Lawsuit challenges Zinke, King Cove land exchange

Backdoor deal violates ANILCA

Jan 31, 2018
Lawsuit challenges Zinke and his public land giveaway
Eelgrass nourishes migrating birds and the entire ecoystem.

The lagoon area’s eelgrass feeds migrating birds and supports the entire ecosystem. Photo by Kirstine Sowl, USFWS.

Trustees for Alaska filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court today that claims that a land exchange between King Cove Corporation and the Department of the Interior violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

In other words, ANILCA prohibits Secretary Ryan Zinke from using its land exchange provision to gut Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and circumvent public process, environmental review, and congressional approval to build a road.

Trustees filed the suit on behalf of nine clients. Read the full press release.

Another closed-door deal
Map of road area on isthmus between two lagoons.

USFWS map of proposed road area.

Zinke crafted the land exchange deal behind closed doors, a pattern of non-transparent administrative actions by Interior and other agencies like the EPA.

Those pushing for the land exchange claim that King Cove needs a road to Cold Bay for emergency medical access, yet conditions can make driving in Alaska dangerous and even impossible. Studies show that there are cheaper, safer, and more reliable ways to get people from King Cove to emergency medical care.

Truth is, proponents of the road have touted commercial and transportation interests since the 1980s. When meeting with the President recently, Alaska Governor Bill Walker alluded to the road as important to the movement of goods and people.

A huge Japanese seafood company operates a cannery in the area, along with businesses that support its operation.

Public land yard sale

To give public land away to commercial interests goes against the very purpose of ANILCA and the Refuge System. Congress passed ANILCA to preserve natural landscapes, wildlife, unaltered ecosystems, and wilderness areas.

A mob of brant in the Izembek lagoon area.

The entire Pacific population of black brant rely on Izembek’s eelgrass. Photo by Kristine Sowl, USFWS.

Zinke’s exchange agreement calls for giving away an irreplaceable corridor of land between lagoons on an isthmus that forms the heart of Izembek Refuge. No other land can replace it. The ecosystem and wildlife depend on it.

“If allowed to stand, this would be the first time that Wilderness is taken away from the American public with the stroke of one person’s pen,” said Katie Strong, senior staff attorney with Trustees. “It is shortsighted, unlawful, and contrary to the careful deal struck in ANILCA.”

The implications of trading public land for road would resonate

Unlawfully appropriating a vital part of a Refuge for a road would set a dangerous precedent.

As David Raskin, Ph.D., president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, put it, “If the bedrock laws designed to protect places like Izembek are progressively eroded, all of Alaska’s public lands are in jeopardy. These threats extend to all of our nation’s precious public lands and wild places.”

The Izembek isthmus is a narrow wetland area that makes up the heart of the refuge.

The Izembek isthmus makes up the heart of the refuge. Photo by Kristine Sowl, USFWS.

Today’s lawsuit aims to uphold the very laws put in place to preserve public lands and wilderness areas.

Parties to the lawsuit include Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges; Alaska Wilderness League; National Audubon Society; the Center for Biological Diversity; Defenders of Wildlife; the National Wildlife Refuge Association; Sierra Club; The Wilderness Society; and Wilderness Watch.

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