The tiny Gwich'in communities of the Yukon are ready to do battle with President George W. Bush if he pushes ahead with plans to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
Joe Tetlichi, chairman of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, said a lobbying campaign to keep development out of ANWR will likely be expanded unless Bush is prepared to consider alternatives.
He said the Gwich'in, funded by private foundations, other First Nations and the Yukon government, already visit Washington several times a year to target specific politicians, while presenting frequent slide shows at places like universities.
"They are very good and effective lobbyists," said Deb Moore of the Northern Alaska Environment Center. "They bring it as a human rights issue, which is in many ways more important to members of Congress than an environmental issue."
The Gwich'in depend on the 150,000-strong caribou herd, which uses part of ANWR as a calving ground, for spiritual and physical sustenance. Recent studies have shown that pregnant cows become unsettled and nervous around energy development.
Gladys Netro, a member of the management board, said her community of 600 depend on the caribou for about 90 percent of their diet. "We've made the choice to continue our way of life with the caribou."
Canada's Environment Minister David Anderson has pledged to mount a vigorous effort to block ANWR development, noting that two national parks were created along the Alaska-Yukon border partly to protect the caribou.
He said Canada will continue to make its case in Washington that the caribou are an international herd and "we have a long tradition of concern where animals cross the border."