top of page

Scientific Studies

Numerous studies have shown the detrimental impacts that the Ambler Road is likely to bring to the Northwest Arctic. Check out the papers linked here to learn more. 

Why didn't the caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) cross the road? The barrier effect of traffic on industrial winter roads 

"As hypothesised, the winter road acted as a semi-permeable barrier to the movement of caribou. Furthermore, the level of traffic, not just the road right-of-way, appeared to be the underlying explanatory factor for that behavioural decision. The construction and maintenance of the winter road requires cold temperatures that occur over a very short seasonal period. Also, the winter road is the only access for bulky or heavy supplies (e.g., diesel fuel) and equipment that service major industrial operations. Thus, there were few times over the three analysis years when the road was closed or had relatively few vehicles (Fig. 2). The barrier effect of the winter road could limit access to forage (Nellemann et al., 2001; Vistnes et al., 2004), and increase vulnerability to hunters (Plante et al., 2017). At the most extreme, the road could alter the location, timing, and success of migration to the more northern calving range (Panzacchi et al., 2013; Veiberg et al., 2017). Calving is a critical time of the year, with high energetic demands to support the rearing of neonates. Successful caribou match their calving dates to the emergence and growth of highquality forage in June (Chen et al., 2018; Post & Forchhammer, 2008). Consequently, the timing of migration is important (Gurarie et al., 2019), and any changes in the use of the calving grounds could lead to population declines or at the least individual-level effects relative to nutrition, energy expenditure, and exposure to predation (Cameron et al., 2010)."

The Legal Protection of Subsistence: A Prerequisite of Food Security for the Inuit of Alaska

For the last twenty-five years, the legal protection of subsistence in Alaska has given rise to legal and political controversies. Subsistence is closely related to the concept of "food security," as defined by the World Food Summit. The purpose of this Article is to highlight the need to recognize and critically examine the link between food security and the efficient legal protection of the traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering activities of the Inuit people of Alaska. The Article first describes the genesis and evolution of the subsistence debate in Alaska. It then attempts to demonstrate that the legal protection of subsistence is a prerequisite to Inuit food security for nutritional, cultural, and economic reasons. Finally, the Article identifies specific features of the Alaskan legal regime that threaten Inuit subsistence and food security. 

Application of a weight of evidence approach to evaluating risks associated with subsistence caribou consumption near a lead/zinc mine

Overland transport of ore concentrate from the Red Dog lead/zinc mine in northwest Alaska to its seaport has his-

torically raised concerns among local subsistence users regarding the potential impacts of fugitive dust from the

operation, including the potential uptake of metals into caribou meat. Caribou are an integral part of life for north-

ern Alaska Natives for both subsistence and cultural reasons. The Western Arctic caribou herd, whose range in-

cludes the Red Dog mine, transportation corridor, and port site, sometimes overwinter in the vicinity of mine

operations. A weight of evidence approach using multiple lines of evidence was used to evaluate potential

risks associated with subsistence consumption of caribou harvested near the road and mine. Data from a long-

term caribou monitoring program indicate a lack of consistent trends for either increasing or decreasing metals

concentrations in caribou muscle, liver, and kidney tissue. Lead, cadmium, and zinc from all tissues were within

the range of reference concentrations reported for caribou elsewhere in Northern Alaska. In addition, a site use

study based on data from satellite-collared caribou from the Western Arctic Herd showed that caribou utilize

the area near the road, port, and mine approximately 1/20th to 1/90th of the time assumed in a human health

risk assessment conducted for the site, implying that risks were significantly overestimated in the risk assessment. The results from multiple lines of evidence consistently indicate that fugitive dust emissions from Red Dog Operations are not a significant source of metals in caribou, and that caribou remain safe for human consumption.

The Persistence of Subsistence in Alaska: An Informal Economy Embedded in a Modern State Undergoing Rapid Change

This paper explores Alaska’s rural economy using community-level demographic, economic, and harvest data aggregated from >18,000 household surveys administered during 354 projects in 179 Alaska communities from 1983 through 2013. We evaluate trends over time, identify factors associated with subsistence harvests, model subsistence productivity, and estimate road effects. We review, replicate, and extend previous statistical models of subsistence productivity, using cross-sectional, pooled-cross-sectional, and unbalanced panel models. Adding a time factor to subsistence productivity models shows time to be weakly influential on per capita harvests relative to other factors, and statistically significant only in the remote rural economic region. Time alone explains <7% of the variation in mean per person harvests and <3% of the variation in mean per person incomes. Using propensity score matching (PSM), we find that being road-connected had substantial negative effects on communities’ mean subsistence harvests at the 0.1% level. Estimates of roads’ effect on harvests ranged from 31% ±9% to 39% ±7%. In contrast, estimates of roads’ effect on communities’ mean incomes were not significant in any of four PSM methods. This suggests that building new roads risks tipping newly accessible rural communities into a new regime of lower subsistence harvests without commensurate increases in personal incomes.

Evaluating Potential Effects of an Industrial Road on Winter Habitat of Caribou in North-Central Alaska

Worldwide, some caribou (Rangifer tarandus) populations are experiencing declines due partially to the expansion of industrial development. Caribou can exhibit behavioral avoidance of development, leading to indirect habitat loss, even if the actual footprint is small. Thus, it is important to understand before construction begins how much habitat might be affected by proposed development. In northern Alaska, an industrial road that has been proposed to facilitate mining transects a portion of the Western Arctic caribou herd’s winter range. To understand how winter habitat use might be affected by the road, we estimated resource selection patterns during winter for caribou in a study area surrounding the proposed road. We assessed the reductions of habitat value associated with three proposed routes at three distance thresholds for disturbance. High-value winter habitat tended to occur in locally rugged areas that have not burned recently and have a high density of lichen and early dates of spring snowmelt. We found that 1.5% to 8.5% (146–848 km2) of existing high-value winter habitat in our study area might be reduced in quality. The three alternative routes were only marginally different. Our results suggest that the road would have minimal direct effects on high-value winter habitat; however, additional cumulative impacts to caribou (e.g., increased access by recreationists and hunters) should be considered before the full effects of the road can be estimated.

Fish Inventories of the Upper Kobuk and Koyukuk River Basins

Each year, AFFI project staff identify a project area with a high concentration of water bodies with limited or no fish distribution information. Typically, staff use helicopters to access these remote areas where they conduct a rapid, systematic inventory of fish species using multiple gear types including electrofishers, minnow traps, seine nets, and hook-and-line gear. Data on aquatic and riparian habitats are also gathered at each site. Ultimately, the information collected is added to the AFFI database and streams found to support anadromous fish species are nominated to the AWC. All collected data are available through an interactive mapping application available on the ADF&G website.

In late 2017, AFFI staff were contacted by a wildlife biologist with the National Park Service (NPS) who had recently tracked GPS-collared grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) movement concentrated in stream corridors along the southern boundary of the Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, one of the northernmost national parks in the United States. In several instances they documented bears feeding on chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) in tributaries of the upper Koyukuk and Kobuk river basins. NPS staff noted that the extents of anadromous species distribution in several of these water bodies were not accurately represented in the AWC. Together, NPS and AFFI staff designed a field survey to meet AFFI objectives and provide valuable fisheries information to the NPS by inventorying fish communities along the southern edge of the Brooks Range in the upper Koyukuk and Kobuk river basins.

bottom of page