Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
A new road threatens Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Again
A National Treasure: Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
Located on the Alaska Peninsula, Izembek is one of the world's most critically important northern wetlands for migrating birds. Virtually all of the world's Pacific Brant and Emperor Geese stop at Izembek to feed and rest. The refuge is also home to Tundra Swans, Ptarmigan, Bald Eagles, and hundreds of thousands of geese, as well as threatened species, such as Steller's Eiders. Many mammals also use the refuge, including caribou, brown bears, wolves, and wolverines.
Road Threatens Izembek Again
After years of debate, the pressure to build a road through the wetlands of the Izembek Refuge is again increasing. The proposed land exchange would set a dangerous precedent for refuges, cost tax payers millions, degrade vital fish and wildlife habitat, and eliminate wilderness protections.
ACE is on record as being opposed to the road. Here's why:
- The location is in incredibly valuable international wildlife habitat.
- The precedent of a land exchange undercuts every protected wilderness in the country.
- The pubic safety issue (used as a reason to build the road) has already been addressed.
Road Threatens Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
The debate on the proposed road has been a heated one for 20 years now. Under ANILCA in 1980, 95% of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was designated as wilderness ‐‐ such a designation comes with some very stringent protections. Even before the 90's, the Fish and Wildlife Service developed its argument against a road in the 1985 Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan.
The road would pass along a thin isthmus between 2 lagoons that are the feeding ground of the
Pacific black brant and a variety of other rare or threatened waterfowl. Suffice it to say that the road
would go through one of the most important wildlife areas on the refuge that is in the designated
In 1995 the Aleutians East Borough approached the AK congressional delegation for special legislation to grant a road right of way through the refuge. Their main argument was that it was a safety issue. King
Cove says a road is necessary to assure safe transport in case of emergencies. The community of King Cove (pop. 800) wants a road to Cold Bay which has a long air strip and commercial flights. The road proposal sent the road through designated wilderness. It became a major national issue because the road was not compatible with wilderness area legislation. The issue was seen as a threat to wilderness areas everywhere and environmental groups all around the country expressed their opposition to the road.
In the Clinton administration the Fish and Wildlife Service opposed the project.
Congress rejected the road through wilderness and thought they solved the problem in 1998 with a
compromise bill called the King Cove Health and Safety Act. Congress appropriated $37 million to
improve community medical facilities, build a connecting road to a new marine terminal, and purchase a $9 million hovercraft (which has performed more than 30 successful medical evacuations). However, a 2001 EIS by the Army Corps of Engineers presented transportation options that again considered the
road as one of 5 options. About 13,000 comments were submitted with the majority being opposed to
In March 2009, President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. It included
many projects that conservation groups had long wanted and supported. But in the Act was language
that would allow wilderness lands at Izembek to be removed from federal protection by a 3 way land
exchange with the State of Alaska and King Cove. The land exchange would effectively remove the
wilderness restrictions that prohibited road construction in the first go round. Conservation groups
have opposed discussion of a land exchange in the refuge in the past and in 1997 a land exchange offer from the King Cove Corporation was refused by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The land exchange is essentially an end run around wilderness protection. The Omnibus bill directs the Fish and Wildlife
Service to prepare an EIS to evaluate the impacts of a land exchange and subsequent development of a
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