BLM Takes Another Step Towards Blocking Ambler Road Project (Updating)

The divisive Ambler Road project, a proposed 211-mile gravel path connecting the Dalton Highway to a mining district between Brooks Range fish and wildlife habitat, took another step towards being completely eliminated via the following Bureau of Land Management press release:

Finalizes decision to reject Ambler Road proposal, avoiding significant, irrevocable impacts to Tribal subsistence uses, permafrost.

Rejecting the Proposed Ambler Road

The Department today released the Record of Decision (ROD) for the proposed Ambler Road project, selecting the No Action Alternative from the April 2024 Ambler Road Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The decision means that the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) will not have a right-of-way across BLM-managed lands. The ROD completes the Supplemental EIS process and requirements for consideration of AIDEA’s application.

There are no active mines in the area and no mine plan proposals pending before the federal government.

The proposed Ambler Road would have traversed 211 miles of significant wildlife habitat and pristine waters that are vital for the subsistence activities of Tribal communities along the iconic Brooks Range in north central Alaska. The BLM’s analysis found that the road would have required over 3,000 stream crossings and would have impacted at risk wildlife populations, including sheefish and the already-declining Western Arctic caribou herd, which are critical food sources for Native communities. The analysis also found that the road would have reduced the abundance and availability of subsistence
resources while also restricting access to them. In addition, the analysis showed that irreparable impacts to permafrost would make it unlikely the road could be reclaimed, and that it is reasonably foreseeable that the industrial road would be used by the public, increasing impacts to the surrounding environment and communities.

The BLM prepared the supplemental EIS to address deficiencies identified in the 2020 analysis that resulted in a remand from the federal district court. The new analysis evaluated the same range of alternatives and routes as the 2020 EIS, but more thoroughly analyzed potential impacts to resources, including subsistence impacts under Section 810 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The ANILCA 810 analysis found that more than 60 Alaska Native communities would experience restrictions on their subsistence and, of those, more than 30 would experience significant restriction of subsistence uses should the road be constructed. The BLM is unable to make the determinations required by ANILCA Section 810(a)(3) that the significant restriction of subsistence use in at least 30 communities is necessary, consistent with sound management principles for the utilization of the public lands, for AIDEA’s proposed route or any of the other action alternatives. Therefore, ANILCA precludes the BLM from granting or maintaining the right-of-way across BLM-managed lands under any of the action alternatives.

The BLM began the supplemental process in May 2022, holding 21 Tribal and 16 Alaska Native Corporation consultations. A draft EIS was released in October 2023 on which the BLM requested comments and held 12 public meetings and ANILCA 810 subsistence hearings in communities within the vicinity of the project. During the comment period, nearly 90,000 people offered written comments.

The selection of the “No Action” alternative was informed by public comments and input received, as well as analysis from the Final Supplemental EIS, which found that that each of the other alternatives would significantly and irrevocably impact resources, including important subsistence resources, in ways that cannot be appropriately mitigated.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 western states, including Alaska, on behalf of the American people. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. Our mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.

And here’s some reaction, starting with Hunters and Anglers For The Brooks Range:

BLM Decision Will Prevent Proposed Ambler Industrial Road in Alaska’s Brooks Range

The agency’s record of decision maintains America’s most wild and remote hunting and fishing grounds 

(Washington D.C.)—Today, the Bureau of Land Management released its Record of Decision that will prevent the proposed Ambler Industrial Road in Alaska’s Brooks Range. 

“Today’s decision is a victory for the local residents, Alaska Native Tribes, and the more than 14,000 conservation-minded hunters and anglers from across the country who championed for the enduring, wild qualities of the Brooks Range,” said Jen Leahy, Alaska senior program manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We thank the BLM for recognizing the importance of these public lands to hunters and anglers, and for basing this critical decision on the best available science and robust public engagement.” 

The ROD follows the agency’s final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, released April 19, in which the BLM selected the “No Action” alternative indicating the agency’s intent to prevent the proposed industrial corridor. 

Known as the Ambler Road, the proposed private industrial corridor has received national opposition. The 211-mile corridor would have partially bisected the home range of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, one of Alaska’s largest herds. 

“The recent decision to deny the proposed Ambler Road permit is an unequivocal win for the declining Western Arctic Caribou Herd that will keep, at least temporarily, its home range intact,” said Jim Dau, retired Western Arctic Caribou Herd biologist with Alaska Department of Fish & Game. “Caribou rarely use their entire range in any one year; however, over the course of decades, they use – and need – their entire range. This is increasingly important in a rapidly warming Arctic. What’s good for caribou is also good for the people who value or depend on them.” 

“This decision is a great step toward ensuring that current and future generations have the opportunity to experience this majestic, unbroken landscape,” said Lewis Pagel, owner of Arctic Fishing Adventures in Kotzebue, Alaska. “The Brooks Range truly is a place like no other.” ? 

The project would have also crossed 11 major rivers and required nearly 3,000 stream crossings, degrading habitat and potentially impeding fish passage for important subsistence and sportfishing species such as sheefish. ?? 

“Brooks Range rivers will remain remote and wild because of this decision,” said fly fishing guide Greg Halbach of Remote Waters in Anchorage, Alaska. “We needed hunters and anglers from all over the country to speak out against the Ambler Road and they did. Because of this collective effort, I will continue to have the privilege and opportunity to immerse my clients in a wild landscape unlike any other.”? ? 

The proposed Ambler Road prompted strong resistance from the hunting and fishing community. In 2023, more than 40 Alaska-based businesses, leading outdoor brands, and conservation organizations launched Hunters & Anglers for the Brooks Range. The collective—which includes guides, outfitters, and transporters who operate in the Brooks Range—urged the BLM to deny the permit for the private industrial corridor. To date, the coalition has delivered more than 14,000 individual letters to the agency opposing the Ambler Road. 

As expected, development interests have wasted no time attacking the BLM’s decision. Ambler Road proponents have reportedly included an amendment in the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would rescind the BLM’s decision and force the Department of the Interior to permit the Ambler Road. This effort will be met with strong resistance as conservation-minded hunters and anglers defend the BLM’s decision. 

“With this victory comes a renewed sense of commitment from the hunting and fishing community to safeguard America’s most remote hunting and fishing grounds,” said Leahy. “The Brooks Range is a treasured destination for hunters and anglers, and we will stand guard to defend this iconic and wild landscape from emerging and future threats.” 

Learn more about Hunters & Anglers for the Brooks Range HERE. 

Read a blog version of this press release HERE.

Hunters & Anglers for the Brooks Range, a project of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, is a collective of seasoned hunters, anglers, conservationists, and leading outdoor brands. We are committed to defending the wild and remote character of Alaska’s Brooks Range—a world-class hunting and fishing destination—from the proposed Ambler Industrial Road. 

Cooper Freeman,  Alaska director for the  Center for Biological Diversity, also released a statement:

“A major private mining road through this irreplaceable Arctic region would have caused immense ecological destruction, and federal officials made the right call for Alaska this time,” said Cooper Freeman, Alaska director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Alaska’s caribou badly need wild and unfragmented habitat, and rejecting Ambler Road ensures they’ll still have that. We’re celebrating this decision with everyone across Alaska and beyond who fought Ambler every step of the way and kept industrial ruin out of the Brooks Range.”  

We’ll update this post as new statements come in.

UPDATE: Here’s Earthworks:

Earthworks Statement on the Ambler Road Record of Decision


Today, the Biden administration released the Record of Decision (ROD) for the proposed Ambler Road, selecting the “No Action Alternative,” which blocks the proposed 211-mile mining road through the Southern Brooks Range and Gates of the Arctic National Preserve in Alaska. The Final Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed road, released by the Department of Interior in April, found that the industrial road “would significantly and irrevocably impact resources, including those supporting important subsistence uses, in ways that cannot be adequately mitigated.” There are no current mines or even pending mine plan proposals within the project area, only speculative exploration projects. 

?Below is a statement from Earthworks’ Executive Director Jennifer Krill.

?“Today’s momentous decision marks a victory for the Alaska rural communities and tribes who fought tirelessly to safeguard their homeland from the disastrous Ambler Road. We applaud the Biden administration for listening to these communities and the American people, and taking action to protect Alaska’s Brooks Range, abundant wildlife, and national parklands for future generations. We are proud to stand in support of Indigenous leaders on this historic occasion.”