Congress protects 2 million acres, but opens door to unnecessary road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska

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Senate public lands omnibus bill cleared by the House

(03/25/2009) - WASHINGTON—Congress has enacted legislation aimed at protecting nearly 2 million acres of wilderness and other public lands in nine states. Clearing its latest hurdle today, the omnibus public lands bill H.R. 146 was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and is expected to be signed by President Obama.

As the largest public lands package signed by Congress in over a decade, the legislation contains over 160 smaller bills, including measures that will designate new wilderness, protect rivers and streams, and recognize the importance of Bureau of Land Management lands to conservation by codifying the National Landscape Conservation System.

However, the legislation also includes a harmful provision that clears the way for a road to be built through the heart of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

“We fully support protecting these important lands, but it's a bitter price to pay for conservation to strip one area of wilderness protection while giving protections to others,” said Noah Kahn, the refuge program manager for Defenders of Wildlife. “The Izembek road provision undercuts every protected wilderness in the country. Stripping this conservation protection for reckless purposes sets an irresponsible precedent.” 

Conservation groups have opposed the proposal to remove wilderness protection in the federal refuge for the road in exchange for state lands near the refuge. The groups contend that the land swap would divide and irreparably scar the globally significant wetlands, lagoons and wilderness in the Izembek refuge for an unnecessary road connecting the tiny villages of King Cove and Cold Bay.  

Learn more about what Defenders is doing to help wildlife refuges.

U.S. taxpayers provided a safe, reliable transportation system to the King Cove community in 1998, a $37.5 million congressionally approved package that provided the community with modern medical facilities, a connecting road from the village to a new marine terminal, and a state-of-the-art $9 million seaworthy hovercraft capable of transporting an ambulance to Cold Bay in as few as 20 minutes and is even operational during the winter.

H.R 146 does not close the road deal outright but puts the decision in the hands of the Department of the Interior, requiring Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to evaluate the environmental impacts of the proposal and to determine if the road should be built. Federal law currently bans road construction in designated wilderness areas.

“The Izembek road proposal should have never been included in this bill,” Kahn said. “Allowing an unnecessary road to slice through these pristine wetlands defeats the very purpose of the refuge, to provide a haven for wildlife. We will continue to work with the Interior Department to keep the Izembek refuge intact.”

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Background

    The legislation will:
  • Designate over 2 million acres of wilderness in nine different States.
  • Establish three new units of the National Park System, a new national monument, and three new national conservation areas.
  • Codify the Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America historic preservation programs.
  • Designate over 1,000 miles of new additions to the national wild and scenic river system
  • Protect 1.2 million acres of the Wyoming range.
  • Designates four new national scenic or national historic trails, enlarges the boundaries of several existing units of the National Park System
  • Establish 10 new national heritage areas.
  • Establish in law the Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System and the collection of national monuments and conservation areas that are administered by the BLM.
  • Authorize numerous land exchanges and conveyances to help local communities throughout the West.
  • Improve land management through the Forest Landscape Restoration Act which will facilitate collaborative landscape-scale restoration to help reduce fire risk and fire costs and provide new forest product jobs.
  • Through 30 separate bills, have an unprecedented positive impact in helping address critical water resource needs on both the local and national level.
  • Authorize a range of studies to assist several communities conduct in depth reviews of local water supplies and evaluate the best ways to meet their future water challenges.
  • Through 18 specific authorizations for local and regional projects that enhance water use efficiencies, address infrastructure that is in disrepair, that provide a sustainable supply of water to rural communities, and conserve water to promote environmental health and alleviate conflicts that arise under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Ratify three extremely important water settlements in the States of California, Nevada, and New Mexico.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org.

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Contact(s):

James Navarro, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0247

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