Democratic win prompts ANWR protection hopes

Following the Democrat Party’s sweep in US midterm elections, Old Crow is more optimistic about the future of the Porcupine caribou herd.

Following the Democrat Party’s sweep in US midterm elections, Old Crow is more optimistic about the future of the Porcupine caribou herd.

The Democrats now hold the Senate and Congress. The party won 230 of 435 seats in Congress, an increase of 28 seats since the 2004 election.

It also won a 51-49 majority in the 100-seat Senate.

That protects the caribou, for the time being, from industrial development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, said Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

“This is the biggest environmental issue in the US,” he said Thursday.

“It’s not totally split along partisan lines; there are Democrats for drilling and there are Republicans against drilling.

“But Democrats, by and large, are against drilling.”

The Porcupine caribou give birth in the so-called “1002” region of ANWR — a sliver of land between the Romanzof Mountains and the Beaufort Sea.

Their survival is critical to the way of life of the Gwich’in people of North Yukon and northern Alaska, said Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias.

“There will be no herd if development happens in the calving ground; they have nowhere else to go,” said Elias, a Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation member who was elected to the Yukon legislature on October 10.

“It’s such a small area, displacement would be enough.

“That’s the only place where they get wind relief off of the ocean; that’s the only place where they can get the cotton grass to start producing milk; that’s the only place where they can see predators on the plains.”

The last eight years saw a Republican push to open the region to oil drilling.

Drilling advocate Ted Stevens, an Alaskan senator, retained his seat. But California congressman Richard Pombo, former chair of the house resources committee who was relentless in pursuit of ANWR drilling, lost his seat, said Bagnell.

For years, the Republicans tried to get a pro-drilling bill through the Senate, but lacked the 60 per cent support they needed.

“Now that manoeuvre won’t be possible because the Democrats — and hopefully the new ones elected are opposed to drilling — have the majority in the Senate,” said Bagnell.

“So that’s very big.”

“We don’t ever want our Gwich’in children reading about how it used to be, our relationship with caribou, in books, like the southern kids have to do with the buffalo,” said Elias, paraphrasing former Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Johnny Able.

“The caribou issue can now go on the offensive.

“Instead of trying to defeat pro-drilling bills in the house and the Senate, there will be bills put forward that will utilize this opportunity to protect the coastal plain of (ANWR).”

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