Earlier this year, Northern Center and our partners launched the Defend the Brooks Range coalition to protect the future of Alaska’s Brooks Range. With the support of True Blue Strategies, we are working side by side with local, state, and national conservation and justice organizations, Tribal consortiums, and regional community members to prevent development of the proposed Ambler mining road and subsequent mining projects in the heart of the Brooks Range. Recently, coalition members traveled to Kotzebue for meetings and radio interviews about the potential impacts of the proposed road to Ambler. 

Now, we need you. As we approach the next stage in this process, it is essential that more of the general public learns about what is at stake in the Brooks Range, and how we can protect this biodiverse and sacred region. The Department of the Interior is expected to release a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) this fall. This will open a comment period, and we must be prepared to submit substantive comments during a short period of time. We urge you to keep up with our newsletter and blog posts, join us for informational meetings and events, and follow the Defend the Brooks Range social media accounts (Twitter; Facebook; Instagram). For more information on the current status of this work, read on.

Looking out from the side window of a small plane, rivers, ponds, and wetlands sprawl across the land.

The proposed Ambler mining road would span 211 miles from the Dalton Highway to north of the upper Kobuk villages of Ambler, Shungnak, and Kobuk. Four mineral deposits in the region, if developed, could each turn into mines several times the size of Red Dog in northwest Alaska. Industry proponents claim that the mines would procure minerals needed for electrification and national security but the data does not show large enough deposits of minerals to meaningfully boost the green energy buildout. While the data does indicate large amounts of copper, which is used in green energy technology, copper is neither on the United States critical minerals list nor is it in short supply elsewhere in the United States. Meanwhile, the risks of development are significant. The state would subsidize foreign mining companies to the tune of $1.4B to build the road with no guarantee of payback, all while devastating the water, land, biodiversity, and Alaska Native ways of life.

Folks in the region have been speaking out against this project for nearly a decade, and the issue is now being covered at a national level. As this recently published article from the Washington Post shows, there’s a lot at stake. Defending the Brooks Range means defending one of the largest remaining caribou herds on Earth, almost 20 million acres of connected park lands and roadless landscapes, upwards of 3,000 streams and rivers, and many communities of people who depend on this landscape and have stewarded it since time immemorial.

To learn more about the concerns of folks living along the proposed roadway, several coalition partners traveled with tribal members in fall 2022 to Ambler, Shungnak, Kobuk, and Kotzebue to hear directly from the communities. We picked berries to share with Elders, drank tea, and ate panuktuk together. Nearly two weeks were spent listening, providing answers to questions when possible, and engaging in conversation about the Ambler Road.

In front of the United States capitol building, a hand holds a poster that reads "Stop the Ambler Mining Road. We can't afford a road to ruin." The Defend the Brooks Range logo is on the bottom of the poster.

In May, coalition partners and in-region residents traveled to Washington, DC to speak with decision makers about the impacts of the proposed Ambler Road, screened Paving Tundra, and formally launched the Defend the Brooks Range campaign. We made it known that the only reasonable outcome of the forthcoming SEIS is to choose the No Action/No Road alternative. We will continue our federal advocacy throughout the remainder of the SEIS process while also organizing on a local level. 

The conversations we shared in the region last fall have continued into this year, and several coalition members traveled to Kotzebue this month to meet with local grassroots organizers who formed the group Protect the Kobuk. Organizing across the Kobuk region, Protect the Kobuk collects and shares concerns about proposed development in the Brooks and the impacts it would have on the waters, fish, berries, and caribou that are so deeply tied to their culture and everyday lives. Their grassroots advocacy has reached as far as the nation’s capital–one of their members from Kobuk traveled with the coalition to DC in May to deliver a petition opposing the development with nearly 300 local signatures.

Five people stand in a small radio recording studio.

Left to right: Desiree Hagen (KOTZ 720AM) with Defend the Brooks Range coalition members Katie McClellan (Northern Center), China Kantner (Protect the Kobuk), Alex Johson (National Parks Conservation Association), & Ruth Iten (Protect the Kobuk).

The local radio station, KOTZ 720AM, reached out ahead of our July trip with a request for an interview to talk about the proposed Ambler mining road. They had previously planned an interview with Randy Ruaro, head of AIDEA, but he canceled a day prior. His cancellation gave us an opportunity to engage in a discussion that shared voices from Protect the Kobuk supporters across the region and answer questions about the road proposal. You can listen to our conversation, shared below.

To get more involved in the fight against the proposed Ambler mining road and support the coalition’s work, you can follow along and donate at Defend the Brooks Range’s website, sport some merch, and continue learning to prepare for the upcoming comment period later this fall.