Katrina from Alaska Ultra Sport introduces us to the wild wonders of the Alaskan wilderness, and exposes the numerous threats to these areas from mining. Perhaps a good adventure can help save the day?“When I first came to Alaska in 1996 I fell in love with this huge wild place. I moved to Alaska permanently from Germany in 2002 and have since guided people from all over the world into Alaskas vast wilderness on multi-day hiking, rafting and kayaking trips. Alaska is one of those rare places in the world where true wilderness can still be found. Adventure and exploration in Alaska, paddling down rivers and hiking through remote mountain ranges, is all still possible without seeing another soul. Alaska is one fifth the size of the entire United States, and it contains two thirds of the land protected in the US national park system. Healthy populations of bears, moose, caribous, wolves and fish, salmon in particular, can be found here. Yet even at the beginning of the 21st century harsh climate and topography has kept Alaskas population under a million. Half of them live just on the edge of the wilderness in Alaskas largest city: Anchorage. Many remote villages are not connected by a road system. People in remote villages and towns live a subsistence lifestyle.
Over 1,5 Million tourists (thats 1.5 tourists per resident) come to Alaska every year to experience this last frontier and the wildlife, mountains, rivers and glaciers. These wild lands and untouched places we experience today could be gone in the future. Ongoing and proposed mining projects supported by multi national companies are threatening wildlife, fish, water quality, air quality, and a way of life. The state of Alaska has never shut down a mine despite of multiple violations of permits by some of the mining operations. Alaska has no law to protect water quality. Alaska’s mining projects are remote and far away from the road system and most people have never heard of them. As you will see, the impact of them on the incredible Alaskan wilderness, even the National Parks, is very real.
Donlin Creek GoldMine is a mining prospect near the famous Iditarod Trail home of the worlds longest winter Ultra race 350 or 1100 miles unsupported across the ice and snow of Alaska, from Knik, just north of Anchorage, to McGrath, then on to Nome. So far the mine has been in its exploration phase. Open pit mining could last for 25 years leaving toxic waste in the remote roadless area not far from the Kuskokwim River. They have been looking into building pipelines to power the mines, which would change the Iditarod Trail forever, as this recent report suggests.Check out this video of the epic video of Iditarod Ultra.
Meanwhile Northern Dynasty Minerals is currently proposing to build North Americas largest copper and gold mine. The Pebble Project contains the worlds largest finds of gold and copper. In contrast Bristol Bay and its streams produce the worlds largest wild salmon run. Sockeye Salmon creates hundreds of jobs and income for commercial fishermen, fishing lodges and food for Alaskans. Lake Clark National Park and Katmai National Park, two of Alaskas premier wilderness parks that we visit on our trips, are also in close proximity of the proposed mine site, and Illiamna Lake is one of the major spawning grounds for the Sockeye Salmon of Bristol Bay. The toxic brew from the mine would be held back by a dam as tall as the Seattle space needle. This is one of North Americas most active earthquake zones. Alaskas volcanoes are part of the Ring of Fire. Earthquakes are measured in Alaska every day. A major earthquake and a brake of the dam could destroy the salmon runs forever.
The remote Red Dog Mine, located in a remote arctic region near Kotzebue, Alaska has been polluting Alaskas water and soil since the late 1980s, as this report shows. Red Dog is the world’s largest source for zinc and a significant source of lead. Over the years the mine has violatedits federal water pollution discharge permit several times resulting in lawsuits and federal fines.
Pac Rim Coal and Barrick Gold who are funded by two Texas millionaires are proposing a strip mine on another salmon producing stream in Alaska. The combined lease is about sixty thousand acres of riverfront, wetlands and coastal land on the Chuitna River which runs into Cook Inlet. The estimated one billion metric tons of sub-bituminous coal would be stripped, crushed and shipped to Asia. This mine could be the first Alaskan project to permanently remove several miles of healthy salmon spawning habitat. According to fisheries biologists this mine could destroy Alaskan salmon resources forever. The Chuitna coal mine would be the largest in Alaska and the first large-scale mining operation in Alaska to be permitted to mine directly through a productive salmon stream.Another poster child for how Alaskas Arctic is threatened by oil and gas projects is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a 19 Million Acres reserve, managed under US Fish & Wildlife. The 130.000 animal strong Porcupine Caribou heard migrates through this area every year to their calving grounds on the coastal plains. We visit this remote area on our wilderness river rafting on the Kongakut and Hulahula rivers. Female caribous need those coastal areas for calving to be safe from predators. Canada has already protected the Canadian side of the refuge permanently, and the US Fish & Wildlife is currently considering designating part of the refuge as permanent wilderness, but is facing great opposition from Alaska lawmakers, no doubt under pressure from oil and gas consortiums. Environmental groups have been promoting more protection for the refuge for many years.
As you can see, there are numerous serious threats to the Alaskan Wilderness. By guiding people to these wild and remote untouched places we can show them what we still have today in Alaska, and how special the wilderness is. Like many places in the world, it is through tourism that we can prove we have something worth protecting for our future generations, and give a counter argument to the mining interests. I hope we can make a difference, one person at the time.”
Alaska Ultra Sport are a very small wilderness guiding company. We are a husband and wife team offering small group guided trips throughout Alaska for 2-6 people. Our trips lead us into road-less remote areas by raft, kayak and backpacking. We custom design most of our trips to suit the clients interests, fitness and time frame.
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