In mid-October, the Biden administration released a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed 211-mile Ambler industrial mining road through Alaska’s Brooks Range. This region is home to numerous Athabaskan and Iñupiat villages and the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, whose population is currently estimated to be 152,000 animals, down 12,000 from 2022. The herd has the longest wildlife land migration in North America and provides a critical food source for local communities. We have long contended that the impacts to the communities, wildlife, and waters of northern Alaska far outweigh any benefits from this speculative project.
When permits for the 211-mile route were issued in January 2021, we took immediate legal action to prevent progress on the proposed road. The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) new SEIS includes an alternative that demonstrates that the impacts of the proposed road would be too great for the permits to remain in place.
Upon the release of the SEIS, Katie McClellan, mining impacts and energy manager for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, said, “We maintain that an industrial road in the Brooks Range would be a disaster on multiple levels. This landscape provides cultural and physical nourishment for thousands of Indigenous people, and is critical habitat for one of the largest remaining caribou herds in North America. We call on the Bureau of Land Management to revoke current permits and continue a thorough analysis of the proposed project, with emphasis on its impacts to Alaskan tribes and communities.”
We encourage you to weigh in on the Draft SEIS for the Ambler road via the following methods:
- In-person hearings, including a hearing Thursday, November 2nd, at 7pm in Fairbanks.
- Submitting a comment online through the BLM’s e-planning portal.
In your comments, we ask you to consider the following and support a No Action Alternative. For a full comment template you can personalize, click here.
- Traditional and subsistence practices
- Road development could impair access to subsistence resources by cutting communities off from traditional hunting areas, eliminating berry patches, and polluting waters that are habitat to species of fish communities depend on.
- Pollution from the road and mines could cause traditional food sources to be unsafe for human consumption, or reduce populations to numbers unsustainable for harvest.
- Up to 66 communities could face reduced access or availability of subsistence resources; these communities are already facing declining fish populations and further diminished access to food sources is unacceptable.
- The health of the people of the region is directly linked to the health of the land and wildlife. Any changes to abundance, availability, and ease of access to resources directly affects the health of the people who depend on them.
- Social impacts to communities
- Construction of man camps is directly linked to an increase in violence in local communities. Indigenous women are disproportionately impacted by violence and murder from transient industrial workers.
- Increased substance use can occur when workers from outside bring drugs and alcohol into communities.
- Construction of the road will increase trespass on Native land, potentially endangering communities and putting pressure on resources relied upon by locals.
- Illegal public use of the roadway will be difficult to stop. Alaska law enforcement are already unable to respond to most trespass issues in rural Alaska, and a 211 mile road will be next to impossible for law enforcement to completely secure from outside use.
- Economic impacts
- The road is projected to cost at least $1.4 billion to construct, maintain, and remediate. The state of Alaska is footing the bill, with no guarantee that the mines will be permitted, built, and able to pay back the construction cost through user tolls.
- The state’s estimates for return on investment require 50 years of continuous mining, yet none of the deposits being explored project more than a 30 year mine life.
- If subsistence resources are lost, community members are even more dependent on incredibly expensive, limited, and often less nutritious food from the village store. Copper, the most abundant resource in the “Ambler Mining District” is not a critical resource, but fish and caribou are.
- While AIDEA and mining companies promise to hire from local communities, lack of subsistence leave, lack of qualifications for technical positions, and other barriers stand between local people and the jobs they’re promised by industry.
- The state only earns 3% royalties from mining on state lands, meaning the vast majority of the money earned from potential mine development will leave the region and state to enrich foreign mining companies.
- Environmental impacts
- The road as proposed will cross 2,900 streams, 11 major rivers, and 2,000 acres of wetlands, requiring at least 48 bridges, and nearly 4,000 culverts, which restrict natural water flows and impair fish movement, access, and spawning.
- These waters provide habitat and spawning grounds for whitefish, sheefish, salmon, pike, burbot, grayling, and more. Dust and spills will pollute these waters, affecting the survivability of these species.
- AIDEA only assessed 55 waterbody crossings in the first 55 miles of the road, leaving more than 156 miles unanalyzed. This lack of data and preparation to mitigate or eliminate impacts to fish is unacceptable, especially in the face of existing declines in fish populations.
- Initial construction of an ice road would require 1 million + gallons of water per mile, plus more than 250,000 gallons of water per ice pad, significantly reducing natural flows and affecting aquatic ecosystems along the route.
- The road and subsequent mine development will pollute the air and land from fugitive dust, which can travel thousands of feet to several kilometers in distance. This will impact human and animal health and reduce availability of plant species for wildlife and subsistence harvest.
- The road will fragment an ecosystem already adversely impacted by climate change, and expose sensitive permafrost to increased thaw. This thaw would cause irreversible damage to the natural topography of the landscape and alter vegetation patterns and flow of water.
- Each alternative route results in detrimental habitat loss for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, overlapping with migration routes and feeding areas. The SEIS itself states that between 4-5,000 acres of habitat would be permanently adversely affected by the road.
- Caribou that encounter roads delay or avoid their natural migration.
- The road will disrupt bird nesting sites and breeding areas with noise and human and industrial activity, affecting nesting and reproductive success and overall survivability.
- Noise pollution from blasting, construction, and ~200 truck trips per day will impact the distribution and availability of wildlife.
- More than 51,972 tons of CO2 will be released annually due to construction, maintenance, and industrial use of the roadway. This is equivalent to 11,500 cars.
- Tribal and cultural resources
- Road development could disrupt places of cultural and historical significance to tribes. Sacred sites could also be disturbed or have restricted access due to the road.
- As the road is proposed for industrial use only, locals could be cut off from access to trails and hunting grounds that are on the other side of the road.
- Impacts to future generations
- All Alternatives in the SEIS lead to reduced access to and abundance of subsistence resources.
- Road and mine impacts to subsistence resources and cultural practices may lead to loss of transmission of knowledge and future generations being less connected to their communities, culture, and land.
- Habitat fragmentation that impacts wildlife populations to numbers unsustainable for future generations to continue harvest.
- Increased climate change impacts such as permafrost thaw, air pollution, and water pollution.
- AIDEA has stated they will reclaim the road, yet no plans have been shared any reclamation plans, meaning the road will most likely be permanent, impacting the landscape in perpetuity.
- The road would lead to at least 4 major mines, which will each create cumulative impacts lasting generations. Even more mineral exploration is underway, meaning the road is just the beginning of the industrialization of the Brooks Range, a disastrous and unsustainable future for the region.
- Future development could include the 4 major mines currently being explored, and their related infrastructure, which would include gravel pits, man camps, spur roads, landing strips, and more, leading to greater industrial sprawl across the Brooks Range.
- Mining activity can lead to significant and irreversible depletion of water bodies, disruption of water flows, and reduced water quality and availability for use by humans and wildlife.
- Acid mine drainage, though mitigatable, cannot be entirely prevented, and would pollute the region for generations to come.
- It is estimated that there will be 168 round trips per day, adding up to 61,320 trips/year, and over 3 million trips over 50 years, contributing to ongoing significant and unacceptable amounts of CO2 emissions, noise pollution, water pollution, and impacts to wildlife.