Let’s Win This One for the Gipper

I was heartened by a report in Wednesday’s Toronto Globe and Mail that Canada’s Prime Minister Paul Martin won’t sit idly by and wait for the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “We’re not going to give up. I can tell you that — we are not going to give up….”We will pull out all of the stops in trying to maintain the ecological integrity of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Mr. Martin.

Well, I don’t know what “all the stops” means (send in the Mounties? Threaten to ban the export of hockey players?), but it’s sure nice to hear tough talk from a head of state on the environment. The fact is Canada has a lot at stake and a proud history here. Around the same time that President Dwight Eisenhower set aside the Arctic Refuge, Canada also agreed to establish conservation areas on its side of the border. Today these areas — Ivvavik and Vuntut National Parks in the Yukon – enjoy permanent protection from development. Taken together with the Arctic Refuge, this area represents the largest pristine protected landscape in North America.

More importantly for Canada, the Arctic Refuge and the adjacent Canadian parks protect the most critical habitat for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which the Gwich’in people of the Yukon as well as Northeast Alaska depend upon. In some of the Gwich’in villages, up to 80% of their diet comes from caribou and other wild meat. The Gwich’in consider the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge “the sacred place where life begins,” and fear drilling the coastal plain would adversely affect the successful calving of the herd.

In part reacting to the concern of the Gwich’in people, the U.S. and Canada signed a treaty in 1987 specifically calling for the protection of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. You might ask what left wing President willfully risked U.S. sovereignty by signing, of all things, a treaty to protect caribou of things? That’s right, it was the “great communicator” himself, Ronald Reagan who made the commitment; a commitment that would, in Canada’s view, be violated if Congress allows drilling on the coastal plain.

Now here’s a thought: what if we renamed coastal plain after the 40th President of the United States; a president who, after all, had the foresight to negotiate this important international treaty (arguably make more sense than the renaming of National Airport given the late president’s summary dismissal of air traffic controllers)? Most enticingly, this would allow all of us – liberals, moderates and conservatives alike to join together and say “let’s win this one for the Gipper – no drilling in the Reagan Refuge!”