The Trump administration doesn’t want the law to get in the way of a public land giveaway.
Not long after the District Court tossed out an Interior Department land swap deal last March, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt executed a new deal without public knowledge or input. This time, the deal no longer limits use of the road to health, safety, and non-commercial purposes.
Like last time, though, the new land swap violates multiple laws, so we’re suing the Trump administration on behalf of nine clients for executing a new and terribly unimproved land swap deal aimed at bulldozing a road through the heart of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and its Wilderness.
As Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a press release, “Americans deserve better than to have government officials secretly trade away our sensitive refuge lands like Izembek.”
Profit is an endless road
Izembek is one of America’s most ecologically significant refuges.
Though the smallest of Alaska’s 16 refuges, Izembek’s wetlands nourish an incredible diversity of life, from brown bears, foxes, and northern sea otters, to migrating salmon, caribou, emperor geese, Steller’s eiders and virtually the entire world population of Pacific black brant. The birds migrate to communities around the world.
The vast majority of Izembek is also a congressionally-designated Wilderness and is internationally important for bird migration.
The proposed road would be built on a narrow isthmus that separates the Izembek and Kinzarof lagoons, which contain some of the largest eelgrass beds in the world, nourishing fish, birds, and marine animals.
For years, proponents of the road have claimed its purpose centered on health and safety concerns, despite repeated statements from state leaders that commercial fishing interests fueled interest in the road. A huge Japanese cannery operates in the area, along with businesses that support it.
There are and have been significant investments into health and safety solutions for King Cove that don’t involve an expensive and dangerous road through a wildlife refuge.
Peril for the entire Refuge System
Putting a road in Izembek would also set a precedent that threatens the entire Refuge and Wilderness Preservation System.
As Trustees intern Jenna Lewis wrote, “If the most ecologically significant portions of Izembek—a national wildlife refuge, designated Wilderness area, internationally recognized wetland, and vital bird habitat—can be traded away without any public or environmental review, how can we protect public lands at all?”
Congress passed ANILCA to preserve natural landscapes, wildlife, unaltered habitat, and designated wilderness areas. Interior’s effort to give an ecologically irreplaceable corridor of land between lagoons—a vital area of the isthmus forming the heart of the Izembek Refuge—to King Cove Corporation for a road is part of a larger drive to turn public lands into private profit.
What’s at stake is the integrity of the entire system of Wildlife Refuges, Wilderness, and public lands, and the public trust in Interior’s willingness to protect them.
See you in court, Interior.
The plaintiffs in today’s lawsuit include Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Watch.