Former Public Officials Urge Secretary Haaland To Protect Izembek National Wildlife Refuge & Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act — The National Wildlife Refuge Association

📷 Aghileen Pinnacles with Mount Dutton beyond in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska | Gerrit Vyn

Earlier this week, twenty-two former public officials, including multiple former Secretaries of the Department of the Interior (Interior), sent a letter to Secretary Haaland expressing their concerns regarding the Interior’s intentions for the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Alaska. Throughout their collective tenures in public service, they have defended Alaska’s public lands and the conservation and subsistence values protected under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

Earlier this year, Secretary Haaland rescinded a 2019 proposed land exchange that would have allowed a road to be constructed in the Izembek NWR because the process that authorized the exchange was flawed and not consistent with Departmental policy. The proposed road would connect the village of King Cove with an all-weather airstrip in Cold Bay with the intent to provide an option for emergency medical evacuations for King Cove residents. Now, the Department has renewed the process to review proposals for a land exchange that would allow a road, using the same unlawful pretense as the previous administration. The letter was also submitted as a public comment to this review process.

The law that established the Izembek NWR and over 100 million acres of conservation lands in Alaska, known as ANILCA, allows for land exchanges only if the purpose is to benefit the conservation or subsistence values of the area. ANILCA does not allow for land exchanges to build roads, and it does not provide the authority to the Secretary to authorize a land exchange for this purpose. In this renewed effort to authorize a road, the Biden Administration perpetuates the suggestion that the Secretary of the Interior has the authority to trade away congressionally designated wilderness to private parties to allow roads or other development projects. Such authority would implicate all of Alaska’s conservation lands, setting a precedent that other wilderness areas can be subjected to similar trades to allow development projects.

Previous proposals to construct a road through the ecological heart of this unique national wildlife refuge have so far been unsuccessful due to the significant and irreversible damage it would make to one of the world’s most critical wetlands and waterfowl habitats. This road would have devastating impacts on more than half a million Pacific brant, emperor geese, swans, and other wildlife, resulting in habitat fragmentation, disturbance, and pollution. These impacts on wildlife would also inevitably impact subsistence hunting and harvesting for Indigenous communities that rely on these resources. Non-road alternatives for transportation between King Cove and Cold Bay are more reliable, less expensive, and won’t harm the Izembek NWR. 

The letter underscored the importance of protecting the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, subsistence rights, and the integrity of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. It further urged the Secretary to pursue alternative non-road options that would accommodate the present and future needs of all peoples that rely on the subsistence use and conservation values of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. These critically important wetlands must be protected for future generations. Read the letter in its entirety here >>

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