In 1998, Congress passed a law specifically prohibiting a road through designated Wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Despite this prohibition, Congress approved a bill in 2009 (P.L. 111-11, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act) that began a process to review a proposed road through Izembek’s federally protected Wilderness. The proposed road would have been accomplished through a land exchange that would add some 56,393 acres of non-federal land to the refuge, in exchange for the removal of 206 acres from Wilderness designation in order to build a gravel road from King Cove to Cold Bay.
The land exchange has been portrayed by its supporters as a positive proposal, both for the King Cove residents who say it would provide safe, dependable access to the Cold Bay airport, and for the Izembek refuge. However, the exchange lands would add no substantial value to the refuge, while the road would cut through the refuge’s ecological heart.