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After Alaskan mining decision, other states may step up conservation efforts

Nadia Ramlagan

The Biden administration has denied approval for a project to build more than 200 miles of road in the Alaskan wilderness.

On this Earth Day, environmental advocates said the decision highlights how states like West Virginia could protect its own lands in the face of shrinking natural resources and pressure to open up protected areas to mining and other development.

Alex Johnson, interior Alaska director for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the environmental degradation caused by building roads can be seen in parts of West Virginia, where coal hauling trucks rumble through areas of the Monongahela National Forest.

“We believe that it makes sense for people across the country, including the people of West Virginia, to understand that Northwest Alaska is not the place to build a massive mining industrial project,” Johnson asserted.

A few years ago, the U.S. Forest Service issued a permit allowing South Fork Coal Company to haul oversized coal loads, cut trees, and regrade and widen forest roads, as well haul mining supplies and equipment along a gravel road linked to the North Fork Cherry River. Local groups recently sued the agency for failing to protect streams in the Cherry River watershed.

Johnson added this month’s federal decision protects a vast, pristine landscape that is homeland to dozens of Alaska Native communities.

“This is a huge win for the largest national park landscape,” Johnson observed. “With 16 million acres of contiguous wild roadless park lands and over 20 million acres of national park lands in Northwest Alaska that would have been affected if this road had been built.”

The route proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority runs through the Ambler Mining Belt, rich in copper and zinc deposits. It would have crossed nearly 3,000 waterways.