Izembek Road - the real facts

Black Brant in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Despite the fact that a final decision has been made by the Department of Interior in regards to a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, a few loud voices have been trying to reposition the debate around inaccurate information.

Proponents of a road through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge continue to push Interior Secretary Jewell to strip designated wilderness of its federal protection and unleash the bulldozers.

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 and now is the time for us to base this conversation on facts.

1. Is it true that people are dying in airplane crashes because they are forced to take emergency flights via air rather than a road?

No. No fatalities related to airplane crashes have occurred in King Cove since February, 1990. That means it has been more than 20 years since the last evacuee fatality. While King Cove does not have a full-time physician, it does have an upgraded medical clinic with telemedicine capabilities, thanks to Congress’s 1999 appropriation, that has a total of 17 staff, including a physician’s assistant, making King Cove’s clinic better equipped to handle medical emergencies than many in Alaska’s remote communities, including Cold Bay. 

2. Is it true that building a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a congressionally protected wilderness area, is the best and only means of providing emergency medical services to King Cove?  

No. Everyone agrees that the community of King Cove – like all rural communities in Alaska - deserves access to emergency medical care, and that its transportation options should be safe and as convenient as its remote location allows. For the past 24 years, local residents have been safely transported to Cold Bay’s airport in all types of weather during a variety of emergencies. To improve their options and ensure the continuation of that record of safety, decision-makers should be working on developing alternative solutions that meet the needs of local residents while keeping Izembek National Wildlife Refuge intact.

3. Is it true that The Izembek refuge – including the federally designated wilderness area – already contains nearly 70 miles of road built by the U.S. Military during World War II, more than 50 miles of which continue to be used today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the duck hunters who visit the seven privately owned hunting lodges in Cold Bay?

No. The “roads” alleged to be within the Izembek NWR Wilderness area do not exist.  While there are 40 miles of roads within the non-Wilderness portions of the refuge, the “roads” alleged to be within the designated Izembek Wilderness are in fact abandoned WWII two-track trails, and not used or maintained as “roads.”

4. Is it true that 4,900 miles of roads have been built through wilderness in the National Wildlife Refuge system nationally?

No.  Congress has NEVER approved the construction of a road ANYWERE within the National Wilderness Preservation System. Approving the Izembek road would establish a precedent that would not only be unfortunate for other Alaska Wilderness Areas protected by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, but elsewhere with our Wilderness system.  Moreover, there are NOT 4,900 miles of roads within the National Wild Refuge System’s designated Wilderness areas.

5. Some are saying the road would really benefit industry, is that true?

That could very well be true. While critics acknowledge Congress prohibited the road from being used for commercial purposes, they warn it would take only a legislative rider to lift that prohibition once a road is built.  The record shows that in spite of suggestions to the contrary, commercial interests are a major driver for the road proposal:

  •  A 1994 resolution by the town of King Cove called for a road but made no reference to health and safety concerns. Instead, the resolution stated that a road would link North America’s largest salmon cannery in King Cove with the airport at Cold Bay, and listed as part of its rationale that the road would have “a major, positive socioeconomic impact on both communities.”

  • In his 1995 State transportation plan, Alaska Governor Tony Knowles expressed support for a “20-mile road between King Cove and Cold Bay on the Alaska Peninsula for transporting salmon to a community with a runway that could handle large planes.”

  •  At a 2010 public meeting, an AEB assemblyman stated that Peter Pan Seafoods would use the road to transport “fresh product.”

  • In 2011, while visiting King Cove, Senator Murkowski stated, “The decades-old push to get the road built between King Cove and the Cold Bay Airport so that we can have greater access for transportation is going to be a critical ingredient in that thriving economic future going out for the next 100 years."

6. Is it true there are no viable alternatives to the road?

No. There ARE viable alternatives, including three very public ones:

  • Return the taxpayer-funded hovercraft vessel to King Cove.  

  • Upgrade the Coast Guard base at Cold Bay.  

  • Provide King Cove with a new vessel for emergency evacuations.


The proposed road would be harmful to the Izembek Refuge and Wilderness and the American public. It would fail to provide the emergency medical transportation desired by the people of King Cove, and it would be extremely costly for taxpayers in a time of great financial strain and many pressing national needs. It is important that we discuss the facts, and not allow misleading information to get in the way.