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

Caps edged in overtime

Cowichan in a must-win situation going into game six at the Big Stick on Sunday

Dump truck driver hurt after highway crash in Ladysmith

One man airlifted to hospital after collision between dump truck and pickup truck Friday

Caps keep pace with Wild through four games

Teams return to Wenatchee deadlocked at 2-2

Nominations open for North Cowichan/Duncan Sports Wall of Fame

Committee’s eventual selections will be honoured at a ceremony Nov. 16

Protective human chain forms around Victoria mosque for Friday prayer

Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Vancouver Island motorists attempted CPR on victim in fatal Highway 4 crash

Collision took place west of Whiskey Creek; man in his 70s died

Boy who went missing from park remains largest probe in Victoria police history

The four-year old Victoria boy went missing without a trace on March 24, 1991

WestJet sticking with Boeing 737 Max once planes certified to fly

WestJet had expected to add two more of the planes this year to increase its fleet to 13

B.C. driver caught going 207 km/h on motorcycle along Okanagan Highway

A motorcyclist was caught by Kelowna RCMP going 207 km/h on Highway 97C

Protective human chain forms around B.C. mosque for Friday prayer

Vancouver Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

Motorcyclist dies after three-vehicle crash on old Island Highway

Accident happened at 12:15 p.m. Friday near Country Club Centre in Nanaimo

B.C. fire department offers tips to keep your home safe during wildfire season

With wildfire season getting closer, the Penticton Fire Dept. offer tips to keep your home safe

Most Read