Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Attorney: Matthew N. Newman, Wesley James Furlong

Photo of Caribou.

The Porcupine Caribou Herd calves each year in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Neets’ąįį Gwich’in of Venetie and Arctic Village have lived in Alaska’s northern interior since time immemorial. Today, through the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, they are one of the largest private landowners in the State of Alaska—holding fee title to the 1.8 million acre Venetie Indian Reserve. Within their tribal lands, the Neets’ąįį hunt and harvest caribou as part of their traditional, subsistence way of life. Those caribou are part of the 200,000-strong Porcupine Caribou Herd, which migrates to Neets’ąįį lands from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the animals calve every summer on the Refuge’s coastal plain. This annual journey is one of the longest land migration routes of any animal on the planet. The Neets’ąįį name for the coastal plain is Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit (the Sacred Place Where Life Begins).

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is, however, also home to potential oil and gas deposits. Since 1980, the Neets’ąįį have joined with all Gwich’in Tribes in order to protect the Refuge and the caribou from the impacts of industrialized oil and gas development on the coastal plain.

Near the end of 2017, Congress enacted legislation opening the coastal plain to oil and gas development. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) immediately began the process to review the environmental impacts of oil and gas development in the area, setting a political timeline that seeks to complete leasing sales in the region prior to the next presidential election. The Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, together with the local tribal village councils, fiercely oppose the proposed development of the Refuge and the aggressive schedule being set for the necessary environmental review.

NARF represents the Neets’ąįį Tribes in the federal permitting process surrounding the BLM’s environmental impact statement. As the BLM begins its review, NARF and the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government are working tirelessly to protecting the Neets’ąįį way of life by opposing all oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.