The U.S. Department of Interior: Putting animals before people, one scandalously rejected infrastructure project at a time

I often lament the fact that the federal government currently owns and controls almost a third of the surface area of the United States, and that the federal agencies charged with the stewardship of these areas have over the decades succumbed to the considerable lobbying-and-litigating powers of environmentalist groups determined to impose their misbegotten and dastardly land-use policies onto ever-encroaching swaths of the American landscape. These radical and so-called conservationists have managed to prevent anything and everything from fire suppression activities to recreation to energy and commercial development — usually under the guise of protecting some sort of almost-threatened species — doing loads of damage to the environment in the process as well as systematically squeezing rural communities and economies.

This is a painfully excellent example of that. Via the Anchorage Daily News:

A group of Alaska native tribes, corporations and city and borough governments representing residents of King Cove has filed a lawsuit in federal court in an attempt to get judges to do what U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has so far refused to do: allow a road to nearby Cold Bay.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Juneau, asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska to prevent Jewell and the Department of the Interior from stopping the road, which would be extended by 11 miles to allow residents of King Cove, in Southwest Alaska, better access to the all-weather airstrip at Cold Bay, about 19 miles away.

Jewell said in December 2013 that she wouldn’t allow the road, even though it had been approved by Congress and included a land swap that would have given the nearby Izembek National Widlife refuge 60,000 acres of land for about 200 acres of road access. …

Jewell has said that the road would impose on eel grass beds — favorite nesting beds for Pacific black brant and emperor geese. Jewell said she wanted the King Cove villagers to come up with alternatives to building a road.

So… Jewell wants to protect the “favorite nesting beds” of some birds, which, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service‘s own definition, “breed over an extensive range in Alaska, Arctic Canada and Russia”? That’s certainly interesting. Let’s compare that to the King Cove residents’ justification for wanting to build a road through this apparently treasured wildlife refuge in the middle of a state that is basically one giant wildlife refuge itself.

King Cove only has a small medicine clinic that can’t handle major medical emergencies, and they only have one airstrip that can’t handle jets or takeoffs and landings at night or in poor weather. The weather is often poor in King Cove, Alaska, meaning that with all of the wind and fog, medical evacuations for sick and/or injured residents are basically impossible. King Cove would like to build this 11-mile road to connect them to another town with a better airstrip, which Congress has approved and for which they have offered a more than fair 60,000 acres of land in return, but the U.S. Department of Interior keeps denying their request and wants them to “come up with alternatives to building a road.” So far, they have already tried boat as well as hovercraft connections between the two towns, to no avail.

Yes, this is real life.

Just take a look at the Department of Interior’s official announcement last December denying King Cove the road access through the refuge:

WASHINGTON, DC – As directed by Congress in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today concluded a four-year analysis, and issued a decision supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s preferred alternative to decline a proposed land exchange with the State of Alaska and prevent construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which was first established in the 1960s.

The nearly four-year analysis on the effects of the proposed land exchange, including the impact a road would have on Izembek’s vital ecology and congressionally-designated wilderness helped to inform the Secretary’s decision. In addition, a personal visit to the Refuge and the King Cove and Cold Bay communities as well as a report from the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs regarding the medical evacuation benefits of the proposed road were considered.

Got that? The U.S. Department of Interior is spending your tax dollars doing a four-year environmental impact review of a proposed 11-mile road that can save human lives, simultaneously forcing King Cove residents to spend their own time and resources to come up with alternatives.

Why, why, why is any of this up to the grossly unjust and ideological whimsy of the federal bureaucracy rather than the state of Alaska?