In pictures: The Porcupine caribou

Lines of caribou stream out of the mountains near the Yukon and Northwest Territory border. The caribou took four days to pass the border in a seemingly endless procession. The herd is one of the few barren ground caribou herds with a healthy population. In 2017, the latest population estimate for the Porcupine caribou herd was 218,000. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)Lines of caribou stream out of the mountains near the Yukon and Northwest Territory border. The caribou took four days to pass the border in a seemingly endless procession. The herd is one of the few barren ground caribou herds with a healthy population. In 2017, the latest population estimate for the Porcupine caribou herd was 218,000. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)
A group of snow covered caribou rise a crest near the Yukon and Northwest Territory border. Caribou are supremely adapted to handle cold temperatures, with hair that is hollow inside to trap air and keep warmth near their bodies. They are so well insulated that when they lay down to have a nap in a snow storm, the snow will pile up on them without melting. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)A group of snow covered caribou rise a crest near the Yukon and Northwest Territory border. Caribou are supremely adapted to handle cold temperatures, with hair that is hollow inside to trap air and keep warmth near their bodies. They are so well insulated that when they lay down to have a nap in a snow storm, the snow will pile up on them without melting. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)
A young caribou in a snow squall just off the Dempster Highway. This calf was born six months earlier on the coastal plain and has already travelled hundreds, maybe thousands, of kilometres in it’s short life. Life is tough for young caribou and only approximately 50 per cent of calves survive their first year. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)A young caribou in a snow squall just off the Dempster Highway. This calf was born six months earlier on the coastal plain and has already travelled hundreds, maybe thousands, of kilometres in it’s short life. Life is tough for young caribou and only approximately 50 per cent of calves survive their first year. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)
Bull caribou in the boreal forest around Eagle Plains, Yukon. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)Bull caribou in the boreal forest around Eagle Plains, Yukon. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)
Fort MacPherson elder Earnest Vittrekwa cleans a caribou as his granddaughter watches. Many of the Gwich’in communities rely heavily on the caribou for their largely subsistence diet and lifestyle. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)Fort MacPherson elder Earnest Vittrekwa cleans a caribou as his granddaughter watches. Many of the Gwich’in communities rely heavily on the caribou for their largely subsistence diet and lifestyle. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)
A pair of bull caribou spar for mating rights. The caribou rut during their fall migration as they move away from their summering grounds and into the wintering grounds. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)A pair of bull caribou spar for mating rights. The caribou rut during their fall migration as they move away from their summering grounds and into the wintering grounds. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)
Brennan Firth, 22, and Jewels Gilbert, 20, enjoy a laugh while taking a break during a caribou hunt outside of Arctic Village, Alaska. Firth and Gilbert feel they are happiest when they are connected to their land and culture. The Gwich’in are spread through 14 communities dispersed throughout the range of the Porcupine caribou herd. The Gwich’in people have been fighting since the 1980s for permanent protection of the calving grounds. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)Brennan Firth, 22, and Jewels Gilbert, 20, enjoy a laugh while taking a break during a caribou hunt outside of Arctic Village, Alaska. Firth and Gilbert feel they are happiest when they are connected to their land and culture. The Gwich’in are spread through 14 communities dispersed throughout the range of the Porcupine caribou herd. The Gwich’in people have been fighting since the 1980s for permanent protection of the calving grounds. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)
As evening approaches on a cold night, warm air rises from a caribou that Brennan Firth, 22, killed during a hunt just outside of Arctic Village. Brennan, Jewels and David Smith Jr. got seven caribou on the hunt that will be used to feed the community and visitors during the spring carnival. Brennan grew up in Fort MacPherson, N.W.T., but moved to the fly-in Gwich’in community of Arctic Village, Alaska, to be with his partner Jewels. Arctic Village is on the southern edge of the Arctic Refuge and is situated to catch both the spring and fall caribou that migrate to and from the calving grounds on the Arctic coast. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)As evening approaches on a cold night, warm air rises from a caribou that Brennan Firth, 22, killed during a hunt just outside of Arctic Village. Brennan, Jewels and David Smith Jr. got seven caribou on the hunt that will be used to feed the community and visitors during the spring carnival. Brennan grew up in Fort MacPherson, N.W.T., but moved to the fly-in Gwich’in community of Arctic Village, Alaska, to be with his partner Jewels. Arctic Village is on the southern edge of the Arctic Refuge and is situated to catch both the spring and fall caribou that migrate to and from the calving grounds on the Arctic coast. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)
Jewels Gilbert tends the fire on a cold evening during a successful caribou hunt outside of Arctic Village. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)Jewels Gilbert tends the fire on a cold evening during a successful caribou hunt outside of Arctic Village. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)
A wolf feeds on a caribou carcass just outside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska’s Coastal Plain. Photographer Peter Mather got this shot with a motion activated camera trap focused on a caribou killed by a vehicle near the Dalton Highway. A wolf pack ate 90 per cent of the caribou in 12 hours. This quick consumption of caribou is unusual and Mather believes the wolves must have gone days without eating before finding the carcass. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)A wolf feeds on a caribou carcass just outside the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska’s Coastal Plain. Photographer Peter Mather got this shot with a motion activated camera trap focused on a caribou killed by a vehicle near the Dalton Highway. A wolf pack ate 90 per cent of the caribou in 12 hours. This quick consumption of caribou is unusual and Mather believes the wolves must have gone days without eating before finding the carcass. (Peter Mather/Yukon News)

Peter Mather

Special to the News

While the 200,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd is currently weathering winter south of Old Crow, in the United States the Trump administration is making a last-minute push to open the herd’s calving grounds in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The administration is looking to finalize drilling leases before president-elect Joe Biden takes office, as Biden has committed to protecting ANWR and plans to ban new oil and gas permitting on all public lands and waters.

The refuge was established in 1980, protecting 19 million acres of wilderness. However, a section of the coastal plain called the 1002 area was set aside — its fate to be determined at a later date.

This 1002 area, in the heart of the Porcupine caribou’s calving grounds along the coastal plains, is believed to contain large amounts of oil reserves and is the land opened by the Trump administration to drilling rights lease sales scheduled for Jan. 6, 2021.

The Gwich’in people of Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories have fought for decades to prevent oil and gas development in the calving grounds for fear that it will have a devastating effect on the Porcupine caribou herd and the communities that depend on them for physical and cultural sustenance.

Contact the Yukon News at editor@yukon-news.com.

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