, 64, was at centre of controversy in 2018 over his attendance at prime minister’s reception in India

Anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to speak in Surrey

He’s keynote speaker at Surrey Environment and Business Awards luncheon by Surrey Board of Trade Sept. 17

Otters devour 150 trout at Kootenay hatchery

The hatchery has lost close to 150 fish in the past several months

Most Read