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The Gwich’in Steering Committee, which includes Alaska Native people who grew up alongside the refuge and have been nourished by its caribou and other resources, are not laying all of their hopes on the comment period.
For the Gwich’in and others, fighting against drilling is a cultural imperative and a civil-rights issue.
The refuge has another cultural relevance: It’s a unique part of American conservation history.
Absurdly, drilling for oil now stands alongside other refuge purposes such as maintaining environmental health, conserving wildlife and protecting the wilderness values Eisenhower singled out back in 1960.
The law also prescribed a strict timetable for drilling.
Based on published media reports we know they already include recent objections from the Canadian government, the governments of the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and several Canadian First Nations groups, who all agree drilling on the coastal plain violates international agreements to protect the Porcupine caribou.
Meanwhile the government is expected to invite more public comment soon, this time on the impacts of seismic testing on the refuge.The Trump administration is barreling ahead with plans to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest refuge in the country and an area of global ecological importance.Many refer to the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge — the very place where oil drilling is being planned — as the “American Serengeti.” A home for grizzly bears, wolves, musk oxen and a host of other species, the area is famous as the birthing ground for the enormous Porcupine caribou herd, which each spring floods across the refuge’s coastal plain in the tens of thousands, arriving in time to raise newborn calves amid fresh tundra grasses.We are now in the second comment period, which quietly opened during the holidays and was originally scheduled to close on February 11 — a period mostly characterized by President Trump’s 35-day government shutdown.The purpose of the comment period is to gather input on an array of generally weak environmental restrictions proposed to govern the lease sales the administration hopes to offer this year.It orders the government to offer a minimum of two massive lease sales in the next 10 years, with the first to be completed by 2021.Each must encompass at least 400,000 acres of the coastal plain and include rights-of-way for a tangle of pipelines, roads, airstrips and other infrastructure, all certain to harm the natural values of the refuge.Those meetings are now scheduled to take place this week.Still, comments were accepted throughout the shutdown.Drilling on the Arctic Refuge has long been opposed by most Americans.Among the staunchest opponents of drilling are indigenous people in northern Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, whose cultures and diets are entwined with the Porcupine herd.