Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 20, 2017

Contact: Randi Spivak, (310) 779-4894,

House Votes to Bulldoze Heart of Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

Bill Is Part of Broad GOP Anti-public-lands Agenda

WASHINGTON— The House of Representatives approved legislation today that would trade away hundreds of acres, including congressionally designated wilderness in Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to construct an unnecessary, harmful and expensive road through the heart of the refuge.

After extensive study the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that building a road through the refuge would result in significant, long-term, irreparable damage to the refuge's extensive fish and wildlife habitats. The Izembek is America's most ecologically significant wildlife refuge, home to world-class wetlands that support millions of migrating birds as well as grizzly bears and salmon.

“This would set a very dangerous precedent in a breathtakingly beautiful and important place,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “People in Congress who want to give away our public lands won't stop with Izembek. If they get a road bulldozed through this pristine wildlife refuge, it'll open the floodgates for undermining other public lands across the country.”

H.R. 218, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), would exchange 206 acres from this globally important wildlife refuge for lower-value state lands to allow construction of a road connecting the towns of King Cove and Cold Bay. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R- Alaska) has introduced a Senate companion bill, S. 101. While larger in acreage, the lands being offered in exchange would not come close to making up for the loss of the world-class habitat found only in the Izembek lagoon complex, since they do not contain any eelgrass and little waterfowl habitat.  

Young is using a legislative trick to deny public input. By stating that the land swap is not a “major federal action,” his bill denies the public its right to have input on the project. A long list of local and national officials opposes the bill because of its cost, the irreversible damage it would do to wildlife and habitat, and the precedent it would set.

“Rep. Young is one of the members of Congress trying hardest to destroy America's public lands,” said Spivak. “His bill plays into the most extreme anti-public-lands agenda. The unfortunate passage of this bill goes against the values of most Americans, who overwhelmingly support the protection and preservation of our public lands for future generations.”

In the first five months of the 115th Congress, Republicans have introduced more than 45 bills that attack public lands, weaken environmental safeguards on those lands or turn over control to states and local governments. These attacks come despite the fact that the vast majority of voters across political parties support protecting and maintaining forests, national parks, monuments and other public lands and waters.

The federal government has repeatedly studied a proposed land swap and road through the refuge and consistently rejected the project because of its devastating effects on the refuge's ecological resources and wilderness.

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. Virtually the entire world populations of Pacific black brant and emperor geese, and a significant number of threatened Steller's eiders, visit the refuge to rest and feed during spring and fall migrations.

The Department of the Interior determined that these birds would be particularly vulnerable to impacts from road construction and operation on the narrow isthmus. A road across the isthmus would also harm brown bears and caribou.

The push for this road is not about health-care transport; it's about privatizing public lands for profit from a seafood venture.. Congress has previously determined that a road though Izembek's wilderness is not in the public interest. In 1998 it passed the King Cove Health and Safety Act that rejected a road proposal and instead provided $37.5 million to upgrade King Cove's medical facilities, improve the airstrip in King Cove, purchase a hovercraft and construct marine terminals in King Cove and Cold Bay. Another $13 million in federal funds was appropriated in 2009. There is ample documented evidence that the road proponents want the road to transport seafood from King Cove to Cold Bay's airport.

The hovercraft successfully completed more than 30 medevac transports in as little as 20 minutes in virtually all kinds of weather. Despite the Mayor of the Aleutians East Borough calling the hovercraft a “lifesaving machine,” in 2010 AEB stopped using the craft for medevac claiming it was unreliable and citing maintenance costs of $1 million annually. They now use it to transport seasonal workers to the Trident Seafood plant, while paying $2.5 million a year in maintenance.  

By contrast, transport by road would be a two-hour trip and the road could only be used in good weather. This area has frequent violent storms. Further, the Army Corps of Engineers' assessment of non-road alternatives also concluded that marine transport via ferry is the most dependable transport, over 99 percent reliable.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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