Press Release Mar 27, 2020

Trump Administration Sacrifices Parklands, Wildlife and Alaska Native Ways of Life for Mining Road

"At a time when we are facing a global health crisis, this administration is ramming through a proposal to build the Ambler industrial mining road in one of the wildest places in America." -- NPCA's Alex Johnson

WASHINGTON – Federal agencies tasked with protecting America’s national parks, public lands, and waterways did the opposite today by advancing the proposed 210-mile Ambler industrial mining road. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has consistently fought the proposed road and associated mining district, which threatens Alaska Native communities and the remarkable parklands and wildlife in the region, including one of Earth’s longest land migrations. The rushed federal review is fatally flawed, as it fails in numerous ways to assess the true impacts of the industrial mining road on clean water, air, wildlife, climate change, and local food security.

The sole purpose of the proposed Ambler Road is to provide private industrial access to international mining companies, which intend to mine the area for more than 100 years. More than a dozen open pit mines could eventually be developed within the mining district, surrounded on three sides by national parklands.

The Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard today released documents including a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and water crossing permits for the private mining road. The road, which cuts through Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, poses numerous lasting threats to the people, water, and wildlife of Northwest Alaska. Notably, it would cut through one of Earth’s longest wildlife migration paths by the 250,000-strong Western Arctic Caribou Herd, cross nearly 3,000 rivers and streams, dam tundra wetlands, and interrupt traditional Alaska Native ways of life.

Simultaneously with the release of the final agency documents, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) will also vote today on a resolution that would reallocate $35 million that could provide support for small and medium businesses hit by the COVID-19 crisis, instead directing it to bolster international mining company prospects through further state permitting and planning for this road.

Mining companies are not wasting time in seeking and securing private and state-sourced funding for the Ambler mining road. International mining companies South32 and Trilogy Metals recently completed a joint venture that will help fund exploration in what would become the Ambler Mining District.

Statement by Alex Johnson, Alaska Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association

“At a time when we are facing a global health crisis, this administration is ramming through a proposal to build an industrial mining road in one of the wildest places in America. What’s worse, an Alaska state agency wants to redirect $35 million away from small and medium-sized businesses to instead support this ill-conceived project for international mining companies. The project itself is a terrible idea for so many reasons, but the proposal to redirect the funds to help pay for it, when Alaskan businesses need it most, is shameful.”

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“By allowing Ambler Road to move forward, the Trump Administration is sending a clear signal that they care more about the success of the mining industry than the health of the Alaska Native communities, remarkable Arctic wildlife, and our national parks and preserves. The people who make their homes in this region, who depend on the caribou and fish for their food and way of life, will suffer the consequences for the next century, which is how long the private companies plan to mine in the region. What a tragedy for our nation if we allow new mining to destroy the Western Arctic Caribou Herd and a migration that has moved across this land for millennia.”

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Wildlife: One of Earth’s Longest and Largest Migrations Threatened

  • 250,000 Western Arctic Caribou migrate 2,700 miles each year (the distance from Seattle to Miami) and will be impacted by the Ambler mining road.
  • Alaska native communities depend on the animals for subsistence.
  • Road construction would impact herd movement and threatens to shift the caribou away from villages that depend on them.
  • Once gold and copper mining begins, even more devastating impacts are expected to the herd and communities who depend on it.
  • Since the mid-1990s, Arctic caribou populations have dropped by more than half, largely due to habitat fragmentation and industrial development.
  • Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group had a formal vote opposing the Ambler mining road 17:1.

Alaska Native Communities

  • If the Ambler mining road is built, industrial mining trucks would pass near villages daily, vastly increasing noise pollution, leaving dust laced with asbestos, causing significant disturbance to wildlife and permanently altering rural lifestyles dependent on traditional food resources.
  • Communities, tribes, and other entities have passed resolutions in opposition and have voiced serious concerns about the project
  • During last fall’s rushed draft review period, the BLM did not provide adequate or meaningful participation for the Alaska Native people and communities most affected by the project. The final EIS does not include a public comment period, and the draft outreach by the BLM last fall was a short comment period during important food harvest seasons.

Federal reviews and permits to advance the Ambler mining road

Final environmental impact statement (EIS) by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM):

  • As with the draft, the final EIS lacks in-depth analysis of air quality impacts in the region.
  • The EIS ignores the serious impacts of climate change from development of the road, which will solely serve industrial mining projects. The region, home to Alaska Native communities, water, and wildlife-rich lands, are already suffering from the climate crisis.
  • The EIS lacks any alternatives to the road proposal. All options carry similar threats, with only slightly different road routing.

Final environmental and economic analysis (EEA) by the National Park Service (forthcoming):

  • The Park Service is required by law to allow a right-of-way for the road. This process analyzes impacts of several potential road routes.
  • The Ambler mining road would cross through 26 miles of Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, the second largest national park in the United States.

Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (forthcoming):

  • The gravel mining road would cross more than 2,900 streams, including the Wild & Scenic Kobuk River, threatening clean water, salmon and other fisheries within the Kobuk and Koyukuk watersheds.
  • If the Army Corps grants the Sec. 404 permit for the road, the next step will be to begin an EIS of the proposed Arctic Mine, which would be the first for the Ambler mining district. The Arctic Mine proposal is funded by industrial mining companies Trilogy and South32, which recently formed the Amber Metals joint venture.

Rivers and Harbors Permit by the U.S. Coast Guard (forthcoming):

  • The Ambler mining road would cross 11 major waterways that are navigable from the ocean

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