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Write for Life: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Preserving the caribou and the Gwich'in way of life


The New Community Project supports the Gwich'in people of Alaska and Canada in calling for the permanent protection of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The 130,000-strong Porcupine Caribou Herd travels hundreds of miles to the coastal plain of the Refuge each spring because it provides a perfect place to give birth to their young. Petroleum companies also have their sights set on the Refuge—one of the last remaining areas of the North Slope to be spared oil drilling.

The Gwich'in people have lived in a symbiotic relationship with the Porcupine Herd for 10,000 years. The majority of their diet is caribou meat; their lifestyle and culture revolve around the caribou. Their traditions hold that their creation as a people came at the same time as the caribou. Out of reverence for the caribou and their breeding ground, the Gwich'in will never disturb them there—even if they are without food.

Some in government and the oil industry are pushing to drill in the coastal plain. There are estimates of a little over 3 billion barrels of recoverable oil there—about six months' worth of oil for the United States.

The Write for Life Campaign of the New Community Project encourages people to write government officials to encourage permanent protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We provide a postcard featuring Gwich'in children with an inset of caribou on the coastal plain, along with background on ANWR and the threat of drilling.

Every three years, NCP also sponsors a Learning Tour to Arctic Village, Alaska, hosted by the Gwich'in community there. This is an intercultural experience that also offers some of the most pristine scenery in the northern hemisphere.

Join NCP in supporting the Gwich'in in their struggle to preserve their way of life.

Background for Write for Life Postcard Campaign

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a 19.3 million-acre refuge situated between the Arctic Ocean and the Brooks Range in the northeastern corner of Alaska. The Refuge covers an amazing diversity of habitat, from rugged peaks and glaciers to tundra and the coastal plain. The coastal plain is the most biologically rich part of the Refuge and helps to form one of the last completely preserved ecosystems left in North America.

Arctic "Serengeti"

The coastal plain of the Arctic has been called the Serengeti of North America. Every year, the 129,000 caribou of the Porcupine River Caribou Herd migrate to their calving grounds on the coastal plain. Millions of birds from as far away as Antarctica and Asia, as well as U.S. species, migrate to the coastal plain to nest. The Refuge is home to numerous animal species, including musk ox, polar and grizzly bears, wolves, and the largest international herd of caribou in the world.

The Refuge was established in 1960 by President Eisenhower and expanded by Congress in 1980. As a price of passage, that legislation included a compromise that set aside the coastal plain - the biological heart of the ecosystem - for study of oil and gas potential. The Refuge contains the last five percent of the entire Alaskan coastal plain that does not already allow for oil drilling, but proponents are working to have it completely opened for oil exploration and drilling.

Black Gold/Fool's Gold

Some suggest that the need for energy security justifies oil drilling in this pristine environment. However, the United States Geological Survey estimates there are likely only 3.2 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil under the Refuge. The United States uses this amount of oil in less than six months. The best way to increase energy security is through energy efficiency.

Modest fuel efficiency improvements for motor vehicles alone would save approximately five times the amount of oil estimated to be under the Arctic Refuge.

At the same time, even "responsible drilling" can be very harmful to the natural environment. According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Oil Spill Database, the oil fields of Alaska's Northern Slope have averaged 427 oil spills a year since 1996. The National Academy of Sciences recently completed a study of the environmental impacts of thirty years of oil drilling along Alaska's North Slope. The report concluded that the consequences were unfavorable and likely to worsen, despite efforts by oil companies to minimize damage.

The Gwich'in and the Caribou

The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that the Porcupine River Caribou herd could suffer a decline of up to 40 percent if oil drilling takes place on the coastal plain. The Gwich'in people have depended on the Porcupine herd for thousands of years. For them, drilling in the Refuge is more than an environmental issue--it is a matter of human rights, as their way of life is in jeopardy.

The Gwich'in call the Refuge, "the place where life begins." It is a sacred place to them--they don't go there even when hungry. Is it right for others of us to invade this special place to gain a few months' worth of oil?