Removing longstanding federal refuge and wilderness protections in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to construct an unnecessary, destructive and unreliable road has dangerous policy implications for immensely valuable public lands protections nationwide.
For Immediate Release
House Bill Paves the Way for Destructive Road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 218, the “King Cove Road Land Exchange Act,” that would remove wilderness wetlands in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge from federal public ownership. If enacted, the legislation would give away internationally recognized wildlife habitat to the state of Alaska in exchange for comparatively lesser quality state lands in order to plow a road through the refuge.
Introduced by Representative Don Young (R-AK), H.R. 218 would cause irreparable damage to a globally important conservation area, threaten the survival of imperiled species, undermine environmental laws and jeopardize wildlife refuges and wilderness protections on public lands across the country. The legislation now awaits consideration by the U.S. Senate.
Statement from Defenders of Wildlife’s President and CEO, Jamie Rappaport Clark:
“Removing longstanding federal refuge and wilderness protections in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to construct an unnecessary, destructive and unreliable road has dangerous policy implications for immensely valuable public lands protections nationwide.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that commercial interests are a driving force behind this costly road proposal which would cause irreparable damage to some of the most important wetlands on the planet.
“We urge the Senate to protect the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and its wildlife and wetlands from this harmful road proposal.”
Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
- Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is a globally recognized wetland and coastal habitat for iconic wildlife, including brown bears, caribou, salmon and hundreds of species of migratory birds. Its irreplaceable wetlands are so special that in 1986 they became one of the first wetland areas in the United States to be designated a “Wetland of International Importance.” One of America’s unique and ecologically significant wildlife refuges, this extraordinary landscape in Alaska in almost entirely designated as wilderness.
- Tens of thousands of waterfowl, seabirds and shorebirds from throughout the Pacific Flyway rely on the Izembek Refuge for nesting and feeding. Each fall the refuge shelters nearly the world’s entire population of Pacific black brant, a sea bird, as they gorge themselves on the refuge’s eelgrass beds in preparation for their non-stop migration to wintering grounds in Mexico.
- Izembek National Wildlife Refuge lies between the small Alaskan villages of King Cove and Cold Bay. The community of King Cove claims that a road through Izembek is necessary to assure safe transport to Cold Bay’s larger airstrip in the event of a medical emergency. However, commercial interests are a driving force behind the road proposal, as most recently indicated in statements by Alaska Governor Bill Walker.
- American taxpayers have already spent over $50 million to provide a safe, reliable medical response system to the King Cove community, which has fewer than 1,000 residents, in lieu of the damaging road. In 1998 the federal government allocated over $37 million to upgrade access to quality medical care for the people living in the village, and then paid an additional $13 million in support of that commitment. King Cove subsequently elected to voluntarily remove from service the state-of-the-art $9 million hovercraft ambulance that was purchased, which successfully performed every medical evacuation to Cold Bay while in operation. The road proposal would cost an estimated $30 million more, resulting in a final bill to the American taxpayer of at least $80 million, excluding costly road maintenance.
- In addition, the proposed road would likely cost lives, even though other viable transportation options exist. The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is subject to frequent violent winter storms, making travel along the proposed route extremely dangerous. Traveling the road would likely be treacherous for much of the year, and sometimes impassable, due to seasonal icing, high winds, blizzards and avalanche conditions. A recent study by the Army Corps of Engineers evaluated non-road transportation alternatives for King Cove. The study concluded that a marine ferry option would be reliable approximately 99 percent of the time.
The Department of the Interior has studied this issue exhaustively and repeatedly concluded that the road should not be constructed. In 2013, after a comprehensive four-year analysis including consideration of more than 70,000 public comments, former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell reaffirmed that a road through Izembek refuge would irrevocably damage natural resources and should be rejected. In 2015, the U.S. District Court of Alaska upheld the Secretary’s decision to protect the refuge.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With nearly 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.