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Celebrate and protect Arctic Refuge: Coastal plain differs from Prudhoe Bay

Coastal plain_ANWR

Re-posted from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking the people of Fairbanks about a new management plan for the Arctic refuge. I hope you will join me in calling for permanent protection of the Arctic refuge’s coastal plain from oil development and support Alternative C of the plan. Here’s why I need your help.

The Gwich’in are caribou people. Caribou have provided for us since the beginning of time. Caribou are in our tools, clothing, songs and stories. If you marked on a map where the Gwich’in always have lived and also where the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrates, you would see how we live together.

Just as we rely on caribou, the caribou depend on the Arctic refuge’s coastal plain. This is the birthplace and nursery grounds, where every Porcupine caribou calf gets its start in life. Even when deep snows mean the calves are born on the Canada side, the mothers will bring their calves to the coastal plain as soon as they can. We call it Izhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit — the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.
Oil development here in the birthplace and nursery grounds would hurt the Porcupine caribou and threaten the future of my people.

When oil development near Prudhoe Bay got too close, the caribou moved their calving area away, but there was lots of good ground and the herd grew. In the Arctic refuge, the mountains come close to the ocean, and the caribou have nowhere else to go. The biologists believe oil development would make the herd decline even if the oil companies do everything right. It is not because of oil spills or some other accident. After migrating hundreds of miles and giving birth, the cows and their calves are just too sensitive to be disturbed. 

We believe we have a right to continue our way of life, and that right is guaranteed by the United States in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and ratified by the Senate, which reads in part “ … In no case may a people be deprived of their own means of subsistence.”

We do have alternative sources of energy, and we have conservation. We have choices, but the Porcupine caribou don’t have a choice. They will go where they always have gone to have their young, and then return to the Gwich’in as they always have.

There are some places so important — for the animals, for human rights and for the Earth — that they should be protected for future generations. The Arctic refuge coastal plain is one of them.
Attend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s public hearing on the ANWR Comprehensive Conservation Plan from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. 

-- By Sarah James,Neet’sai Gwich’in from Arctic Village, chairwoman of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.


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