Sen. Murkowski renews road threat in Alaska's Izembek wilderness area

Izembek Wildlife Refuge is a globally significant migratory bird destination. 


Sen. Lisa Murkowski still wants a road through wilderness in the heart of Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has revived her ongoing attack on Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge by introducing a bill (S. 3204) that would force construction of a road through a designated wilderness area.

Once more, members of the U.S. Senate will be forced to hear arguments in favor of compromising the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act for the purpose of building an unnecessary road that would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Again, the conservation community and the Interior Department has to defend irreplaceable and globally significant habitat that is vital for bears, caribou and millions of migrating waterfowl.

Image above: Senator Lisa Murkowski, via

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is determined to get her way even though …

• The U.S. Department of the Interior has twice studied and rejected the proposed road linking the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay.

• The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2015 upheld an Interior Department ruling that protects the Izembek refuge from road development.

• Alaska is in a budget crisis and cannot afford its share of the construction and maintenance costs of a road estimated to cost more than $80 million.

• A U.S. Army Corp of Engineers report evaluated three modes of emergency medical transportation, and clearly showed that there are viable alternatives to a road through Izembek’s designated wilderness area.

• The Army Corp of Enginneers report estimated the reliability of one of those alternatives—a marine ferry—would exceed 99 percent.

Izembek’s lagoon complex is a globally important ecosystem that contains one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world, providing food and habitat for fish and crabs that feed migratory birds from multiple continents, as well as other wildlife. Virtually the entire world populations of Pacific black brant and emperor geese, and a significant portion of the threatened Steller’s eider population visits the refuge to rest and feed during spring and fall migrations.

As Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell said during her visit to Alaska in 2013, this isn’t an issue of humans vs. wildlife, it’s a matter of finding a viable alternative that addresses the region’s needs and protects public lands.

It’s well past time to settle on a non-road alternative, and leave Izembek’s wilderness alone.