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Activists praise clothing company for Porcupine caribou herd support

Clothing company Patagonia has promised to donate $10 million, all of its global retail and online sales from Black Friday, to environmental causes including protection of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.

Patagonia pledges proceeds from Black Friday sales to environmental causes including the Arctic Refuge

Caribou on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Florian Schulz)

Activists working to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska say they've been given a big boost from clothing and gear company Patagonia as they ramp up to fight renewed efforts to open the refuge to oil and gas development.

Supporters of drilling in ANWR hope Republican control of the Congress and the White House will lead to resource exploration in the area on Alaska's coastal plain. 

Opponents of drilling say that threatens the survival of the Porcupine caribou herd that migrates across parts of Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Patagonia has promised to donate the proceeds from all of its retail and online sales on Black Friday to various environmental causes including the preservation of ANWR. The company says it raised $10 million, five times more than was expected.

Norma Kassi says Patagonia and its founder have a stellar reputation among some environmental activists. (Norma Kassi)

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation citizen and longtime activist Norma Kassi credits Patagonia and its founder, Yvon Chouinard.

"They refer to him as the greatest environmentalist of all time, and he's an incredible activist too, so he really believes in protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the greatest wilderness left on Earth," said Kassi.

She's also praising the company for the release on Monday of a short film, The Refuge. It focuses on two women from Fort Yukon, Alaska, and their fight to protect the caribou. It was produced by Patagonia in conjunction with the Washington, D.C., based Alaska Wilderness League.

Bernadette Demientieff, left, and Princess Daazhraii Johnson of the Gwich'in Steering Committee in Fort Yukon, Alaska, narrate the short film, The Refuge. (Kahlil Hudson)

Patagonia's support for ANWR goes back decades said Cindy Shogan, the Alaska Wilderness League's executive director.

"One year their whole catalogue was devoted to the Arctic Refuge and it was just gorgeous. It was nothing but the Arctic Refuge, and then one year there was a legislative threat that was coming up really fast and within two months they put together, published a book about the Arctic Refuge," Shogan said.

She doesn't know how much of last Friday's $10 million haul will be used to protect the Refuge. Shogan said groups are funded by applying for grants.

The company's support has encouraged other retail chains to become involved in environmental issues, she said, and helps elevate awareness of the Refuge among American legislators. 

Kassi, who has been working for almost 30 years for preservation of the Porcupine caribou herd, said she's been invited to the annual "Wilderness Week" in Washington in March where activists lobby for support.

But she adds it's time to begin encouraging younger generations to take up the cause.

"I guess my major focus now is trying to educate more young people so they can become educators for us, lobbyists for us into the very near future here," Kassi said.

A map shows the ranges of four Northern Alaska caribou herds: the Western Arctic herd (WAH), the Teshekpuk herd (TCH), the Central Arctic herd (CAH) and the Porcupine herd (PCH). (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

"Without the caribou, our communities will not survive. We're already in a huge process of climate change that is unreal to us. We've grown up in a land where we've seen such drastic changes in such a short time."

Kassi said she'd like to see an office established in Yukon to co-ordinate training and education about the herd. 

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