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

Man, 31, charged in Cache Creek fatal shooting

Corey Richard Harkness appeared on one count of murder in provincial court in Kamloops

One man dead after shooting in Cache Creek

A gofundme page has been set up to fund a Celebration of Life for Brock Ledoux

Historic Nicola Valley church destroyed by fire

Murray United Church one of four Merritt-area churches touched by fire on same night

South Cariboo Minor Soccer gears up for new season

Registration has increased steadily every year since 2014, with the league nearly doubling in size

Local News Briefs: Ashcroft features in new movie

Plus workshops, a concert, a hockey fundraiser, grants, a health care survey, and much more

VIDEO: U.S. Congress to probe whether Trump told lawyer Cohen to lie

At issue is a BuzzFeed News report that about negotiations over a Moscow real estate project

Rookie Demko backstops Canucks to 4-3 win over Sabres

Young Vancouver goalie makes 36 saves to turn away Buffalo

Charges upgraded against mother of murdered B.C. girl

Kerryann Lewis now faces first- rather than second-degree murder in the death of Aaliyah Rosa.

UPDATE: Injured firefighter in stable condition

Kelowna fire crews responded to a blaze at Pope’sGallery of BC Art & Photography on Friday

Rare ‘super blood wolf moon’ takes to the skies this Sunday

Celestial event happens only three times this century

Arrest made after historic B.C. church hit by arson

The fire at the 150-year-old Murray United Church in Merritt was considered a possible hate crime

B.C. dangerous offender in court for violating no-contact order, sends letter to victim

Wayne Belleville was shocked to see a letter addressed to him from his shooter, Ronald Teneycke

Man blames his loud car radio, sirens for crash with B.C. ambulance

Tribunal rejects bid to recoup ICBC costs after crash deemed 100-per-cent his fault

RECALL: Salmon Village maple salmon nuggets

Customers warned not to eat product due to possible Listeria contamination

Most Read