Soft-goods manufacturer Patagonia is asking its customer base to engage in a conservation effort in Alaska, where the construction of a 211-mile industrial-grade mining road could lead to the extraction of precious metals from the Ambler Mining District and irreparably damage lands and waters in the remote Brooks Range.
The Ambler Road would slice into some of the wildest country in North America, and it would bisect the southern portion of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Cutting west from the village of Wiseman on the fabled Dalton Highway, the Ambler Road would require more than 3,000 stream crossings and put in peril some of Alaska’s most iconic wildlife species.
The stream crossings alone would no doubt impact otherwise healthy populations of Arctic grayling, inconnu and northern pike. The road could also impact some newly discovered chum salmon runs that, until recently, were unknown to Alaska fisheries managers.
Scientists “discovered” the runs of salmon by following inland brown bears and determining that the big omnivores get much of their annual protein from migrating chum salmon that push deep into Brooks Range rivers and streams after migrating hundreds of miles from the Bering and Chukchi seas.
The road construction would likely negatively impact important inland fisheries like the Kobuk and Koyukuk rivers, both of which are tributaries to the Yukon River and support several species of Pacific salmon. Historically, both king and chum salmon have been documented in the lower reaches of each river. The discovery of brown bears fishing for salmon well into the upper reaches of each river high in the Brooks Range shows that the salmon are important food sources for predators in interior Alaska.
But animals aren’t the only potential victims, Patagonia says. The people who rely on the animals for subsistence would be negatively impacted, too, the company says.
“Construction of this massive road would threaten key wildlife populations that local Alaskan Native villages have relied on for millennia, such as the Western Arctic caribou herd and fisheries across the Kobuk and Koyukuk Rivers,” Patagonia’s action alert reads. It’s asking its customers to comment to the federal Bureau of Land Management by Dec. 22 in opposition of the Ambler Road project.
According to an October 2023 supplemental environmental review of the Ambler Road project by the BLM, there are 66 largely Indigenous communities “whose subsistence activities could be potentially impacted." The BLM reported that any road construction “may significantly restrict subsistence uses in nearly half of these communities.”
The eventual purpose of the Ambler Road would be to deliver ore mined in a number of proposed open-pit mines in the designated Ambler Mining District.
“In addition to damages from the road itself,” the Patagonia alert reads, “the Ambler Road Project would expose local communities to the toxic impacts of polluting open-pit mines, threatening their access to clean water, land and air. This kind of development is unacceptable if the people and wildlife of the Brooks Range region have any hope for a prosperous future.”
Any comments received by Dec. 22 will go into the federal record and be considered as the BLM drafts its final environmental impact statement, likely in 2024.