Officials with the federal agency that oversees the White Mountain National Recreation Area will hold the first of three meetings today in Fairbanks to explain a proposal today that could lead to mining in the area.
The federal Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, has been working since 2008 on a draft resource-management plan for lands it oversees in the Eastern Interior. But last month, the agency announced that it’s adding a proposal to the plan that would allow mineral leasing in the White Mountains National Recreation Area.
That caused a stir among people who value the White Mountains as a place to hike, ski, snowmachine and hunt, among other things. Pam Miller, with the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, says the area is very popular because it’s close to Fairbanks – but remote enough to enable people to get from it all.
“The White Mountains National Recreation Area is Fairbanks’ backyard (and) playground,” Miller said. “Remote, but accessible. Great place to go.”
The mining community sees it differently. Karl Gohlke, the executive director of the Fairbanks branch of the Alaska Miners Association, says its members are glad that the BLM added a fourth alternative to its resource-management plan that could allow mining on 160,000 acres – or about 16 percent of the recreation area – of the national recreation area.
Golhke says exploration in the area conducted a few decades ago suggests there’s not only gold in them thar hills – but also, rare earth elements, a group of substances that are essential to the manufacture of electronic devices such as cellphones, flat-screen TVs and, more importantly military hardware like missile-guidance systems and night-vision goggles.
“We just can’t shut it down to mining,” Golhke said.
BLM officials aren’t advocating mining in the White Mountains – in fact, their preferred alternative doesn’t include provisions for mining.
Agency officials say they’ll decide which of the four alternatives will eventually be integrated into the plan after considering public comments that are expressed in today’s public hearing, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center downtown, after an open house, which begins at 3.
Other meetings are scheduled for next week in Anchorage and at least three others next month in Chalkitsik, Fort Yukon and Eagle.
The BLM will accept public comments on the plan through April 11th.