Anti-public lands push takes aim at our wildest state

If Congress allows a road to be built through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, it would set a chilling precedent for stripping lands of conservation protection. 

Credit: Kristine Sowl (USFWS), flickr.

Politicians are attacking Alaska on multiple fronts, recently approving construction of an unnecessary road through protected wilderness and paving the way for drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

On July 20, the House passed a bill that approves a long-contested road through wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, undermining essential conservation laws and setting a chilling precedent for development in wildlands that are supposed to be our country's last inviolate places.  

A recent string of attacks directed at the state of Alaska has included a maneuver that encourages drilling in the Arctic Refuge and a push to build a road through protected wilderness. 

While the vote was part of a much broader campaign to degrade open access to public lands and give more authority to state and private interests, it also represented the latest in a recent string of harsh blows directed at the state of Alaska. Days earlier, in its Fiscal Year 2018 budget resolution, the House included instructions that would allow a key committee to authorize drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, despite the fact that many of the economic arguments for doing so are severely lacking.  

In the past, many presidents and other national leaders have recognized Alaska's uniqueness as a font of natural resources and sheer beauty. But increasingly, it seems that when politicians look at the state former congressman Morris Udall once called "the last frontier" of wilderness preservation, they mostly see dollar signs, like greedy cartoon characters.  

The rise of the Trump administration and attendant anti-public lands and pro-fossil fuel fervor have helped boost that attitude. We will need to work hard to make sure the current political regime and its special interest allies don't sully this singular state. 

Izembek road an expensive, precedent-setting boondoggle in action 

Credit: Kristine Sowl (USFWS), flickr.

In 1998, Congress passed a law specifically prohibiting a road through designated wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which is a critical migration destination for numerous species of birds. The Department of the Interior has exhaustively studied a proposed road in the area, made determinations that it should not be built and had its decision upheld by the U.S. District Court. A U.S. Army Corp of Engineers report has concluded that there are viable alternatives to a road in Izembek, including a marine ferry with an estimated reliability exceeding 99 percent, according the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. None of this has prevented Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and others from pushing for a road anyway.

As Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams noted in a statement, "If Congress allows a road to be built through the Izembek Wilderness, it would set a chilling precedent for stripping lands of conservation protection. None of our public lands would be safe." 

Sneak attack paves way for drilling in Arctic Refuge  

The Porcupine Caribou herd migrating south on the Hoola-Hoola River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Florian Schulz.

The Wilderness Society has worked for years to gain wilderness protections for the coastal plain and other areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge--considered by many to be the wildest intact landscape left in America--so that it will no longer be threatened by oil and gas development. Congress' recent directive for the House Natural Resources Committee to generate $5 billion undercuts those efforts, opening the door to overturn protections and authorize drilling

It is vital that we ask elected officials to recognize this move as the oil lobby-boosted sneak attack it is and soundly reject backdoor attempts to drill in the refuge. 

 

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