Submit Comments Today on the Yukon Flats Land Exchange

Submit Comments Today on the Yukon Flats Land Exchange

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John Ahni Schertow
March 25, 2008
 

The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) just sent out a reminder that today, March 25th, is the final chance to submit comments regarding the Yukon Flats Land Exchange proposal by the Alaskan Native Regional Corporation Doyon and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

If it’s approved they will be able to “acquire” lands around Gwich’in villages, and “the FWS will also be able to purchase native lands in other wildlife refuges within the State with the proceeds, so this land trade is detrimental to other Native communities in the State of Alaska as well.”

You can submit on-line comments at: http://yukonflatseis.ensr.com/Yukon_Flats/Comments.aspx

Points to consider

The primary beneficiaries of this proposed land trade are Doyon, Limited, an Alaska Native Regional Corporation who will acquire what are now refuge lands to contract with multi-national oil companies for oil and gas development, and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) who will acquire Native lands around Gwich’in villages through the trade from wellhead taxes once multi-national oil companies are invited to lease and contract and production of oil and gas development begins on what today are refuge lands within Gwich’in traditional ancestral territory. The FWS will also be able to purchase native lands in other wildlife refuges within the State with the proceeds, so this land trade is detrimental to other Native communities in the State of Alaska as well.

There really would be little or no genuine long-term benefits for the Gwich’in people within this deal, and the overall direct and cumulative impacts will be largely detrimental to lands that Gwich’in rely upon to meet subsistence needs. The Gwich’in people will be impoverished over time as their land base dwindles and they lose ownership and control within their ancestral territories, the resources they depend upon are irreparably damaged, their health and well being is compromised and overall they bear the brunt of all the negative consequences and suffer disproportionate harmful impacts from this proposal.

In traditional values, Gwich’in hold their lands in high respect, the land is there to provide for all time, the western value system of selling and buying land is a foreign concept that Native peoples in Alaska were forced into realizing when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) went into effect. As Gwich’in elders have simply put it: “Our land is forever, money is short term”

Gwich’in concerns in regard to the proposed Yukon Flats Land Trade to facilitate oil and gas development within the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge and related oil and gas impacts: Some key concerns have been identified by Gwich’in people about the proposed Doyon/FWS Land Trade of the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge, some of which are: subsistence resources and rights (loss of habitat, hunting and fishing), water and air quality, roads and pipelines (access and competition for resources, loss of local control, introduction of alcohol and drugs) human and ecological health, socio- effects, land title, jobs, other issues.

Impact On Gwich’in People

Please Oppose this Assault on the Gwich’in People – Click Here

YUKON RIVER- The communities that are along the Yukon River ought to be afforded the opportunity to be heard on this matter as well. All 66 Yukon River communities must be given a priority of government to government consultation.

* Subsistence – Gwich’in communities that rely on the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge to provide for their primary subsistence needs are very concerned for their way of life. The subsistence species that provide for Gwich’in communities such as moose, sheep, waterfowl, and Yukon River salmon will be put in detriment from this land exchange.

* Hunting and Trapping – Gwich’in are concerned that the changes in land status and oil and gas development would affect hunting and trapping and traditional land use sites. Oil and gas development facilities and activities could prevent Gwich’in hunters from access to their hunting areas within the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge because hunting is banned or not safe near and within a certain proximity to the vicinity of oil and gas development projects. Besides that, who would want to hunt where there are pipelines, considering how much damage was done by one bullet hole in the Trans-Alaska pipeline. Many Gwich’in residents have trap lines within the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge as well, including within the area where Doyon would obtain lands that are currently refuge lands. Access to the traplines may also become an issue if oil and gas development is allowed in the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge. Finally, negative impacts from oil and gas exploration and development may alter animals’ health, distribution, populations, or habitats and harm both the availability and access to these subsistence resources that we have depended on for millennia.

* Water Quality – The potential effects of both acute (oil spills) and chronic pollution of the watershed with special attention to the downstream environments where toxic substances may be transported to, and accumulate over time. This watershed analysis should address the potential degradation of habitat values over the long term for lands proposed to be transferred to the Refuge as well as current Refuge lands and other lands downstream that will remain as native lands. The potential for pollution extending down the Yukon River beyond the Refuge boundary as a result of the proposed action should also be addressed. Furthermore, the transboundary impacts to Yukon River salmon in Canada and the subsistence livelihood of villages located downriver in Alaska needs to be addressed. Therefore the water quality impacts must be analyzed in the scoping for the EIS. Prime waterfowl and salmon habitat will likely be negatively impacted as toxic spills affect the water table. Impacts to and mitigation measures regarding water quality and quantity, including water uses and potential water pollution need to be evaluated and analyzed within each alternative.

* Air Quality – Potential effects to air quality is another concern for local people, especially air quality being compromised when toxics bioaccumalate within the Yukon Flats due to cold spells in the winter when air can be socked in by air inversions for weeks as the temperature dips to -40 below. International and National studies have shown that Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPS) are known to bio-accumulate in cold regions and return to the environment into the food chain. Local people of the region are aware of this and have deep concern for the effect of toxins within the food chain that will have impact to the quality of health of the animals within the region as well as the human population that relies upon them for subsistence. Heavy metals created from oil development are known POPS. On the North Slope the National Academy of Sciences report of 2003 stated that air quality impacts to human health has lead to higher cases of Asthma and upper respiratory illnesses in local communities such as Nuiqsut.

* Roads and Pipelines – Gaining access to potential oil and gas resources by roads and pipeline corridor will have several negative factors that cause severe impacts to Yukon Flats communities in various ways and these impacts must be analyzed as well: Loss of local control within traditional hunting and fishing areas, possible influx of non-natives who will compete with locals for the subsistence resources, the species that provide for communities will then decline due to competition, more quotas will be placed on local people, causing the subsistence way of life to decline. Alcohol and drugs may be transported from cities to Gwich’in communities from the roads.

* Human Health – Another consequence that deserves thorough evaluation in consideration of this land trade are the negative impacts related to human and ecological health in the face of oil and gas development. The health and well being of the people is directly related to the health and well being of the land. Health statistics that will follow any oil and gas development will be: higher rates of Cancer, Diabetes, Asthma, Upper Respiratory Illnesses and Obesity due to compromise and loss of subsistence resources. The social factors that cannot be mitigated and will have long term negative impact to local communities are high statistics of alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, alcohol or drug related fatalities, incarceration, domestic violence and other forms of abuse etc. There would be the need for endless meetings related to oil and gas development, and the introduction of greater sources of conflict among community members. Oil and Gas development within Indigenous territories usually leaves behind these sort of devastating social effects as has been cited by the National Academy of Sciences in Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and gas Development on Alaska’s North Slope “Effects on the Human Environment” study of 2003.

* Native Land Acquisition and Loss – This deal sets a bad precedent in acquisition of Native lands [allotments] including the discussion of ANCSA village corporation lands and allotments in Phase II which will ultimately lead to the diminishment of Native Lands within the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge and other refuges across the State. In Phase I, this deal primarily targets Doyon lands near their villages and this means a loss of Native lands closest to them and increased competition for subsistence resources in close proximity to those lands. The loss of Native lands will lead to eventual loss of control within subsistence use areas and ancestral homelands. This is highly unacceptable to Gwich’in people; especially Gwich’in council’s who even have council policy in place addressing sales of lands to non-natives. Gwich’in are the best stewards of the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge lands and native allotments which was the only title granted under the terms of ANCSA. Maintaining Native land title is the best option for maintenance of the purposes for the protection of wildlife and habitat within the Yukon Flats Wildlife Refuge.

* Jobs – Many promises of jobs being provided to Gwich’in are touted within the land trade discussions, but the reality in most cases of oil and gas development projects in Alaska is that Native people who may actually maintain long term jobs are a small minority while the majority of jobs are usually taken by a primarily non-native workforce.

There is too much at stake with potential long term harm to the environment that sustains the Gwich’in subsistence lifestyle. The land will provide for generations to come if left intact. The costs to the Gwich’in people far outweigh the benefits in the long-term within the Yukon Flats Land Trade proposal.

For More Information on Continuing Actions:
Faith Gemmill, REDOIL-IEN, 907-750-0188
redoil1@acsalaska.net
www.ienearth.org/redoil

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