May 22, 2012

Defenders’ members and supporters submitted more than 40,000 public comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week, voicing opposition to a proposed land swap and road through the ecological heart of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

It’s one of Alaska’s most diverse refuges, with lagoons, tundra and stunning mountain peaks. This incredible habitat is home to brown bears, wolverines, caribou and other wildlife.

Tens of thousands of waterfowl, seabirds and shorebirds rely on the Izembek Refuge for nesting and feeding. In fact, each fall the refuge shelters nearly the entire population of Pacific black brant and emperor geese.

But the community of King Cove (population 938) wants to build a road through federally protected Wilderness lands within the refuge that would put this wondrous place at risk.

In exchange for some $38 million in federal funding to modernize medical facilities and to develop a marine transportation system (including a $9-million hovercraft for emergency medical evacuation), community officials in 1998 had agreed to leave Izembek alone.

A land swap and road proposal threaten the Izembek Nation Wildlife Refuge.

Now the town is backtracking on its promise and vigorously lobbying federal officials and the Fish and Wildlife Service to approve the precedent-setting land swap that would clear the way for this unnecessary, destructive road.

Community representatives claim it would improve emergency access to a nearby airport in Cold Bay, Alaska, but experts estimate that it would take some two hours to reach the airport traveling by road versus approximately 20 minutes by hovercraft, which has successfully performed more than 30 evacuations since 2007.

While a final decision is likely to still be months off, it will be difficult for federal officials to ignore such widespread opposition to the proposal.

A huge thanks on behalf of Izembek’s wild ones goes out to all of you who spoke out against the road.

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