Division of Spill Prevention and Response


Tactic P-5: Tundra Travel

Tundra travel permits may be required for vehicles traveling off-road in many areas. Industry operators often have tundra travel permits in place. If no permits are in place, work through the Unified Command and/or contact the appropriate landowners and agencies to identify the plans or permits that are required.

For state-owned land on the North Slope, the policy of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Land (DNR) requires a permit for any vehicle traveling on tundra during any season. Permits are issued for either summer tundra travel (July 15 until freeze-up), winter tundra travel (freeze-up until breakup), or both. No off-road travel is permitted during the period from breakup until July 15 except for true emergencies.

Winter Tundra Travel

Spill responders should follow the guidelines provided by DNR for tundra travel. Because cleanup efforts may require the use of heavy equipment when these conditions are not met, this manual provides additional information to help responders avoid causing too much tundra damage (see Tactics P-4 and AM-3).

In Alaska, tundra is generally open to off-road travel when the ground is frozen to a depth of 12 inches and when there is at least 6 inches of snow on the ground. DNR has developed recommendations for winter tundra travel based on experimental data (http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/tundra/mgmt_strat.htm) that separate tundra into two distinct geographical areas (Coastal and Foothill Areas, see Figure 1 in Tactic P-1). The regulations may be changed to allow travel on tundra when soil temperatures are colder than
or equal to –5 degrees C (23.1 degrees F) at a depth of 12 inches (30 cm) below the surface, and when at least 6 inches (15 cm) of snow is present in the Coastal Area and at least 9 inches (23 cm) of cover snow is present in the Foothills Area. The date of tundra opening on the North Slope has ranged from as early as November 4 to as late as January 25. Once the tundra has been opened for winter travel, there are no restrictions on the types of vehicle that may operate on the tundra. In years of limited snowfall, tundra travel may be opened conditionally, with the stipulation that vehicles are restricted to areas where sufficient snow has drifted to prevent damage to the tundra vegetation.

Winter tundra travel on the North Slope is closed when it appears that the snow has become too soft and/or too limited in extent to allow travel without damaging vegetation. Operators are then given 72 hours notice to move vehicles and other equipment off the tundra.

Summer Tundra Travel

See DNR guidelines for complete listing of travel requirements. The following vehicles have been tested and approved by DNR for summer tundra travel:

  • Argo 8 I/C with smooth tracks
  • Roller-driven Rolligon
  • Haggland Bearcat with smooth track configuration
  • Tucker-Terra Sno-Cat model 1600 with smooth track configuration
  • Airboats (for use in spill drills and exercises only)

In addition, DNR can issue a permit approving summer use of 4-wheel all-terrain vehicles on boardwalks placed on the tundra (Fig. 15) (Tactic P-4). Use of heavy equipment or airboats to respond to a spill on tundra during summer months is permitted on a case-by-case basis.

Plywood on tundra

Figure 15. Using 4-wheel all-terrain vehicle on plywood

Vehicles are tested to determine whether they can operate on the tundra during summer without causing extensive tundra damage (Fig. 16). Approvals are only for the configuration tested; for example, a vehicle tested with a payload of 1,000 pounds is limited to that payload when operating on the tundra. A vehicle tested and approved with smooth tracks would require retesting before it could be operated with cleats or wheels.

Kubota tracks.JPG

Figure 16. Vehicle designed for tundra travel in summer

The following stipulations apply to all summer tundra vehicles operating on state land:

  • Operations are restricted to drier areas whenever possible.
  • Crossing deep water or vegetation with more than 2–3 inches of standing water shall be avoided if at all possible.
  • Crossing ponds or lakes or the wetlands immediately bordering these areas is not authorized.
  • Minimum-radius turns with sharp articulations shall be avoided where possible.
  • Multiple passes over the same area shall be kept to a minimum.
  • All operators shall be made familiar with tundra vegetation types to ensure compliance with these stipulations.
  • The state reserves the right to limit, restrict, or require retesting of vehicles at any time.
  • Incidents of damage to the vegetative mat and follow-up corrective actions that have occurred shall be reported to the Division of Land within 72 hours of occurrence.
  • Vehicles cannot carry more payload than was carried during the certification test.

Considerations and Limitations

  • Other regulations may apply for travel on lands managed by government organizations (e.g., North Slope Borough) and federal agencies (e.g., Bureau of Land Management).

Updated: 12/20/2010