Victory: Alaska's Izembek Wildlife Refuge is safe from road proposal

The view from Grant Point at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.
flickr, Lisa Matlock
Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a globally important bird area, is now safe from a proposed road that would have cut through the heart of the refuge.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service released its final Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed land exchange and road in Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on Feb. 5.  In it, the agency acknowledged that building a road through designated wilderness that contains globally significant wetlands in is not in the public interest.

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It certainly isn’t in the interest of the bears, salmon and migratory birds that make the refuge their home for at least part of each year, or for nearby communities that rely on these subsistence resource 

Izembek wildlife refuge is a tract of nearly half a million acres at the end of the Alaska Peninsula. This remote and sparsely populated area provides rich, vital habitat to millions of birds during their annual migrations. Those birds include Steller’s eiders and 98 percent of the world’s Pacific brant, as well as bears, foxes and caribou.

For years, proponents have fought for construction of a “road to nowhere ” that would connect the remote communities of Cold Bay (population 75) and King Cove (population 300). Such a road would have cut through the heart of federally designated wilderness and a biologically sensitive wildlife refuge. It also would have cost millions of taxpayer dollars without improving the efficiency of travel between two local communities.

Izembek Wildlife Refuge, Alaska by The Wilderness Society

The Wilderness Society has been in the thick of a multi-year effort to protect the Izembek wildlife refuge.

Our Izembek work included: 

  • Providing leadership among conservation organizations
  • Contracting an economic study to show the road wasn’t in the public’s interest
  • Providing land managers with the scientific data that helped them decide against the road
  • Testifying in the House Natural Resources Committee in opposition to the road

How Wilderness Supporters helped:

Through our Wild Alerts, our members and supporters sent thousands of letters to federal officials to oppose the road and land swap.

Izembek background:

Izembek was set aside in 1960 as the Izembek National Wildlife Range to be a refuge, breeding ground, and management area for all forms of wildlife. In 1980 the area was renamed a refuge with a primary purpose of conserving fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity.

In modern day, Congress addressed the area's needs when it allocated $37.5 million in 1998 to address community health, travel and safety needs. The road would have been a costly boondoggle, impassable much of each winter, and an artificial solution to a problem that was solved years ago.

“This road would have irreparably harmed a designated wilderness with internationally important wetlands habitat critical to the very species the refuge was established to protect,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, The Wilderness Society’s regional director in Alaska. “At the same time, it would have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars without improving the speed or safety of transportation between local communities, while also negatively impacting subsistence resources.”

Fortunately, federal officials studied the issue and made the sound decision that a road is not in the public interest.  This decision is a victory for conservation, for congressionally designated wilderness, and for wildlife that will continue to thrive in this vital and wild landscape.