DNR cancels tundra travel field season
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Concerned with the safety of its staff and of people on the North Slope, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources has cancelled the remainder of its 2019-20 field season for monitoring snow conditions for off road winter tundra travel, DNR announced March 26.
DNR monitors the snow thickness and soil temperatures in state lands of the North Slope, to ensure that winter off-road travel and industrial operations do not damage the tundra. The agency opened the eastern and western coastal areas for this year’s winter season on Jan. 8. The lower and upper foothills areas, to the south, have remained closed.
Normally, DNR continues monitoring surface snow and temperature conditions, eventually announcing the closure of off-road travel when the snow thins and soil temperatures rise to a point where the tundra is no longer adequately protected. But this year the agency says that it will depend on information from people conducting off-road operations, the use of webcams and the monitoring of weather forecasts to make tundra closure decisions. The agency says that it will be contacting operators, asking for information from snow observations.
“While this is not our preferred method for tundra closure, we believe we can still make appropriate decisions with your help,” DNR wrote in a notification to operators.
The department also said that, in response to the pandemic, it is combining telecommuting with some office time, and that staff anticipate being available by telephone and email, as normal.
- ALAN BAILEY