• Outdoors Outdoors

Biden administration blocks oil, gas, and copper projects in Alaskan wilderness — here's why the moves are important

The decision safeguards the ecologically rich landscape that caribou and fish populations depend on.

The decision safeguards the ecologically rich landscape that caribou and fish populations depend on.

Photo Credit: iStock

In a move to protect the fragile Alaskan wilderness, the Biden administration has blocked off land from oil and gas drilling and denied permission for a 211-mile industrial access road to a large copper deposit, citing pollution risks and ice destabilization among its top considerations.

The decisions hand major victories to environmental advocates and local communities, according to The New York Times.

The proposed Ambler Access Project aimed to construct a $350 million gravel road through the pristine Brooks Range foothills and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

However, the Interior Department found that the road would disrupt wildlife habitat, pollute salmon spawning grounds, and threaten the traditional hunting and fishing practices of over 30 Alaska Native communities. The Biden administration also banned drilling across over half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, "an ecologically sensitive expanse north of the Arctic Circle" that makes up 23 million acres, per the Times.

Kaleb Froehlich, the managing director of Ambler Metals, the company behind the copper project, called the decision "an unlawful and politically motivated decision" and urged the government to reconsider. However, by blocking this industrial road, the Biden administration is taking a stand for both people and the planet.

The decision safeguards the ecologically rich landscape that caribou and fish populations depend on while also respecting the rights and traditions of indigenous tribes who have sustainably lived off this land for generations.

What's more, the move aligns with the urgent need to protect permafrost in the face of a changing climate. The Interior Department's analysis found that constructing the road could accelerate the thawing of ice-rich soils, potentially destabilizing the ground, increasing flood risks, and releasing additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

David Krause, the interim executive director of the National Audubon Society's Alaska office, called the decision to protect this wilderness a "huge deal," emphasizing that the Ambler area is "one of the most ecologically intact and functional landscapes on the planet."

Tribal leaders such as Julie Roberts-Hyslop, the first chief of the Tanana Tribe, have also voiced their support, noting that both caribou and fish populations are already struggling in the region and a new road would exacerbate these challenges.

While the mining company asserts that the road is necessary to access copper for clean energy infrastructure, there are less ecologically sensitive areas with larger reserves that can be tapped, according to the Times. By safeguarding this extraordinary wilderness, we're ensuring a healthier, more resilient future for both Alaska's communities and its irreplaceable ecosystems.

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