Biden, Trudeau agree to ‘safeguard’ caribou calving grounds in Alaska refuge

U.S. President Joe Biden listens after holding a virtual meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in the White House on Tuesday. A joint statement issued after the meeting includes a commitment to ‘safeguard the Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds’ in Alaska. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)
Leaders issue joint statement recognizing ‘ecological importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’

U.S. President Joe Biden has agreed to work with Canada to protect the North’s Porcupine caribou herd — marking another shift away from the policies and priorities of Biden’s predecessor.

In a joint statement issued after their meeting on Tuesday, Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said they “recognized the ecological importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [ANWR]” in Alaska. The refuge is home to the calving grounds of the Porcupine herd.

The two leaders also “agreed to work together to help safeguard the Porcupine caribou herd calving grounds that are invaluable to the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit peoples’ culture and subsistence,” according to the statement.

The fate of the refuge on Alaska’s North Slope has been the subject of debate for decades. The refuge’s remote coastal plain is believed to contain billions of barrels of oil and Republican leaders in the state have long pushed for the area to be opened up to development.

Indigenous groups and environmentalists in Canada and the U.S., meanwhile, have fought to maintain its protected status. The Canadian and Yukon governments have also opposed any development there.

In this file photo, caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump had said he “really didn’t care” about opening a portion of the refuge to oil drilling but insisted it be included in 2017 tax legislation at the urging of others.

Addressing fellow Republicans in 2018, Trump said a friend told him that every Republican president since Ronald Reagan wanted to get oil drilling approved in the refuge.

“I really didn’t care about it, and then when I heard that everybody wanted it — for 40 years, they’ve been trying to get it approved, and I said, ‘Make sure you don’t lose ANWR,”‘ Trump said.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Alaska held the first lease sale for the refuge’s coastal plain on Jan. 6, and the issuance of leases was not announced publicly until weeks later, on Trump’s last full day in office.

Temporary moratorium on leasing

Biden has opposed drilling in the region, and on his first day in office he announced a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in ANWR.

Tuesday’s statement from Biden and Trudeau signals a move toward providing permanent protections, which Biden called for during the presidential campaign.

In a statement on Wednesday, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm commended Biden and Trudeau for agreeing to cooperate on ANWR. The Yukon First Nation relies on the Porcupine caribou for sustenance, and the herd has spiritual significance to the Gwich’in.

‘If you drill in this sacred place, it will destroy the caribou,’ Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm told U.S. legislators in 2019. (CBC)

“Since 1988, upon our elders’ direction, the Gwich’in Nation have worked tirelessly to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; the beating heart of an ancient ecosystem,” Tizya-Tramm said in a written statement.

Hai choo’ to Prime Minister Trudeau and President Biden for making protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge part of a renewed U.S. – Canada Partnership.”

– With files from the Associated Press

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: RBC latest bank that will not directly fund drilling projects in Alaskan Arctic refuge, CBC News

Finland: Miners hunting for metals to battery cars threaten Finland’s Sámi reindeer herders’ homeland, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland issues new exploration, prospecting licences to Anglo American, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Minister downplays environmental impact of planned mine in Arctic Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: The Arctic Railway – Building a future or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic

United States: U.S. judge allows oil, gas lease sales in Alaska’s Arctic refuge, The Associated Press

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