For Immediate Release
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House Republicans Push to Dismantle Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
Legislative Hearing Is Part of Broad GOP Anti-public-lands Agenda
WASHINGTON - The House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a legislative hearing this afternoon on a bill introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) that would remove hundreds of acres from Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in order to construct a road across the refuge. The Interior Department has studied this issue exhaustively, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluding that the road would cause significant, long-term, irreparable damage to this internationally important fish and wildlife habitat and the wilderness values of the refuge.
“This public land giveaway would irreversibly harm the wildlife that call Izembek home,” said Randi Spivak, the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands director. “Building a road through this iconic and fragile wilderness is incredibly shortsighted and would deny future generations of Americans the opportunity to visit a unique, unspoiled wild refuge.”
Rep. Young’s H.R. 218 would carve out 206 acres from Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in exchange for low-quality state lands to build a detrimental road connecting the towns of King Cove and Cold Bay. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R- Alaska) has introduced a Senate companion bill, S. 101.
The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is a globally important area for millions of migrating birds as well as important habitat for grizzly bears and salmon. Congress designated virtually all of the refuge as a wilderness in 1980.
Young’s bill declares that this land swap is not a major federal action, thereby denying the public a right to have input into the bill.
“Rep. Young has a long history of trying to harm and dismantle America’s public lands,” Spivak said. “The majority of Americans support the protection and preservation of our public lands and the Izembek giveaway would harm one of the most valuable wetlands and wilderness areas in the world.”
The Center for Biological Diversity’s recent report Public Lands Enemies identified the top 15 members of Congress trying to seize, destroy, dismantle and privatize America’s public lands. Both Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Young were on the public lands enemies list, having sponsored or cosponsored 35 anti-public lands bills between them since 2011. These attacks on public lands continue, even though 9 out of 10 American voters across political parties rank as important the protection and maintenance of national parks, public lands and natural places, according to a 2016 poll.
The federal government has repeatedly studied a proposed land swap and road through the refuge, and consistently rejected the project because of its negative effects on the ecological resources and wilderness values of the refuge.
Izembek’s lagoon complex is a globally important ecosystem that contains one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world, providing food and habitat for fish and crabs that feed migratory birds from multiple continents. Virtually the entire world populations of Pacific black brant and emperor geese, and a significant portion of the threatened Steller’s eider population, visit the refuge to rest and feed during spring and fall migrations. The Department of the Interior determined that these birds would be particularly vulnerable to impacts from road construction and operation on the narrow isthmus. Furthermore, a road across the isthmus would have a major impact on brown bears and caribou.
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