Today the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a preferred alternative that protects globally important wildlife habitat in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
“This decision is a victory for sound science and recognizes the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge’s critical role,” said Nils Warnock, Executive Director of Audubon Alaska. “Izembek is an irreplaceable globally important area for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. Audubon has long supported a marine transportation route that would address the safety needs of the communities while keeping the refuge intact.”
The agency’s “no action” alternative determined that a proposal to build a road through Wilderness for the remote villages of Cold Bay and King Cove, Alaska, would harm the refuge and the wildlife there.
The proposed road would have cut through the biological heart of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Izembek's cold-water lagoons and internationally significant wetlands are critically-important resting places for migrating birds of many species. Virtually all of the world's Pacific Brant and more than half of the Emperor Geese stop at Izembek to feed and rest.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized that the proposed land exchange would not offer comparable habitat for the internationally significant wildlife populations. It would be like substituting a hardware store for a grocery store—the hardware store might be bigger, but you can’t get the food that you need. Many of the avian species using Izembek—including Dunlin, Brant and Steller’s Eider— are recognized on Audubon’s Alaska WatchList of declining and vulnerable bird populations.
The agency’s statement also shows it is willing to further address the health and safety transportation needs of the local communities in alternative ways. Congress already addressed transportation needs for the two villages in 1998, with $37.5 million in taxpayer dollars appropriated to update a medical clinic and provide transportation.
Selecting this preferred alternative shows the US Fish and Wildlife Service upholds the purpose and intent of both the globally important Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness lands across the nation.