"Road to Ruin"


WASHINGTON — King Cove, an Alaskan fishing village on the fringe of the Bering Sea, seems an unlikely place to fire the opening shots against the integrity of our nation’s parks, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges. But there a new environmental war has begun.p. Two powerful Congressmen from Alaska, Senator Frank Murkowski and Representative Don Young, wantto blast a road straight through the core of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness. The road would cost from $26 million to $40 million. The sacrifice of habitat for millions of migrating waterfowl — all remaining emperor geese, many threatened Stellar’s eiders, tundra swans and the entire Pacific brant population – is incalculable.p. Unfortunately, this attempt to bulldoze a wildlife refuge cannot be debated fairly because it is not contained in its own bill, but tacked on as a rider to the Interior Department’s appropriations bill — a trick used to slip offensive measures through the back door.p. Should the Congressmen succeed, and they plan a vote this month with the support of the Republican leadership, they will have driven a stake through the heart of wild places everywhere.p. Why are the Congressmen so intent on having their road? Their ostensible reason is “health and safety.” They point out that King Cove, like hundreds of small Alaskan villages, currently has no doctor. In emergencies patients must be flown by bush plane across the inlet to the airport at Cold Bay. Winter storms and high winds can make the strip unsafe. All true.p. Yet development advocates, led by Mr. Murkowski and Mr. Young, are claiming that their $40 million gravel road around the bay — and straight through the breeding areas of grizzlies, salmon and waterfowl — is the only solution.p. It isn’t, of course. And they know it. Right now there are two existing all-weather routes into Cold Bay, one by air and one by water.p. The Coast Guard already has an evacuation helicopter on Kodiak Island that might be used. If a second helicopter were needed it would cost a lot less than $40 million. And for the price of one road, which might be closed by snow and ice in winter, the town could own and operate an entire fleet of all-weather boats.p. Don’t take my word for it.p. In 1994 Alaska’s own Department of Transportation issued a study ranking the air and water routes as safer and less expensive than a road.p. Or ask native Alaskans. An assembly of 56 native villages in western Alaska recently passed a resolution against the road because it would threaten their subsistence culture, which depends on the migratory birds and salmon runs in the refuge. A petition revealed that a majority of the people in Cold Bay are also against the road and favor some alternative.p. So what’s the real reason for the big push? Senator Murkowski and Representative Young know they would be setting a far-reaching precedent. The road would be the first ever authorized by Congress in a wilderness area in the 24-year history of the Wilderness Act. This would have long-term consequences for every national park, refuge and wilderness.p. The same Congressmen, the powerful chairmen of the natural resources committees in the Senate and the House, have ordered — in a rider attached to the Federal transportation bill — a study of a new road through the pristine landscape of Denali National Park. Meanwhile, oil companies are waiting in the wings to crisscross the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with drilling roads.p. If the Congressmen can get away with this, your favorite park may be next. Theodore Roosevelt, founder of our National Refuges System, once said that “it is entirely in our power as a nation to preserve large tracts of wilderness.” And it is entirely in our power to protect them. Forever.p. Bruce Babbitt is Secretary of the Interior.

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