The National Wildlife Refuge Association and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges today hailed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to oppose a land transfer that would have allowed for construction of a 30-mile, $30-million gravel road through the heart of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The decision comes 15 years after a similar rejection resulted in a $37.5-million taxpayer-funded payout to King Cove, a community of 800 that has nevertheless continued to support the road’s construction.
“This “road to nowhere” is a bad deal for wildlife and taxpayers,” said NWRA Vice-President of Government Affairs Desiree Sorenson-Groves. “Building and maintaining a road through this biologically sensitive area would have set a dangerous precedent for the other wild lands in National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks and National Forests designated to be part of America’s Wilderness Preservation System – the world’s highest level of conservation protection.”
In its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) examining the consequences of the land transfer and resulting road, the FWS selected a “no action” alternative. The decision followed a lengthy public process mandated by 2009 legislation directing the FWS to conduct a study on the land exchange and proposed road and thus provide the background the Secretary of the Department of the Interior would need to determine whether the road was in the public interest.
“Sound science wins the day, as it always should,” said Wendy Loya, President of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. “The final decision reconfirms our long-held position that the proposed road pretends to solve a problem already solved 15 years ago at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars.”
In 1998 Congress provided $37.5 million to King Cove, including funds used to purchase of a state-of-the-art hovercraft to connect their community to the village of Cold Bay (pop. 75) and address transportation and safety issues.
Izembek NWR is located on a remote and sparsely populated stretch of Alaska’s Aleutian Peninsula. Ninety-eight percent of the world’s Pacific black brant population depends on this one location as a critical stopover and nesting site. After gorging on the eelgrass beds of Izembek Lagoon, these medium-size geese fly non-stop between Izembek and their wintering grounds in Mexico. Road construction could jeopardize their feeding, their migration – and their survival. In addition, the road’s route would disrupt an important isthmus corridor and foraging area for caribou and Alaska brown bear.
NWRA and the Friends of Alaska Refuges have long fought to protect Izembek’s pristine wilderness and urged the FWS to use sound science as their guide and to adopt a “no action” alternative.
The final EIS released today triggers a 30-day review period, which will be followed by a Record of Decision from the FWS and a Public Interest Determination from the Secretary of the Department of the Interior.
For more information about the Izembek NWR “Road to Nowhere” visit: www.refugeassociation.org/advocacy/refuge-issues/izembek/
For more information about The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges visit: www.alaskarefugefriends.org