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U.S. House votes to ban drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

“We will not stop until these sacred lands are permanently protected.”
Porcupine caribou on Old Crow Mountain just outside of Old Crow, Yukon, October 2020. The Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge provides critical calving and post calving habitat to the Porcupine caribou herd which migrates through the traditional territory of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation each fall to its wintering range. (Paul Josie/Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation)

The United States House of Representatives has voted to re-establish the drilling ban for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), an area in northeastern Alaska that borders the Yukon, is an important breeding ground for polar bears and is the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd. The species is a key source of food and cultural identity for the Gwich’in.

In 2020 the U.S. government, under the Trump administration, opened the area to oil and gas leases. The decision faced opposition from the Gwich’in Steering Committee and environmental groups.

President Joe Biden has promised to protect the area. An executive order issued Jan. 21 called for a temporary halt of the lease sales, and Nov. 19’s vote takes another step towards more permanent protection.

“We will not stop until these sacred lands are permanently protected. At this critical moment we put our faith in those with the power to vote,” said Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm.

One of the fundamental concerns about the project from the Gwich’in and environmental groups is that development could interfere with the Porcupine caribou herd. The herd uses the coastal plain as an important calving ground during their annual migration cycle and is a critical source of food and culture for the Vuntut Gwitchin.

“We know congress will do the right thing and listen to the chorus of voices from across the globe that have but one clear message: protect the refuge,” said Tizya-Tramm.

The legislation to prevent drilling, wrapped into the Build Back Better Act, will now go to the senate for consideration.

The Vuntut Gwitchin Government and the Gwich’in Tribal Council are calling on the senate to pass the Act with a majority of votes so it can be signed by Biden into law.

Contact Haley Ritchie at