As this blog had reported in the past, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was considering a controversial land swap at Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which would have lead to the construction of a gravel “Road to Nowhere” through federally designated wilderness in one of the most pristine refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Today the USFWS announced that they oppose a land transfer that would have allowed for the construction.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluating a proposed land exchange that would establish a road corridor through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska. After careful evaluation of the impact of the construction and operation of the proposed road on the refuge and its wildlife resources, the agency has identified its preferred alternative as one that does not support allowing the land exchange to go forward.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s preferred alternative would protect the heart of a pristine landscape that congress designated as wilderness and that serves as vital habitat for grizzly bear, caribou and salmon, shorebirds and waterfowl – including 98 percent of the world’s population of Pacific black brant,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “After extensive dialogue and exhaustive scientific evaluation, the agency has identified a preferred path forward that will ensure this extraordinary refuge and its wilderness are conserved and protected for future generations.”
The proposed road would permanently bisect the area, where most of the refuge’s 315,000 acres are Congressionally-designated Wilderness. By designating this area as wilderness, the most protective category of public lands, Congress recognized the need to protect Izembek as a place where natural processes prevail with few signs of human presence.
The permanent road would fragment undisturbed habitat for grizzly bear, caribou and salmon, and would compromise the protections offered to waterfowl and shorebirds. At the heart of the areas protected are internationally significant eelgrass beds in Izembek and Kinzarof lagoons, as well as adjacent uplands of the isthmus. These wetlands, among the first in the U.S. to be designated as a “Wetland of International Importance” in 1987 under the Ramsar Convention, feed more than 98 percent of the world’s Pacific black brant before they fly to wintering grounds in Mexico. Other species that depend on these wetlands and eelgrass beds include emperor geese, Steller’s eiders, and hundreds of thousands of other federally-protected waterfowl and shorebirds.
While the proposed land exchange would bring many more acres of land into the Refuge System, the analysis indicates that the increased acreage could not compensate for the unique values of existing refuge lands, nor the anticipated effects that the proposed road would have on wildlife, habitat, subsistence resources, and wilderness values of the refuge. Based on this analysis, the Service has selected Alternative 1, the no action alternative, as the preferred alternative.
The decision was hailed by the National Wildlife Refuge Association and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges:
“This “road to nowhere” is a bad deal for wildlife and taxpayers,” said NWRA Vice-President of Government Affairs Desiree Sorenson-Groves. “Building and maintaining a road through this biologically sensitive area would have set a dangerous precedent for the other wild lands in National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks and National Forests designated to be part of America’s Wilderness Preservation System – the world’s highest level of conservation protection.”
“Sound science wins the day, as it always should,” said Wendy Loya, President of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. “The final decision reconfirms our long-held position that the proposed road pretends to solve a problem already solved 15 years ago at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars.”
In 1998 Congress provided $37.5 million to King Cove, including funds used to purchase a state-of-the-art hovercraft to connect their community to the village of Cold Bay (pop. 75) and address transportation and safety issues. American taxpayers have already done their part for these remote Alaskan communities, and it’s time to put this controversy to bed.