Ice Road Update

A friend asked the other day about oil development in ANWR. I told him my opinions on both sides of the issue, including how the Porcupine Herd is different than the smaller herds that occupy Prudhoe Bay and western Alaska. Unlike these increasing herds, the Porcupine herd is much larger – over 100,000 animals – and has been declining for unknown reasons in recent years. I’ve not checked recent numbers, so perhaps the population has stabilized. I do remember it had dropped from 150,000 to 125,000 or less animals. This herd uses eastern Alaska and Western Canada for it’s range. The part it uses in Alaska in ANWR is a place where the mountains bow northward, on a plain about 50 miles from the ocean to the mountains. I realized yesterday as I was on my rounds that what I was looking at WAS that bow. I’d always thought the mountains looked closer here than in Prudhoe Bay, and realized I was located right on the western boundary of ANWR, and so was
looking at the very topography I had only looked at on topographic maps before. From where I sat in my truck to the base of the mountains seemed even closer when I thought about a herd of 100,000 or more animals using that plain to calve. It certainly would be a sight, perhaps not unlike the buffalo in the west before they were killed off. Anyway, it gave me pause for thought as to what, if any, impact oil development might have there – maybe a pipeline from a drilling pad and nothing else might not bother the herd, or would it? It surely seems that directional drilling, where the actual drilling and oil extraction would be done outside the refuge with a pipe drilled down, and then sideways under the refuge, would be much less of an impact, yet defenders of the refuge were staunchly against this, too, last time I heard.

It’s March 26 today, with blowing snow and a temperature slightly below zero – it was -7 when we checked at 515 am this morning. Visibility is down to being measured in yards, so no travel is allowed unless you’re part of a 2 or more vehicle convoy, and I’m sitting tight in my truck in the camp parking lot and monitoring my radio in case anyone needs me. My job this winter is the environmental technician on an ice road from Prudhoe Bay to the edge of the ANWR. Seems like winter is hanging on longer than I’d guess it would, as the temperature has only been above zero once, I think, over the past 12 days I’ve been here. But many days have been sun and more sun and just beautiful weather looking out over the coastal plain to the Brooks Range. I’ve seen an arctic fox and a few ravens this hitch, but that’s it for animal sightings.

Mark Stopha
Alaska Wild Salmon Company
4455 N. Douglas Hwy
Juneau, AK 99801

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