The Porcupine Caribou Herd's range covers over 250,000 square kilometres of northern tundra between Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Understanding changes to the herd's habitat or potential impacts of development in the area is important to ensure the sustainable management of the herd.
The Porcupine Caribou herd migrates vast distances each year, usually between Alaska and Yukon's arctic coast in the spring and the Yukon's Ogilvie Mountains in winter. This animated map lets you explore the migration patterns of Porcupine caribou over time using satellite data gathered since 1997.
Taking care of the herd’s range has been an important focus of land managers over the past 50 years. In Canada, two major national parks (Ivvavik and Vuntut) and other conservation areas have been established to protect key habitats. In Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been an important conservation area to protect the calving grounds of the herd.
For the most part, the range of the Porcupine Caribou herd is undeveloped. However, there are a few critical locations where development activities are increasing and may pose challenges to the herd.
Eagle Plains is located within the Porcupine Caribou herd's winter range. Oil and gas exploration in the Eagle Plains basin began in the late 1950s and by 1985, 33 wells had been drilled in the area. Over the past decade, a renewed interest in developing oil and gas resources has meant more focus on potential development in the area. In 2017, the Yukon Government placed a moratorium on any exploration activities in the area to allow for more detailed consultations and development agreements with First Nation governments. Concerns over impacts to the herd’s range are one of the main areas of interest.
The Dempster Highway connects Inuvik, NWT to Dawson City, Yukon. The 670-kilometre road runs through the Porcupine Caribou herd's winter range. The road provides hunters with easy access to caribou, which means that caribou can be harvested when they are close to the highway. Road traffic can accidentally kill caribou and disturb migration patterns. The Porcupine Caribou Harvest Management Plan outlines approaches for managing and tracking harvest of the herd, particularly along the highway corridor. All partners with jurisdiction along the highway collaborate on communication materials to ensure the ethical and sustainable harvest of the herd.
The Peel River watershed is part of the Porcupine Caribou herd's winter range. In 2011, the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, established through the Yukon’s Final Agreements, recommended a Land Use Plan calling for protection of over half of the region. The following year, the Yukon Government presented a revised plan that allowed for a much higher level of industrial development in the area. This disagreement lead to a legal battle that reached the Supreme Court. In 2017, the court sided with the First Nation governments and ruled that the Yukon must restart its planning process. The Government of Yukon is working with Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, Vuntut Gwitchin Government and the Gwich’in Tribal Council on the next steps.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980. However, Section 1002 of the Act deferred a decision on whether or not to allow oil and gas exploration and development on 1.5 million acres in the coastal plain. Since then, the “1002 Lands” have been a focus of debate between those interested in seeing it developed and those who wish to ensure its protection. For the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the 1002 lands are critical calving habitat.
In 2017, the Republican-controlled House and Senate included a budget provision that would open the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. It passed both the Senate and House of Representatives and President Trump signed it into law.
As American authorities review how this drilling will occur, Canadian management agencies and co-management authorities have voiced concern about potential impacts to the Porcupine Caribou Herd.
Read their letters here:
> Government of Canada (pdf)
> Government of Northwest Territories (pdf)
> Gwichin Tribal Council (pdf)
> Inuvialuit Game Council (pdf)
> National Wildlife Refuge Association (pdf)
> Porcupine Caribou Management Board (pdf)
> Tr'ondek Hwech'in (pdf)
> Vuntut Gwitchin Government (pdf)
> Yukon Government (pdf)