In the remote north-eastern corner of Alaska, just under 20-million acres have been set aside as a federal protected area since 1960. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has recently come under threat, however, with President Donald Trump’s Department of the Interior proposing lifting restrictions on seismic exploration.
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- Matt Jacques is a journalist, photographer and social scientist living in Canada’s Yukon Territory. With a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Ottawa, he has an in-depth understanding of the behavioural economics and evidence-based decision-making behind much of our public discourse climate, the economy and sustainability. His photography has won international awards, and his written work regularly appears in Vancouver-based MONTECRISTO Magazine.
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In early September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more than $360 million in funding for roads to service mining operations in two remote regions of the Yukon.
There’s just one catch: most of those mines haven’t even been approved yet.
Some worry the influx of investment — $247 million from the federal government and $112 million from the territory — handcuffs the region to mining development that hasn’t been demonstrated to serve the community’s long-term interests.
Don Reid, conservation zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada, said the timing of the announcement is problematic and calls the objectivity of the mine review process into question.
The Yukon's giant Faro Mine was once the world’s largest open-pit lead and zinc mine.
In operation from 1969 to 1998, when its last owner declared bankruptcy, the mine once generated more than 30 per cent of the Yukon's economic activity.
Now, Faro Mine is considered the second-worst contaminated site in Canada.
Each winter in Canada’s far north, a series of ice roads take form, providing people and supply trucks temporary access to the region’s otherwise isolated towns. But rapid changes to Canada’s north means this spring marks the final melt of one of the north’s famed ice highways, the ‘Road to the Top of the World,’ stretching across 187 kilometres of frozen Mackenzie Delta and Arctic Ocean in the Northwest Territories, linking Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk.
“It’s taking longer for everything to freeze up, and the ice isn’t as thick,” Wally Schumann, the minister of infrastructure for the Northwest Territories, told the New York Times in April. The Northwest Territories is warming at four to five times the global rate.
Under construction right now is a new permanent $300-million all-weather road — but its long-term stability is also challenged by the unpredictable, warming landscape says Phil Marsh, professor and Canada Research Chair in Cold Regions Water Science at Wilfred Laurier University.
“This area is continuous permafrost with massive amounts of ground ice,” Marsh explained.
In the spring, melting water can carve sizeable channels through the ground ice, “which can rapidly drain a lake in less than twenty four hours.”
Across Canada’s north, diesel has long been the primary mode of providing year-round electricity to remote communities — but with the advent of small-scale renewables, that’s about to change.
Northern communities were already making strides toward a renewable energy future, but with $400 million committed in this year’s federal budget to establish an 11-year Arctic Energy Fund, energy security in the north has moved firmly into the spotlight.
“This level of support shows positive commitment from the Canadian government on ending fossil fuel dependency in Indigenous communities and transitioning these communities to clean energy systems,” said Dave Lovekin, a senior advisor at the Pembina Institute.
As snowcover recedes from the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska each spring, thousands of Porcupine Caribou arrive to graze on new plant growth and calve the next generation of this herd that is the ecological and cultural backbone of the region.
Following ancient trails through the Brooks, Ogilvie and Richardson mountain ranges on both sides of the Alaska/Yukon border, the herd's migratory path to this sanctuary is one of the longest of any land mammal.