WASHINGTON (March 19, 2014) – Defenders of Wildlife Senior Vice President for Conservation Programs, Donald Barry, cosigned a bipartisan letter  with three other former assistant secretaries for fish and wildlife and parks from the Department of the Interior, thanking Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell for making the right decision in December to reject a highly contentious and damaging road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, despite intense political pressure to allow it. Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski continues to fight for the road, but the four former assistant secretaries from the George W. Bush, Clinton, Ford and Nixon administrations agreed that Secretary Jewell’s decision to reject the road protected irreplaceable wetlands of both national and international significance. The proposed road had previously been rejected by Secretary Bruce Babbitt in 1998.
“Put bluntly, the Izembek road was a terrible idea in 1998, it was a terrible idea when you heroically rejected it last December, and it still remains a terrible idea today,” said the assistant secretaries in their letter to Secretary Jewell.
Barry and cosigners Nathaniel Reed, Lyle Laverty and George Frampton, Jr. reaffirmed their strong support of Secretary Jewell’s decision in their letter:
“Your courage and public lands conservation leadership on this issue has been critical, not only for maintaining the integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System but also for the future management of designated wilderness lands throughout the country. Your decision on Izembek was the correct one and we wanted to take this opportunity to tell you that. Thank you!”
The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is the smallest wildlife refuge in Alaska, but despite its small size, the refuge is of immense value to migratory waterfowl and is recognized internationally for the value and importance of its wetlands. A road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was strongly promoted by the late Senator Ted Stevens in the 1990’s but rejected by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt during the Clinton Administration. Instead of getting the road he wanted, Senator Stevens eventually agreed to a deal with Babbitt in 1998 that resulted in Congress spending more than $37 million to upgrade medical and transportation alternatives for the small Native community of King Cove, the ostensible beneficiaries of the road. The proponents of a road never gave up however, and resurrected the idea again during the start of the Obama administration, with strong backing from the Alaska Congressional delegation. Subsequently in 2009, Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a new assessment of the proposed road through designated wilderness lands in Izembek. As part of the Senate confirmation process for the new secretarial nominee for Interior, Sally Jewell, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, extracted a promise from the Obama administration that Secretary Jewell would visit the state before making a final decision under the 2009 Act about the proposed road. After visiting Izembek last summer, Secretary Jewell made her final decision rejecting the road in December of 2013. Not all Alaskan Natives support the construction of the road. The largest Alaska Native organization, the Association of Village Council Presidents, opposed the proposed road, which is more likely to function as an industrial fish-hauling road in summer than an emergency evacuation route in winter. In addition, a former Alaskan health director claimed the road would be a “death trap,” in winter, so dangerous that more people would die using it than would benefit from it.