Skip to main content

The Ambler Road: Why This Industrial Mining Access Corridor is a Very Bad Idea

A deeper perspective on preserving Alaska's pristine Brooks Range.

The Ambler Road: Why This Industrial Mining Access Corridor is a Very Bad Idea

Remote Waters guide and owner Greg Halbach holds a sheefish from the Brooks Range with his client Frank Brummer. Sheefish, the largest member of the whitefish family, are in danger of losing important spawning habitat if culverts are built for the Ambler Road. As broadcast spawners, they migrate and join together in their spawn. Culverts and river crossings may impede sheefish from congregating, especially along the Kobuk River. (Photo courtesy of Remote Waters)

Hunters & Anglers for the Brooks Range (HABR) needs your comments to oppose the Ambler Road ASAP. Public comment closes on December 22, 2023. Please visit: https://huntfishbrooksrange.com/#take-action and make your voice heard to save one of Alaska’s most pristine wild areas. 


Bob Marshall, writer, wilderness activist, and founder of the Wilderness Society said in his book Alaska Wilderness: Exploring the Central Brooks Range: “For me, and for the thousands with similar inclinations, the most important passion of life is the overpowering desire to escape periodically from the clutches of a mechanistic civilization.” As outdoor enthusiasts, and as fly fishers, we get what Bob was talking about 90-plus years ago, yet there is a deeper meaning to his words in this author’s opinion. The passion he describes in wanting to escape from the stresses of modern civilization, in turn, should be the same passion we express in protecting our precious wild places. 

Fly Fisherman, along with industry partners such as Simms Fishing Products, have joined in coalition with the Hunters & Anglers for the Brooks Range (HABR, huntfishbrooksrange.com). A project through the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP, trcp.org), HABR consists of more than 35 leading outdoor businesses, brands, and organizations united to spread awareness and support to keep the Brooks Range wild. 

Layers of misty silhouetted forest beneath a skyline of mountains.
The Brooks Range is one of Alaska’s most remote and beautiful regions. To oppose the building the Ambler Road, see the links at the beginning and end of this story. (Jim Dau photo)

“The risks of the proposed Ambler Industrial Road far outweigh any potential benefits,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska Program Manager for TRCP. “The Bureau of Land Management will be hearing from our community, including Hunters & Anglers for the Brooks Range, about why the permit for the Ambler Road should be denied.”

The Ambler Road would stretch for 211 miles across the vast unspoiled wilderness of the Brooks Range. Connecting to the Dalton Highway near the towns of Wise Man and Cold Foot, the road travels eastward near the towns of Kobuk, Shungnak, and Ambler. It would be an industrial mining access corridor that interconnects four large, proposed mines with possible subsequential operations interspersed between the mines for a lifespan of 50 years.

The road will cross multiple rivers originating in the Brooks Range that are home to many native, and critical harvested fish species for indigenous Alaskans. Caribou migrations may also be affected as the road intersects their migration paths. Chum and Chinook salmon, Arctic grayling, sheefish, and other native fishes may be impacted and have their migratory routes interrupted, or potentially impeded if proper maintenance fails to occur at the nearly 3,000 planned culverts and crossings.

A map showing fish habitat and spawning locations.
This Bureau of Land Management Environmental Impact Statement map shows critical sheefish, and whitefish habitat and spawning locations. Sheefish are broadcast spawners, they aren’t forming redds and require specific conditions to broadcast spawn. The Ambler Road may interrupt and degrade these crucial natural areas needed for their reproduction processes. For these maps and more from the BLM EIS, see the link at the end of the story. (Map courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management)
A map showing salmon habitat.
This Bureau of Land Management Environmental Impact Statement map shows salmon spawning habitat and proposed Ambler Road crossings. There are three proposed routes  for the Ambler Road with Alternate A being the most direct route across the Brooks Range. For these maps and more from the BLM EIS, see the link at the end of the story. (Map courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management)

It is being proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) to the Alaska Bureau of Land Management (BLM). AIDEA is a publicly funded corporation with a history of subsidizing large-scale projects with poor performance. In its 35-year span, AIDEA has received $301 million of public money from the State of Alaska, while their development projects have lost $233.3 million. The Ambler Road is their most recent project that would support foreign interests from Canadian and Australian mining companies.

A concern being raised by HABR in their FAQs states: If the Ambler Mining District holds as much economic promise as developers claim, then the mining companies should be able to finance the industrial corridor without public subsidies.

The BLM has released a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) listing impacts to fish, wildlife, and residents if the Ambler Road is built. The BLM is requesting public comments on the project through December 22, 2023, with a final SEIS decision for the Ambler Road in 2024. See the link at the beginning or end of this story to leave your comment for the BLM and oppose the Ambler Road.

“The upper Kobuk River has largely been off the radar to most people,” fly-fishing guide, Greg Halbach, owner of Remote Waters Outfitters, said. “It does not see a lot of human activity–even the local populations living further down river rarely venture into the upper stretches of the river. Up until now, that has helped to maintain the wildness and remoteness of the upper Kobuk. But, in a situation like this with the Ambler Road project bearing down on it, that becomes a double-edged sword. It doesn’t have the name recognition among fishermen of a Bristol Bay, or even other places in the Arctic like the Noatak River or Arrigetch Peaks. There is no better place to pursue sheefish with a fly rod than the upper Kobuk. In August and September, they really begin to stack up in the deep runs and tailouts, and when the river is running low and clear, watching them rocket out of the deep water to slash at a fly is pure excitement. There is no question that the Ambler Road would degrade the remote wilderness that makes this area so special.”

A river flowing sparsely through a wide river bed with two people hiking alongside.
The remoteness of the Brooks Range supports critical habitat for many native fish and wildlife species that have relied on the natural processes of the land and water for millennia. (Aaron Hitchins photo)

Dr. Kevin Fraley, Fisheries Ecologist, Arctic Beringia Program with the Wildlife Conservation Society, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers member, and avid fly fisher has been studying the potential fisheries and environmental impacts of the Ambler Road.

“The mining companies are after the large sulfide deposits with different metals within the Ambler Mining District of the Brooks Range,” Fraley said. “Recently the Biden Administration has prioritized green energy initiatives where we need these critical metals for things like electric car batteries. This could be a reason why the Ambler Road is being pushed now more than before. Copper, barite, zinc, iron, lead, and gold are the main elements being pursued.”

Recommended


An estimated 168 truck trips per day would travel the road transporting ore, or potentially milled ore, which is a highly toxic refined material, fuel, and employees to and from the Dalton Highway. Ore would most likely be transported south to the trainyards in Fairbanks for international shipping.

“The road would cut through the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve crossing five rivers deemed Wild & Scenic Rivers through the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System,” said Fraley. “Culverts and stream crossings with thousands of acres of wetlands would be filled in to allow four large mines to be operated.”

Another potential pollution factor is toxic dust escaping from trucks that can seep into the land and water. Aquatic macroinvertebrates will retain these toxic heavy metals, fish feed on these food sources, and subsequentially retain the toxins in their bodies faster than they can expel them. These toxic metals then pass up the food chain to humans that may harvest these fish. On December 1, Dr. Fraley presented a seminar to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Fisheries Department focusing on the potential impacts to fisheries and rivers if the Ambler Road is constructed. To watch his full seminar and learn about the potential impacts of the Ambler Road use the link below with the provided password. 

Your comments can help preserve this wild area for generations to come. We did it for Pebble Mine, we can do it again and oppose the Ambler Road.


Important Links

HABR needs your comments to oppose the Ambler Road ASAP. Public comment closes on December 22, 2023 please visit: https://huntfishbrooksrange.com/#take-action and make your voice heard to save one of Alaska’s most pristine wild areas. 

Click here to watch Dr. Kevin Fraley's presentation: The Ambler Road: Potential impacts to aquatic ecosystems of the Brooks Range, and the role of scientists in conservation advocacy. (PASSWORD: ?uF4a0bt)

Learn more about the AIDEA’s proposal to the BLM.

Download a PDF of the current BLM EIS.


Dennis Pastucha is the art director for Fly Fisherman. He’s a graduate of West Chester University of Pennsylvania, an avid fly fisher, conservationist, and fly tier. He resides in the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania.

Logo of the Hunters & Anglers for the Brooks Range
HABR needs your comments to oppose the Ambler Road ASAP. Public comment closes on December 22, 2023 please visit: https://huntfishbrooksrange.com/#take-action and make your voice heard to save one of Alaska’s most pristine wild areas.



GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
Destinations/Species

The Tightest Line

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
How-To/Techniques

How to Tie Craven's Mr. Jones Dry Fly

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
How-To/Techniques

How to Tie Craven's Mr. Jones Dry Fly

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
How-To/Techniques

How to Fight Trout Effectively and Get them in the Net Quickly

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
News

Patagonia Advocates for Dam Removal

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
Destinations/Species

Science in the Thorofare

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
How-To/Techniques

How to Tie the Picky Eater Perdigon

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...

Fly Fishing the Plunge Pools of Yosemite Falls

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
Gear

Scientific Anglers Launches Reimagined Tropical Saltwater Fly Lines

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
Gear

Check Out Grundens' New Vector Wader!

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
Gear

Fly Fishing the Plunge Pools of Yosemite Falls (trailer)

The Fly Fusion Trout Tour is a perfect excuse to get together with friends while watching an epic collection of trouty f...
Gear

Fly Fusion Trout Tour Sizzle Reel

Fly Fisherman Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Fly Fisherman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Fly Fisherman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Fly Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now