Save Tangle Lakes!

Enjoy It Now, Protect It For the Future!

Mineral Exploration


What is mineral exploration?

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

The on-again, off-again past:
Over several decades, at least four multinational mining companies have been involved in exploring the Tangles region. Exploration activities included mapping, sampling, drilling, and conducting airborne and ground geophysical surveys. North of the proposed game refuge (see map below), exploration identified only low-grade mineralization. Within the proposed refuge, reported results yielded no significant mineralization. Hence, these companies pulled out.

The present:
Currently four different companies hold claims near Tangle Lakes. This is apparently in response to rising metals prices. One of these companies holds claims within the proposed refuge. So far, none of these have undertaken any drilling operations. We cannot foresee whether they will eventually find metals of sufficient grade and tonnage to be economic.

But what we do know—and we know this for certain—is that the region is rich in high-value, sustainable, renewable resources—especially the Nelchina Caribou Herd—which are 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 multinational corporations.

Mining Claims in and near Proposed Wildlife Refuge 2021

Land Status:

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages land and mining claims within and near the proposed refuge on the north side of the Denali Highway:

  • Some of the claims fall 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!
  • The TLAD in under DNR’s Leasehold Location Order. This status requires claims to be “leaseholds” with special stipulations for exploration and mining activities. In the TLAD, the stipulations would seek to protect the area’s archaeological significance, probably via requiring archaeological surveys and retrieval of artifacts. They would not, however, preclude exploration or mining. Fish would receive extra protections, but other wildlife, such as mammals and birds, would not
  • A small eastern part of the area is Closed to New Mineral Location. (See map.) This means that new mining claims cannot be staked. Its purpose is to protect high-value wildlife resources.


The U.S. Bureau of Land Management manages an important piece of land:

  • The Delta Wild and Scenic River System, cuts North-South through the claims area. The Tangle Lakes are the Delta River’s headwaters, and are part of this federally protected system. This beautiful corridor cannot be explored for minerals or mined. 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 some past field seasons. If a mine is developed, it also could be within sight and sound of these popular paddling and fishing waters.




Riddle Ridge Nickel Mine, Oregon

Riddle Ridge Nickel Mine, Oregon

Fish Lake

Fish Lake on claims north of proposed refuge
Photo courtesy NAEC