This road would have set a devastating precedent for the future wellbeing of all of our country's wildlife refuges and designated wilderness.
Since August, we at Defenders of Wildlife have been waiting to hear the news. Would Secretary Jewell make the right decision, would she listen to her own Fish and Wildlife Service; to the largest Alaska Native organization, the Association of Village Council Presidents; to Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups; to her gut - or would she fail to protect one of our country's treasured and vital national wildlife refuges?
Now we know - she took the right choice. There will be no road!
Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is home to world-renowned, irreplaceable habitat, internationally significant wetlands and wilderness critical to a diverse array of wildlife species including five species of salmon, wolves, foxes, wolverines, caribou, moose, brown bears, shorebirds and seabirds, and marine mammals, including many threatened species.
In essence, Izembek is such a special place that the American public long ago deemed it critical to permanently protect. However, the real permanency of this protection was called into question when residents of a nearby village proposed building a road straight through the biological heart of the refuge.
The Aighleen Pinnacles in Izembek NWR (©John Sarvis/USFWS)
Building a road through Izembek would not only have impacted the refuge and the many species that depend on it, but would have set a devastating precedent for the future wellbeing of all of our country's wildlife refuges and designated wilderness.
Thankfully, we have another reason to celebrate in this season of cheer. As Defenders and others consistently urged her to do, Secretary Jewell made the right decision - she will not allow the road to tear through some of the most ecologically sensitive land in our nation.
Izembek was established in 1960 to protect some of the most distinctive and important wetlands in the world, and is home to an abundance of wildlife, including 98% of the world's population of Pacific black brant (a sea bird), as well as grizzly bear, caribou, and salmon.
The proposed road would bisect refuge and designated wilderness lands in order to connect the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay, crossing sensitive wetlands as well as steep slopes prone to avalanches. Numerous studies - by the federal government, the state of Alaska and wildlife experts - have concluded since the 1980s that a road through Izembek would permanently and significantly damage the wilderness and wildlife habitat value of the refuge.
Furthermore, the road would set a dangerous precedent of sacrificing our nation's protected wilderness national wildlife refuges for indefensible development projects.
In the final EIS for the project, which was released earlier this year and firmly advised refusal, the Service determined that the road would cause huge damage and require the construction of eight bridges, 19 culverts and 254 stream crossings.
Yet proponents of the road continued to push for its approval, saying that the road is a public health necessity for King Cove. Ironically, the village of King Cove had previously been provided with a $9 million all-weather hovercraft to cross the bay in medical emergencies to the air strip at Cold Bay, but the community ultimately gave the hovercraft away!
Courtney Sexton is Communications Associate with Defenders of Wildlife and Isabel Ricker is their Landscape Conservation Coordinator.
See the original blog at http://www.defendersblog.org/2013/12/will-road-ruin-izembek/.