With the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act looming, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was asked to do the unthinkable. Proponents of a road through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge wanted Jewell to strip designated wilderness of its federal protection and unleash the bulldozers.
Jewell said no.
After months of reviewing a finding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the road would not be in the public interest, and would harm species like grizzly bears, Tundra swans, black Brant, and emperor geese, Jewell upheld the USFWS decision, and spared Izembek’s wilderness from ruin.
Congress had already rejected the road once, and then the federal government studied the issue twice and rejected it both times after exhaustive research. American taxpayers have already paid more than $37 million for a solution to meet the town’s transportation needs. But King Cove has continued to want a road, even if it means harming globally important wildlife habitat.
The Wilderness Society and partner organizations have fought for years to defend the Izembek refuge from the road proposal, because we recognize the incredible value of this remote wilderness.
Slideshow: Take a tour of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
Virtually the entire world’s population of Pacific black Brant and emperor geese stage at Izembek in the fall to build necessary fat reserves prior to fall migrations and in preparation for winter. Pacific black Brant are a vital subsistence resource for local residents as well as for communities in Alaska’s western and Arctic regions. Numerous species, including nesting tundra swans and caribou, also would have lost essential habitat if the road were built.
Had the road been allowed, it would have set a terrible precedent for designated wilderness across the nation. By making a sound, science-based decision, Secretary Jewell not only protected this vitally important Alaska refuge from harm, she made all of America’s wilderness a little bit safer.