Saving Porcupine Caribou
Greenland takes message to Washington

Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Jan 29/99) - Inuvik's Bobbi Jo Greenland will spend the month of February visiting several American states to push the U.S. Congress to pass wildlife bills protecting Porcupine Caribou herd calving grounds.

The 22-year-old went to Washington D.C. in June, 1998, along with Fort McPherson's Karen Mitchell, to help spread the Gwich'in perspective.

"In June there were 139 co-sponsors in Congress," she says.

"Then by November '98, there were 151. And it was determined out of the 151 co-sponsors, 86 of them were either directly or indirectly influenced by the Northern people and efforts. A good part of that was the visits we do down there."

When she visits Washington this time, sponsored by the Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board, she will mingle with senatorial staff to help keep co-sponsors on-side while asking others for support.

But first, she will stop off in four Alaskan communities (Arctic Village, Fort Yukon, Venetie and Fairbanks) to stress the importance of keeping the Alaskan coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge free from oil drilling.

The 200-kilometre coastal plain is the only part of Alaska's 1,760-kilometre Arctic coastline that has been closed, by law, to oil development. Proposed bills will help keep multi-national oil companies from seeking approval to drill in the refuge.

"The Gwich'in concern for the caribou is because we are strongly tied to the caribou as a culture and way of life," says Greenland, who is considering applying for law school.

"Caribou are part of our culture and our relationship with the land."

Along with organizers such as American Lenny Kohm, Greenland will carry this message to Arkansas, Tennessee and Indiana before winding up in Washington D.C.

The coastal plain forms about 10 per cent of the Arctic National Refuge's total area but it is its biological heart.

For centuries, Porcupine Caribou have travelled from Yukon's Porcupine River to the Alaskan coastal plain to give birth each spring.

The herd undergoes this arduous migration because the coastal plain is a perfect caribou nursery with fewer predators such as wolves, bears and eagles.

The timing and species of plant growth on the plain are ideal for pregnant and nursing caribou.

"The wide-open space acts as protection for them. There, nature controls the mosquitoes and from the wind they can sense the grizzly bears," she says.

"Our goal is to work hard at it this year, harder than we've ever worked, and our common goal is to have this (oil-drilling free) designation by the year 2000."