National Parks Conservation Association Warns Alaska's Mining 'Road to Ruin' Could Change Forever One of the Last Great Wild Landscapes on the Planet

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has urged people to speak out against a proposed "road to ruin" in Alaska that could irreversibly alter one of the planet's last great intact ecosystems.

The state of Alaska wants to construct a 220-mile-long road to link up with planned open-pit copper mines in the state's northwest.

The proposed route of the Ambler Mining Road would run along the southern Brooks mountain range in Alaska, slicing through 20 miles of the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve—a vast pristine wilderness that does not contain any roads.

Along this route, the road will cross hundreds of streams and rivers—requiring the construction of 12 major bridges—and disrupt countless acres of wetlands, as well as interfering with the subsistence lifestyles of Native Alaskans who live in the region, according to the NPCA.

Furthermore, the non-profit says the road would disrupt the migration of the Western Arctic caribou—one of the longest land migrations on Earth. The region is home to about 250,000 of these animals, which travel around 2,700 miles every year.

If constructed, the road—which is only intended for private use by mining trucks—would cut across the migration route, posing a significant obstacle to the herd. In addition, this could push the herd away from Native Alaskans who depend on the caribou for food.

Currently, engineering and environmental reviews are being carried out to determine which of two possible routes of the road will be constructed. This process is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

On August 30, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will be open to public comment until October 15.

In light of this, the NPCA is urging people to take action by writing to the BLM and expressing their opposition to the road construction project.

"Speak up right now and tell the BLM to protect the Western Arctic caribou, Alaska Native communities, and Alaska's spectacular parklands by halting plans for the Ambler mining road," the NPCA statement read.

The non-profit said BLM scheduled the "short" public comment period during the important food harvest season for Native Alaskans, thus "not providing adequate opportunity for meaningful participation from those who will be most directly affected by the road."

The Alaska Industrial and Development Export Authority (AIDEA), which proposed the project, said the road is needed to provide transportation access from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District, "allowing for exploration and development of mineral deposits in the Ambler Mining District."

"According to AIDEA, the access corridor, which crosses the Western (Kobuk River) unit of the Gates of the Arctic National Park, is needed to increase job opportunities and encourage Alaska's economic growth," the BLM environmental impact statement read.

"Without access, the mineral assets associated with the Ambler Mining District would likely remain stranded, and AIDEA would be hindered in its efforts to support economic development and increase job opportunities within a region known for high unemployment rates."

According to the developers, the road will create around 400 jobs in the local area, and would cost around $430 million to construct. The NPCA says this figure is likely to rise.

"NPCA is working to prevent construction of this expensive, unnecessary and damaging road, which won't benefit park visitors or local communities," the non-profit said.

Gates of the Arctic National Park
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. iStock