Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 31, 2018

Contacts:  Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, (310) 779-4894,
Katie Strong, Trustees for Alaska, (907) 433-2008,

Lawsuit Targets Trump Administration Plan to Bulldoze Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today to prevent a land swap that would allow construction of a road through the heart of Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Izembek is one of America’s most ecologically significant wildlife refuges, home to world-class wetlands that support millions of migrating birds, as well as bears, caribou and salmon.

The lawsuit aims to stop the administration from trading up to 500 acres of this globally important wildlife refuge for lands owned by Alaska’s King Cove Corporation. Trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit law firm, is representing the conservation groups. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke approved the land swap during a signing ceremony Jan. 22; the swap is the latest example of the Trump administration’s unprecedented attack on public lands.

“Izembek is one of the most important wildlife refuges on the planet. A road would do irreparable damage that no land swap could begin to heal,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unleashing the bulldozers on this incredible place would destroy vital feeding grounds for millions of migrating birds from three continents. Impartial experts have repeatedly rejected this destructive project, for good reason.”

Today’s suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, charges that the land exchange violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act by failing to protect this important wildlife area. Building a road through the refuge would do the opposite of what the act intended because the project would harm wildlife and destroy congressionally designated wilderness. In addition to the Center, Trustees for Alaska is representing Wilderness Watch, Defenders of Wildlife, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Alaska Wilderness League and Sierra Club.

Under past administrations the Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service repeatedly concluded that building a road through the Izembek refuge would cause significant, irreparable damage to the area’s extensive fish and wildlife habitats. Izembek contains one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world, providing vital feeding grounds for migratory birds from multiple continents. Past administrations have also determined the road through the refuge was not in the public interest.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) have championed the land swap, claiming the road is needed for medical transport. However, driving across the refuge on the proposed road from King Cove to Cold Bay would take significantly longer than taking a boat or plane. During the frequent severe weather and violent storms, the road would be impassable and dangerous. An Army Corps of Engineers assessment concluded that marine transport via ferry is the most dependable mode of transportation, reliable more than 99 percent of the time.

“Every president since Eisenhower has protected Izembek, until the Trump administration,” said Spivak. “There are other, safer options to address King Cove’s needs. Trump and Zinke have repeatedly ignored these options in favor of narrow political interests. It’s another example of their relentless attack on public lands.”

The Interior Department determined that birds in the refuge would be particularly vulnerable to impacts from road construction and traffic on the narrow isthmus. A road across the isthmus would also harm brown bears and caribou by opening the area to motor vehicles and more people.

Earlier reasons for building a road through Izembek included transporting commercial seafood. The land swap agreement will allow small seafood operations to use the road.

Polls show Americans want public lands protected, but instead the Trump administration has declared war on public lands. Trump has proposed the largest rollback of public lands protections in history by gutting two national monuments, and has worked to open millions of acres of pristine public lands and oceans to oil and gas drilling.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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