The Department of the Interior today announced its preferred alternative for the proposed Izembek land exchange and road, choosing the No-Action Alternative and acknowledging that the land exchange and construction of this unnecessary road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would damage the heart of globally significant wilderness and wildlife habitat, as well as subsistence resources on the Bering Sea coast.
“This road would have irreparably harmed important habitat for the very species the refuge was established to protect, and impacted critical wilderness and subsistence values,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, regional director for The Wilderness Society 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.”
The proposed land exchange and road would have traded internationally significant wetlands for lower-quality habitat. It also would have undermined wilderness and wetlands values, creating serious threats to sensitive bird populations, brown bears, caribou and many other species that are important for subsistence activities. Migratory waterfowl, for instance, depend heavily on the area’s lagoons for breeding, nesting, molting and feeding habitat, and a declining caribou herd often winters in the proposed road corridor.
“Virtually the entire world population of Pacific black brant and emperor geese rely on this area before and after their long spring and fall migrations for building fat reserves ,” Whittington-Evans said. “Numerous species, including nesting tundra swans and caribou, would have lost essential habitat if the road were built.”
The Wilderness Society commissioned an economic study that was completed in 2012, showing that the road would not be in in the public interest, and provided scientific information to federal officials in addition to mobilizing public opposition to the proposal.
“We are grateful to the Department of the Interior for carefully weighing the scientific evidence and recognizing that a road is not in the public interest,” Whittington-Evans said. “This decision didn’t just save taxpayers money, it saved world-class wilderness and wetlands as well as a gem of the National Wildlife Refuge System – the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge -- from irreparable harm.”
The Wilderness Society is the leading public-lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org