The State of Alaska and the City of King Cove appealed a District Court ruling upholding the Secretary of the Interior’s decision to protect the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The court decided that the Secretary’s decision followed the law. It also found that she considered all of the necessary issues when she said no to a proposed road and yes to protecting Izembek. The Izembek appeal is now in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Izembek Refuge protects an internationally important wetlands area for millions of migratory waterfowl and much of it is Wilderness. Wilderness is the strongest protection given to public land. King Cove and the State want to have land removed from Wilderness status to build a road—the very antithesis of Wilderness. After a robust public process, the Secretary chose to keep Izembek wild, and rejected the proposed road. King Cove and the State challenged that decision in district court.
Trustees for Alaska represents eight conservation groups in the case to defend the Secretary’s decision to protect Wilderness. We recently filed our legal brief, responding to arguments made by King Cove and the State. The next steps in the Izembek appeal case include King Cove and the State filing a final brief and then there will be oral argument before the court makes its decision.
The Izembek Appeal is Complicated
King Cove is a small village nestled between the sea and the mountainous landscape of the Alaska Peninsula. It has a deep water port used by the seafood industry. It also has an airport. But because it’s surrounded by mountains, the airport is small and not usable during storms or periods of fog. Across the bay is the tiny town of Cold Bay, located on a flat stretch of land. It has a larger, more reliable airport. The trouble is how to get from King Cove to Cold Bay in periods of bad weather for medical emergencies. The State and King Cove claim the road is needed for emergency medical evacuations. But study after study has shown that a road would be less reliable, slower, and more expensive than other options.
If King Cove and the State succeed in forcing Izembek Refuge Wilderness land to be de-designated, it would be the first time land is removed from the Wilderness system to build a road. The Department of the Interior found that a road would cause significant long-term, ongoing and irreparable damage to wilderness values, but also to the Refuge’s fish and internationally significant wildlife habitat.
Clients: Audubon Alaska, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch
Attorneys: Katie Strong, Brook Brisson