According to the Washington Post, Interior Department secretary and frequent flyer Ryan Zinke has been conducting talks in secret about rolling back a ban on development in federal protected wildlife refuges.
Zinke is reportedly considering allowing the construction of a 12 mile road in the middle of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska that will connect to a small town of 925 people in the Aleutian Islands. But critics are rightfully worried that this would be just the beginning.
“If they can pull this off in Alaska, the entire Lower 48 is at risk,” said Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark, whose group obtained documents detailing Interior’s efforts under the Freedom of Information Act.
Those documents, primarily internal agency emails, reveal how much discussion is intentionally taking place out of public view as federal, state, local and tribal officials work to approve a land exchange. Were the targeted terrain owned by the King Cove Corporation, that would clear the way for construction through the refuge to join up roads on either side.
The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was created by President Eisenhower in 1960 and the small village has somehow managed to survive all this time without building a road through the middle of a sanctuary.
Now, local officials may be sincere in their want and need to build a road, but I am extremely skeptical that this fringe concern has drawn this kind of attention from Zinke for purely altruistic reasons.
It seems more plausible to me that Zinke's goal is to slowly chip away protections for federal wilderness across the entire country, not just for one small village. That would be consistent with Zinke's desire and recommendation to reduce the size and scope of our national monuments.