The to drill or not to drill subject on some Alaska lands that are used for subsistence hunting and fishing has drawn plenty of criticism along the way. Former President Donald Trump’s willingness to open up millions of acres land for possible drilling bids has been pushed back on by President Joe Biden’s administration. Now, as the Bureau of Land Management has opened up a comment period about the latest section of Alaska land to possibly use for drilling purposes, High Country News tracked down several locals who are opposed to the idea, including members of the Native communities that rely on hunting caribou and fishing for subsistence harvests:
In northwest Alaska, Doug Katchatag knows the land by its wildlife and its rivers, not its BLM classification. Katchatag, president of the Norton Bay Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, has fished and hunted along the Shaktoolik and North rivers near Unalakleet, Alaska, since he was a boy in the 1960s. In decades past, his sled dogs would catch the scent of game before he could see it. “My dogs start sniffing the air,” he said. “It’s either a moose or caribou.”
Katchatag (Inupiaq, Native Village of Unalakleet) said he remembers his dogs leading him to herds of caribou milling on the tundra, where he could choose which animals to harvest. His elders taught him to look for the old and fat individuals. But caribou are scarce in the area now, likely due in part to climate change. And Katchatag worries that if the BLM opens more land in Alaska to mineral development, it could further damage the fragile ecological systems that support the local subsistence harvest of game, fish and berries.
“To open up mining would kill everything,” he said. “It would look like a ghost town, ghost river.”