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Trump Administration Approves Land Swap to Bulldoze Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Trump administration will approve a land swap today to allow construction of a road through the heart of one of the world’s most ecologically significant wildlife refuges. The Interior Department will exchange roughly 200 acres of Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge for King Cove Corporation lands, reversing decisions made by former administrations that the trade would cause irreparable harm to Izembek’s ecosystem and wildlife.

Izembek is home to world-class wetlands that support millions of migrating birds as well as grizzly bears, caribou and salmon. Identifying and appraising lands involved in the trade is expected to take months, and conservation groups plan to sue to stop the land swap.

“The Trump administration did an end run around Congress because lawmakers wouldn’t approve this horribly destructive land swap,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This dirty deal sets a dangerous precedent for privatizing public lands and endangers one of our planet’s most important wildlife refuges. And it won’t make residents there any safer.”

Under previous administrations the Interior Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that building a road through the Izembek refuge would cause significant, irreparable damage to 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 that bulldozing a road through the refuge was not in the public interest.

“You can’t make a fair trade for this kind of wilderness, because there’s nothing else like it,” Spivak said. “This land swap violates the purpose of the refuge. It will devastate wildlife and destroy congressionally designated wilderness. There are other, safer options for King Cove residents.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) have championed the land swap, claiming the road is needed for medical transport. But driving across the refuge on the proposed road from King Cove to Cold Bay would take significantly longer than taking a boat or a plane. During frequent severe weather and violent storms, the road would be impassable. 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.

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