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

Comedy fundraiser for Okanagan baseball leagues

It’s a comedy and carnival night for the Okanagan College, Okanagan Athletics, and Kelowna Jr Coyotes

Two Kelowna stores work to raise funds for non-profit and the Central Okanagan Foodbank

ScanDesigns Furniture and Muse & Merchant Home Collection locations raised $20,500

Ballet Kelowna kicks off with first 2019 program, Winter

The new program comes to the Kelowna Community Theatre Feb. 1

Central Okanagan NDPers organize meeting look at BC government’s record last year

Organizers say open house at UBCO is open to people of all political persuasions

West Kelowna Warriors lose to Rivermen

It was a tight 2-1 loss in the first of a three game road trip

Vernon ringette team tops in Calgary

Also highlights from Okanagan rink action with Westside, Kelowna and Salmon Arm

47 men arrested by Vancouver police for allegedly seeking sex with teenage girls

Seven of those arrested have been charged as part of a two-month operation

B.C. hospital apologizes for veteran’s five-day hallway stay

Clinical director of Victoria General Hospital says case of retired veteran ‘definitely excessive’

Speaker Darryl Plecas says ‘justice’ needed for legislature employees

Plecas spoke to media at the opening of a pedestrian and cycling bridge in Abbotsford Wednesday

Advocate hopes B.C. legislature scandal leads to more transparency

‘Depressing’ that it takes a scandal to inspire freedom of information reform, says Sara Neuert

‘Dr. Lipjob’ avoids jail, gets 30-day suspended sentence

She will have to serve the 30 days in prison if she commits a breach during her two-year’s probation

UPDATE: Police watchdog heads to Kelowna for officer involved shooting

RCMP are surrounding the CIBC at the mall in Kelowna

Ex-Mountie involved in Taser death at Vancouver airport sues government

Kwesi Millington claims he acted in accordance with RCMP training

B.C. company fights court order to allow public access to Nicola Valley lakes

Legal battle between fish and game club, cattle firms takes another twist

Most Read