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Denied Road Through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge Centers Around Birds

By Corey Allen-Young, Education Reporter, cyoung@ktuu.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 06:02:52 PM AKST
Updated On: Dec 24 2013 06:14:41 PM AKST
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -

It's the sights and sounds that make the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge one of the most unique wilderness areas in the world.

Besides salmon, wolf, fox, caribou, and brown bear, migratory birds like water fowl and Pacific black brant take a break here during their summer migrations.

It's a staging area that wilderness advocates say makes the difference between life and death. 

"Virtually the entire world population of Pacific black brant stop to feed and gather fat stores at Izembek. They feed on some of the largest eel grass beds in the world," said Tim Woody of The Wilderness Society. 

It's one reason why the environmental group applauded the Department of the Interior's decision Monday to not allow a road to pass through the refuge, despite years of lobbying for the road by residents of nearby King Cove.

"It isn't just that the species themselves are important, but it's the importance of the refuge to those species," said Woody. 

But King Cove residents said the federal government is inconsistent. 

"You've got skiffs over there riding through the eel grass beds that they're talking about, that are so special to the birds," said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack.

The government determined that Izembek is vital to a rich diversity of species, and that more long-term solutions are needed. Solutions that don't involve a road cutting through the refuge. 

Mack said there is already activity in the protected land. 

"They already have 40 some odd miles of road and trails that two or three thousand hunters come in on every year, guided hunts for bird hunting," he argued.

Woody said the Wilderness Society understands the frustration of King Cove residents, but insists they're focused on long term protection for all.

"The argument that we are putting birds in front of people is just false," he said.  "We are sympathetic to King Cove's needs for improved transportation and medical evacuation capacity. We just feel the road is not the best solution for that." 

Mack said he, and others in King Cove, disagree. "I've had to medevac two of my young grandchildren out in the last two years," he said. He argued that a road could help with those kind of emergencies.

It's an ongoing debate over a road that, for right now, is going nowhere. 

The Department of the Interior press secretary Jessica Kersaw wrote in a statement that "the birds are federally protected because they inhabit or stop over in a National Wildlife Refuge and wilderness, which constitutes federally protected lands and waters."

Unless otherwise specified, no motorized equipment or mechanical transport (with the exception of wheelchairs) is allowed on the refuge. 

A restriction that Kersaw said is generally true for all federal lands managed as designated wilderness.