Trip precedes final announcement on proposed “road to ruin” through the refuge
WASHINGTON (August 29, 2013) – Sally Jewell makes her first trip to Alaska as Secretary of the Interior this week, and will visit some of the state’s most wild and special places, including the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The secretary will likely make an announcement by year’s end that will determine the fate of this and other of Alaska’s irreplaceable wilderness lands, and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is continuing to push the proposal to build a costly, unnecessary road that would bisect the biological heart of Izembek.
The following is a statement from Jamie Rappaport Clark, President of Defenders of Wildlife:
“Having just returned from Alaska myself, I am once again humbled by the vast diversity of wildlife, including numerous threatened and endangered species, supported by the unique ecology of the state, especially in protected areas of critically important habitat like the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. My hope is that on her trip Secretary Jewell is awed by this as well, and realizes that approving a road through Izembek would be approving a road to ruin.
“Bulldozing a road through world renowned wetlands critical to thousands of migrating birds and fragmenting fragile, irreplaceable habitat would be like paving a road through a grove of sequoia trees in Yosemite National Park. The proposed road in Izembek would be unjustifiably costly and difficult to maintain, and would set a dangerous precedent for allowing destructive roads through wildlife refuges and designated wilderness lands throughout the country.
“This is not, as Senator Murkowski and supporters of the road now claim, an issue of safety. By the end of 2013, taxpayers will have spent over $52,000 for every citizen in King Cove to ensure the wellbeing and accessibility of that community. This is an issue of special interests coming before the interests of the American public who have identified Izembek as a place so special that it should be permanently protected from development.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already gone through an extensive evaluation of the proposal and rejected the road and accompanying land exchange. We hope that Secretary Jewell’s Izembek visit will inspire her to make an announcement ultimately supporting her agency’s determination not to destroy wetlands of international importance or walk away from our nation’s laws protecting wildlife refuges and wilderness.”
In exchange for the confirmation of the new Secretary of the Interior, the Obama administration promised Senator Lisa Murkowski that Secretary Jewell would visit the state before making a final announcement about a proposed road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to a diverse array of wildlife species and migratory birds, including five species of salmon, wolves, foxes, wolverines, caribou, moose, brown bears, shorebirds and seabirds. Despite a $37.5 million deal it made with Congress in 1998 for improved local health facilities and easier access to additional medical care, the community of King Cove in the Aleutian Islands continues to press for a road through internationally important wetlands in the refuge. The village of fewer than 1,000 residents used the previously provided federal funds to upgrade medical facilities and purchase a $9 million state-of-the-art hovercraft for emergency evacuations in exchange for leaving the sensitive wetlands intact, which they then gave away after it had performed more than 30 successful medical evacuations. The largest Alaska Native organization, the Association of Village Council Presidents, opposes the proposed road, which is more likely to function as an industrial fish-hauling road in summer than an emergency evacuation route in winter. A former Alaskan health director claimed the road would be a “death trap,” in winter, so dangerous more people would die using it than would benefit from it.
Contact: Courtney Sexton, Defenders of Wildlife, 202-772-0253; firstname.lastname@example.org 
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  and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews .