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Canada and the Caribou

In response to:

Inside the Endangered Arctic Refuge from the October 19, 2006 issue

To the Editors:

While I was absolutely delighted to read Peter Matthiessen’s heartfelt entreaty on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [NYR, October 19], I would like to add an additional perspective from the Canadian side of the border.

I am absolutely certain that Mr. Matthiessen is very aware of these points but I often fear that the transboundary value of the ANWR lands gets lost in the debate within the American media. In fact, the Porcupine caribou herd with its calving grounds within the 1002 lands spends most of its annual cycle within Canada. It also sustains the traditional lifeways of the Gwich’in peoples resident in communities such as Old Crow on the Porcupine River, which flows into Alaska and joins the Yukon on the journey to the Bering Straits.

The people of Old Crow along with the government of Canada’s Yukon Territory and the government of Canada have consistently argued against opening the 1002 lands for at least two decades. This includes personal presentations by the residents of the Yukon to a plethora of public hearings in the US on up to representations from various Canadian prime ministers to successive American presidents. Canada has several new major protected areas (Vuntut National Park for one) which are contiguous with ANWR and protect much of the rest of the caribou range. It would be very useful (and probably more compelling) if the maps which accompany articles such as Mr. Matthiessen’s identify the much larger ecosystematic protection which is being afforded the caribou within both countries.

In any event many kudos to the NYR for profiling such a critical issue.

Stephan Fuller
Sydenham, Ontario

P.S. As the director of policy for the Yukon Department of Environment from 1985 to 1993 I had the opportunity to represent the Yukon government in EIA hearings in Anchorage when the government first took an anti-development position on ANWR. We subsequently supported the community of Old Crow in numerous efforts to convince the respective US government authorities within Alaska and Washington that Canada had a legitimate stake in US development decisions (this included multiple visits to Kaktovik, Arctic Village, and Washington).

Peter Matthiessen replies:

Mr. Fuller’s kind letter graciously reminds us of Canada’s ongoing keen interest in the fate of the Arctic Refuge, as well as the fact that his nation has earned a well-deserved say in any fossil fuel development decisions in regard to the “1002.”

ANWR, of course, is just a part of the great international ecosystem that also includes Canada’s Ivvavik and Vuntut National Parks and the Old Crow Management Area in the Porcupine River headwaters in the Yukon. Unfortunately, space constraints left no room for a discussion of Canada’s important role in maintaining the habitat of the Porcupine caribou and sustaining the welfare of the Gwich’in people in that region, which I have treated in an earlier essay in Subhankar Banerjee’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land(2003)—the regions and locations that Mr. Fuller mentions are all prominent on that book’s map. This essay was referred to but not further discussed in the New York Review article, which deals primarily with the threat of massive fossil-fuel development in the National Petroleum Reserve in western Alaska.

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