Tim Bradner’s op-ed on the Ambler Road proposal last week did a good job of pointing out some of the issues surrounding the construction of a $1 billion private driveway to a field of dreams, but somehow the largest land development risk was left out: caribou.
The Western Arctic caribou herd is Alaska’s largest. It feeds the people of the Brooks Range, both physically and culturally, and is one of the crowning resources of both Gates of the Arctic National Park and Kobuk Valley National Park.
The recently completed draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Ambler road notes that the road will “likely cause deflections or delays in caribou movement at least during peak migratory periods.” If enough caribou are diverted or delayed for just a few years it could drastically affect the population and the subsistence harvest for many communities from Anaktuvuk Pass to Buckland.
That concern is one of the reasons 13 communities have passed resolutions opposing the road. The Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, which represents a respected cross-section of Alaskan villagers, sport hunters, transporters, reindeer herders and conservationists unified to protect the resource, passed a 17-1 resolution against the road. Unfortunately, this concern is mostly being ignored by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the semi-independent state agency pushing the road. This past fall, the short comment period on the draft Ambler Road plan took place during peak harvest season when many of the most-affected stakeholders would be out hunting and guiding. In addition, several communities that requested consultation status were ignored.
Ultimately, the Ambler Mining Road raises the huge question of how Alaska will prioritize or depopulate caribou in Alaska. Alaskans need to face the caribou discussion head-on. Whatever we decide, a semi-independent state agency focused on aggressively developing resources for a Canadian mining company shouldn’t be making that choice for us.
— Jim Adams
Alaska Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association
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