A proposed 211-mile industrial mining access road would disrupt caribou migration, the subsistence lifestyles of rural Alaskans, and the integrity of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
The state of Alaska is planning on building an industrial access road along the southern Brooks Range to transport ore from open pit copper mines planned in the northwest region of the state. The road would cross 20 miles of Gates of the Arctic National Preserve and the Kobuk Wild & Scenic River.
NPCA is working to prevent construction of this expensive, unnecessary and damaging road, which won’t benefit park visitors or local communities. The road would jeopardize one of the last great intact ecosystems that supports one of the longest land migrations on Earth, that of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd.
Frequently Asked Questions on the Ambler Industrial Access Road
1. What makes this landscape so special?
First, its sheer size! It includes over 20 million acres managed by the National Park Service, including 16 million contiguous acres, the largest in the country. This acreage includes Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, Noatak National Preserve, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, and Cape Krusenstern National Monument. These lands encompass a continuous ecologically intact landscape covering the western Brooks Range. This acreage alone is larger than the top 10 largest national parks in the contiguous U.S. combined — Death Valley, Yellowstone, Everglades, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Olympic, Sequoia, Big Bend, Joshua Tree and Yosemite — plus the state of Connecticut!
The landscape is also home to the Western Arctic Caribou Herd with more than 180,000 animals, making it one of the largest populations of caribou in North America. This herd travels up to 2,700 miles every year, the distance of Seattle, Washington, to Miami, Florida.
2. How could the road impact the Western Arctic Caribou Herd?
New analysis compares the predicted impacts described in permitting documents to actual spill records from five major operational hardrock mines.See more ›
The road itself, cutting from east to west across the north-south migration route of the caribou, could pose a serious barrier for the herd in its annual journey. There is concern that the caribou would avoid the road and the industrial traffic along it, moving further west and away from Alaska Native villages that depend on the caribou for traditional subsistence use. If the road were to ever become public, it would put significant hunting pressures on the herd, further disrupting the historic migration patterns. The road is just one piece to a larger story of industrialization of Northwest Alaska. The road would pave the way for the Ambler Mining District, which would only accelerate further development and activity that caribou would seek to avoid. Meanwhile, the herd population is currently in decline, dropping 23% in the last two years, possibly due to climate-change-driven changes in precipitation and vegetation in the region. The Western Arctic Caribou Herd will need its vast range to remain intact in order to adapt in a changing climate.
3. How much of the road will cross Gates of the Arctic National Preserve?
The route would cross about 26 miles through the National Preserve, requiring a major bridge built across the Kobuk River, a federally designated Wild River.
4. How can a private mining road be built across National Park Service land?
When Congress created Gates of the Arctic in 1980, it included a special provision allowing permitting of a transportation route to the Ambler mining district across the National Preserve. Even so, that same law known as the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, maintained requirements for various federal agencies to conduct extensive analysis of impacts requiring adequate environmental and cultural information prior to any permit decisions.
But the administration’s action does not stop flawed approvals of the Ambler Road through the wildlands of Northwest Alaska, including Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.See more ›
5. How is a preserve different from a park?
National preserves are managed the same as national parks, except sport hunting is allowed in preserves.
6. Why does the map show two routes across Gates of the Arctic National Preserve?
Engineering and environmental studies were conducted on both a northern and southern route, though no routes were analyzed that would have avoided the National Preserve entirely. In January 2021, the NPS issued a Right-of-way for the 26-mile northern route.
7. Will I be able to drive this road?
No. “Road” is a misnomer, as it implies a public gravel or paved road. The proposed route is actually a private industrial mining corridor with large trucks transporting hazardous materials many times a day. There are serious concerns about asbestos-laden dust as well as serious risk for spills along the route which crosses nearly 3,000 rivers and streams including the Kobuk and Koyukuk Rivers. Due to the industrial truck traffic and narrow width of the road, it would be unsafe for members of the public to travel on it.
8. What is the estimated cost to build the Ambler Road?
The latest estimates provided by the State of Alaska indicate the total costs will exceed $1.4 billion. These costs include the construction, maintenance, and remediation of the road over the 211-mile route across tundra and permafrost. Given the length of the road, the number of costly bridges and the many acres of wetlands to cross, it is reasonable to expect the final cost to be considerably higher.
9. How many local jobs would be created?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Despite claims from Ambler Metals and the State of Alaska, there is currently not enough data to determine how many local jobs will be created. A third-party economic analysis looked at other mining projects in the region and determined that most of the economic benefit will be outside the region. Residents of local communities are very concerned about an influx of outside workers who would live in “Man Camps” during the course of construction. Historic accounts indicate that influxes of workers increase the risk of violence against the indigenous women in the closest Alaskan communities.
8. Would the road help lower the high cost of food and fuel in remote villages?
Unlikely. The road will bypass all villages in the region.
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