Brooks Range Voices: Bjorn Dihle

The Juneau-based writer and guide talks about how his passion for the Brooks Range developed over a dozen visits spent hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing, and paddling the backcountry

Meet the newest member of the Hunters & Anglers for the Brooks Range team, Bjorn Dihle.

As an outdoor writer and guide based in Juneau, Bjorn is lending us his considerable talent to help tell the important personal stories of what’s at stake for hunters and anglers in the Brooks Range as the proposed Ambler Road is considered. He has taken a dozen trips to the Brooks to hunt, hike, ski, paddle, fish, and test himself in the unforgiving Arctic.

Bjorn has also spoken to a range of Alaskans and other stakeholders about what the Brooks Range means to them and how they would be impacted by the Ambler Road. He’ll be sharing their stories right here on our website.

But first, here’s his own story.

Share one particular memory of the Brooks Range that stands out to you.

On my first trip, I nearly stepped on a grizzly while going through thick brush. The bear proceeded to bluff-charge and nearly made contact a few times. The night before, a blizzard had rolled in. When there was a lull in the storm, I unzipped my tent and was surprised to find a large herd of Dall sheep bedded nearby. 

A few months later, I returned to hunt caribou. It was during the rut, and it was blustery. One night, the weather calmed, and I woke to grunts and the sound of caribou digging through the snow for lichens. I’m not sure how many there were – probably anywhere from a few dozen to 50 or 60. They were all around the tent. I shone my headlamp out and could see their shadowy forms. The sky was full of stars and northern lights and mountains glowed. The next day, I shot a young bull. 

After those first two trips, the Brooks Range had full hold of me. 

If you could come back, what would you love to do there next?

My priorities have changed a lot now that I have a family. These days, I do almost all my hunting in Southeast Alaska where we live. I can’t take off and go wander for a month or two like I used to. I dream pretty constantly of all sorts of trips all over the Brooks Range, though. I hope to get back there with my sons when they are older. I will say that you can’t really go wrong making a trip anywhere in the Brooks Range. There’s pretty much nothing but dream trips up there.

Think of your first trip to the Brooks – what was different than you expected?

The thing that really blew me away about the Brooks Range was how wild and cool the country and wildlife are. My first time up there, I was 21 and a little cocky. I thought that the Brooks Range wouldn’t hold up to all the other wild places I’d hunted and explored across Alaska. I was completely wrong. My first trips to the Brooks Range were life changing. 

What is most special about this place? How would you describe it to someone who has never been there?

The Brooks Range is unparalleled for the opportunities it provides to hunt, fish, and wander the wildest country left in North America. For outdoors folks, the Brooks Range is the dream.

Share at least one piece of essential gear you’d recommend packing or advice you’d share with someone going to the Brooks for the first time.

For August and September, one of the biggest issues you’ll face is foot care, because the Brooks Range can be exceptionally wet, and you frequently have to wade creeks or even rivers. It can dump snow in any month. Some locals hike in hip-boots. Some people like something like Wiggy’s thigh-high waders. I have covered hundreds of miles in the Brooks Range in sandals and neoprene socks – I also bring lightweight boots for more technical terrain. That system works for me, but I’d recommend that you spend some time considering your “foot system” and ensure that it’s appropriate to the scope of the adventure you’re planning. 

How do you think your experience in the Brooks would change if the Ambler Road was built? What do hunters and anglers stand to lose?

It would be a huge change and all for the negative as far as I can see. The last thing we need in America are diminished opportunities to hunt, fish, and explore. 

What aspect of the proposed Ambler Road project concerns you most?

I’m concerned about the threat to both the Alaska lifestyle and America’s outdoor heritage. There really is no wilder stretch of country left in North America. It could lead to a real loss for future generations.

Also, the Ambler Road would be a publicly funded industrial corridor to foreign-owned mines. The idea of my home state being exploited and contaminated as a resource colony for China or some other country does not sit well with me.

What’s the biggest misconception you’ve heard about the project?

I’ve heard a few hunters talk about how they are looking forward to increased road access to the Brooks Range. The Ambler Road is not proposed as a public access corridor – it’s hard to believe that it’ll remain closed to the public for long, but that’s what is on the table right now.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about how Alaska needs the project for our flagging economy, but the economic viability of these mines is uncertain. There’s no guarantee that using public money to build a road to foreign-owned mines would do anything other than hurt us. Our outdoor recreation industry has a $2.6-billion annual impact, and given how many Alaskans and visitors to Alaska hunt, fish, and love the outdoors – not to mention make their livings from it – it’s something our state’s decision-makers should value more.

I’ve heard people talk about how we need to generate our own minerals rather than use other nations’ resources, too. But most of these mining companies are based in other countries and plan to have ore shipped to Asia to be refined, so I’m not sure how that equates to mineral independence. Alaska only receives, according to a recent report, about 2.3% of the value of the minerals exported. Overall, projects like this are a net loss for Alaska.

What questions do you have about the project yourself?

I’ve chatted with people with a stake in the mining industry in that area. We’ve talked a lot about risk versus reward. I think the main “reward” that’s been pointed out to me is that it could be an economic opportunity for locals living in the western Arctic. Many of those locals have made clear they don’t want the Ambler Road. Some say they have recurring nightmares about it. 

So, I guess the question that keeps coming back to me is who would this project really benefit? And whatever the answer to that is, it’s a whole lot fewer people than it would hurt.

Take Action for the Brooks Range

Help ensure the Bureau of Land Management maintains the unique values of this iconic landscape by denying the right-of-way for the proposed Ambler Road.

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