Home Part of States Newsroom
Proposed Ambler road project cited as threat to Kobuk River in Arctic Alaska


Proposed Ambler road project cited as threat to Kobuk River in Arctic Alaska

Apr 16, 2024 | 5:55 pm ET
By Yereth Rosen
Proposed Ambler road project cited as threat to Kobuk River in Arctic Alaska
The Kobuk River, seen on July 22, 2012, flows from the Brooks Range to Kotzebue Sound in Arctic Northwest Alaska. An environmental group, citing the proposed Ambler Access Project road and mine development, listed 380-mile Kobuk as one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the nation. (Photo by Neal Herbert/National Park Service)

Alaska’s Kobuk River, which flows out of the Brooks Range above the Arctic Circle, is among the most threatened rivers in the nation because of potential development of a 211-mile road that would open the region to commercial mining, according to an annual report released on Tuesday.

American Rivers, a national environmental organization, ranked the Kobuk at No. 8 in its 2024 list of most endangered U.S. rivers. Threats to the 380-mile Kobuk come from the Ambler Access Project and the string of commercial metals mines that the road would enable, according to the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report.

“It is hard to overestimate the impact of this proposed road on the Kobuk River. The Kobuk River currently has no road connections to the rest of the world, which would make the Ambler Road the first to access what has remained a remote region up until now. The land, fish, and wildlife in the Kobuk River watershed are as pristine as can be found in the modern world. The Iñupiat have been excellent stewards of the Kobuk River for untold generations,” the report said.

American Rivers has been releasing annual lists of what it considers the nation’s 10 most endangered rivers since 1984. Factoring into the listing are any major policy decisions pending in the coming year that the public might influence.

In the case of the Kobuk River, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is due to release an updated final environmental impact statement and decision on the road in the coming months.

American Rivers’ annual lists in past years have included other Alaska rivers deemed to be threatened by mining. In recent years, most of those listed Alaska rivers have been in the Southeast region of the state.

Last year’s top-10 list featured the Chilkat and Klehini Rivers, which the organization said were put at risk by mining projects near the Southeast community of Haines. The 2019 list included both the Chilkat and the Stikine, the latter for an existing mine and additional proposed mines near the headwaters and located across the Canadian border in British Columbia. The 2018 list featured the collective rivers of Bristol Bay, which American Rivers said were threatened by proposed development of the Pebble Mine. The 2018 list also included the Colville River on the North Slope, which American Rivers said was threatened by expanding oil development.

Other rivers on this year’s list are in New Mexico, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arizona, North Carolina, Connecticut, California and West Virginia.