“The basis for conservation has to be love…
There are lots of different approaches to conservation, but I don’t think any of them will work unless there’s a personal connection between the individual and the natural world.”
When I was offered to go on a back country patrol with the Park Service into the Gates of the Arctic I did not hesitate a second to say yes. Little did I know what to expect. I was told we would float the Kobuk for about a week through the Preserve. At the time I did not know exactly where the Kobuk was, and which part of the Brooks Range was covered by the Preserve. Over time I learned that Kobuk flows along the Southern slopes of the Brooks Range, home to grizzlies, moose, salmon, and sheefish. Access to the Preserve is mostly by bush plane, boat, or snow machines. There is no road access to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Therefore visitation and human impact to this area is rather limited. This is about to change.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) proposes to construct a new 211-mile-long gravel access road in the southern Brooks Range foothills to provide industrial access to the Ambler Mining District. The road would originate at the Dalton Highway near Prospect Creek and end at the Ambler Mining District, and would have no public access. The proposed project crosses state lands (61%) and Native corporation lands (15%), but also crosses public lands (24%) managed by the BLM and the National Park Service.
What is the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority?
AIDEA is a public corporation of the State of Alaska, created in 1967 by the Alaska Legislature “in the interests of promoting the health, security, and general welfare of all the people of the state, and a public purpose, to increase job opportunities and otherwise to encourage the economic growth of the state, including the development of its natural resources, through the establishment and expansion of manufacturing, industrial, energy, export, small business, and business enterprises…”
In other words, the state of Alaska proposes the construction of a road through a largely undisturbed wilderness to enable exploratory mining operations. No mining companies have signed on to this project. The state proposes a private road, that will cost upwards of 1 billion dollars (public money) to support mining operations for 50 years. After that…
The impact of the road and its use on caribou migration, salmon and sheefish spawning, permafrost and subsistence living are unclear. Given the history of mining operations it is to be expected that there will be detrimental effects. Show me one mine that has been good for the environment.
The question is, do we really need this road? Is this about the general welfare of the people, or is it about politics and economy growth, which is not sustainable? Do we value wilderness, or does the mighty dollar trump everything?
The Pebble Mine near Katmai National Park and Preserve and the Constantine-Palmer Mine near the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve are other projects that face similar issues. They are located in the vicinity of protected public lands and conservationist are more than concerned that these projects threaten the surrounding natural areas. None of these places see the numbers of visitors of say Yosemite or Yellowstone.
Imagine a 221 mile long industrial road through Yosemite Valley…
Goes back to the initial question: Do we really care only for things that we have seen first hand?