President Joe Biden's administration canceled an agreement for a road to cut through the Alaskan Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to a vital airport, the Western Journal reported. The road would have allowed the city of King Cove access to food, medical supplies, and other necessities year-round.
The planned road would be a gravel cut-through rather than an intrusive traffic-jammed highway. The slight trade-off of a small stretch of disturbed wildlife is little to pay for access to an important hub for the people of King Cove.
Former President Donald Trump had granted land access through the preserve for the road's construction. It would have connected the southwestern Alaska city, with its large indigenous population, to an airport that can operate in all weather.
The project was supported by Native American advocacy groups, including the Alaska Federation of Natives and National Congress of American Indians as well as Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Those most impacted by this project have been heartily on board with it.
However, the project's cancellation announced Tuesday indicates that environmental groups got their way over the needs of the people of King Cove. The administration was able to do so using a procedural error with hopes of additional environmental impact assessments, thanks to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
"I am a lifelong conservationist, and I believe deeply in the need to protect our lands and waters and honor our obligations to Tribal Nations. Respecting Tribal sovereignty means ensuring that we are listening — really listening — to Tribal communities," Haaland claimed.
The Alaskan governor did not let her get away with this mixed message, however. "While Secretary Haaland claims that she wants to consider alternative land exchanges, that will push the entire process back to square one and place the lives of King Cove residents at risk today," Dunleavy told Fox News Tuesday.
"The fact is her decision to halt the land swap increases the likelihood that a resident in King Cove won’t be able to receive life-saving medical treatment in time due to bad weather at the village's airstrip." The airport that would be accessible with this road, Cold Bay, is in operation even during poor weather.
"The 11-mile road from King Cove to Cold Bay would connect residents in King Cove to an all-weather airport in Cold Bay and would save lives," Dunleavy explained. "It makes zero sense that Secretary Haaland would want to deprive Alaskans of the life-saving services the road would provide access to."
The project has been in the works for decades. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, proposals were rejected time and again. In each instance, the proposal was brought up again until the Alaska Native-owned King Cove Corp. appealed to Congress in 2009.
A formal review of the road was launched, but then-President Barack Obama rejected the proposal on the basis of its environmental impact, even as the people living there were crying out for it to go forward. Trump would finally sign two land agreements in 2018 to exchange King Cove Corp.'s land for the portion of the refuge where the road would go through.
The agreement was rejected in 2020 but the Trump administration prevailed through the powers of the Department of the Interior. However, a November 2022 federal court decision granted more time for environmental study.
"We are grateful the Ninth Circuit has chosen to rehear this case and reconsider a deeply flawed decision," Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO for Defenders of Wildlife, said at the time. "Defenders of Wildlife is optimistic that the court will ultimately reject this illegal land exchange and protect the irreplaceable wilderness and wildlife habitat of Izembek National Wildlife Refuge."
There is no reason to reject this project when the people most impacted by it are all in agreement that it is good and necessary. While wildlife is important, the lives of human beings are infinitely more valuable -- and they may be imperiled, thanks to the Biden administration.