Save Tangle Lakes!

Enjoy It Now, Protect It For the Future!

Mineral Exploration


Just what is mineral exploration?

To put it simply, mineral exploration is looking for something that can be mined at a profit. In the case of the Tangle Lakes region, various surveys over the years indicate the presence of nickel, copper, and platinum group minerals—all valuable but non-renewable resources. Exploration has tried to determine if those minerals are present in economic quantities.

Riddle Ridge Nickel Mine, Oregon

Riddle Ridge Nickel Mine, Oregon

In recent years, the Tangles area has been explored with funding from several foreign mining and mineral exploration companies. Exploration activities have included drilling sample holes and using airborne and ground geophysical surveys.

Fish Lake

Fish Lake on claims north of proposed refuge
Photo courtesy NAEC

At this point, no one knows whether any of the area can be profitably mined, but the fact that, one after one, all companies have pulled out, suggests that it cannot, and claims closest to the lakes and highway appear even less likely than those to the North.

But what we do know—and we know this for certain—is that the region is rich in high-value, sustainable, renewable resources, used and enjoyed by many Alaskans. We know that these renewable resources and the human activities associated with them would be significantly damaged by actual mine development and the extraction of non-renewable resources, largely for the benefit of foreign corporations.

Who Have Been the Players?

  • Pure Nickel, Inc. is a junior mineral exploration company based in Toronto, Ontario. In 2007 it was incorporated and acquired a large block of Alaska claims through a merger agreement with Nevada Star Resources, another Canadian corporation. It relied on major mining companies to fund its exploration. As of early 2016, Pure Nickel no longer listed Tangle Lakes (its “MAN Alaska” project) among its projects. This could be due to low nickel prices and/or poor drilling results.
  • Major mining companies have explored or funded exploration on Tangle Lakes area claims. These include International Nickel, Anglo American, ITOCHU, and MMG. None have claims within the proposed refuge as of early 2018.
  • The Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has administered mining claims on state land within the proposed refuge.

Where Are the Claims?

Claims Map – 2012
Proposed State Wildlife Refuge mapClick the image for the full size version (8 megs).

At its peak, Pure Nickel held a vast irregular block of mining claims, stretching from the Denali Highway northward into Broxson Gulch and from Summit Lake westward almost to the Maclaren River. Some were within view of the Denali Highway from about mile 3 to 27 and Tangle Lakes. Altogether they totaled over 181 square miles (470 square km). By 2012 many of the claims near Tangle Lakes and the highway had been dropped, leaving those shown in the map above. By 2016, all its claims had been dropped.

Broken Point from TLAD

Broken Point from TLAD

The great majority of Pure Nickel’s claims were on state land, which DNR calls the Denali Block. Some claims were on federal lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

Wild and Scenic River System

Wild and Scenic River System
© Brad Snow

To further complicate the picture, some of the claims fell within the Tangle Lakes Archaeological District (TLAD). The TLAD has high archeological significance, both for local Ahtna Natives and for archaeologists. It contains one of the densest concentrations of Native American sub-arctic artifacts in North America. This is because people have been hunting the same ridges for 10,000 years!

Cutting North-South through the claims area is the Delta Wild and Scenic River System. The Tangle Lakes are the Delta River’s headwaters, and are part of this federally protected system. However, the Wild and Scenic River corridor extends for only about one-half mile on each side of the water, and nothing prevents mineral exploration support helicopters from overflying this corridor to bring personnel, supplies, and equipment to exploration sites, as they did during their field seasons. If a mine is developed, it also could be within sight and sound of these popular paddling and fishing waters.