We stopped the giveaway of public lands in Izembek. Again.

The Interior Department tried twice to make corrupt and illegal side deals to put a road in a wildlife refuge and wilderness for commercial interests—and we stopped it in court both times.

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.

We didn’t just win, but we won in huge and important ways.

The federal District Court decision agreed with us that Interior cannot use the land exchange provision of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to gut a National Wildlife Refuge and congressionally-designated Wilderness Area.

The court further saw through Interior’s claim that the land swap wasn’t about a road and made it clear that the Secretary of the Interior can’t avoid the legal requirements related to road construction on protected lands by saying the land swap doesn’t authorize a road.

The court further ruled that the Interior secretary failed miserably at justifying the land swap in any way, and that the Secretary was unable to ignore the agency’s prior analysis that a road would cause significant harm to the ecological integrity of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

 Dodging the law to try to strip protections

Repeated attempts to break the law to benefit private interests demonstrates this administration’s intent to ignore the law whenever it chooses and for whatever political or other benefits it seeks. Both attempts at a land deal circumvented public process, environmental review, and congressional approval.

Izembek nourishes millions of migrating birds.

“Interior’s continued and failed attempts to dodge the laws mandating protections of our National Wildlife Refuges is an insult to the American public,” said Bridget Psarianos, staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska in a press statement. “We are thrilled the Court rejected this corrupt and illegal land exchange, finding that it is contrary to the purposes of Izembek and ANILCA, and that such an exchange could not be done without Congressional approval. We hope this is last time we need to ask a Court to reject such an exchange.”

Interior’s previous land swap deal, nearly identical to the one vacated by the court this week, was voided by a court ruling in March 2019. The second land swap deal violated the same laws as the first, but would have been even more damaging by allowing commercial use of any future road.

Trustees for Alaska filed the lawsuit in January 2020 on behalf of nine conservation organizations.

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