Native Alaskans and Biden Admin vs. Some ENGOs: More on the Izembek Road Case

This photo from the Rewilding Institute’s website is attributed to George Wuerthner who is a member of their Leadership Council

It’s interesting to watch how different ENGO’s look at different projects where Indigenous people have an interest one way or another. If you folow these issues, you have to be very careful as often the ENGO’s don’t mention in their press releases when they disagree with Native communities, but do mention them when their interests align. Of course, I don’t blame the ENGO’s, they are just marketing their points of view as best they can. It’s pretty much the reporters who have to ask the questions, and seek out information on Indigenous views.

Defenders of Wildlife is widely considered to be an ENGO with the ear of the current Administration (and some previous ones).

Here’s a piece from their website with nary a mention of who wants the road and why, only that the gravel road would be “commercial.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will revisit a decision that upheld a land exchange that would make way for a road that would run through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. On November 10, the court threw out the Trump-era decision and ordered a rehearing of the case.

Upon hearing the news, Defenders of Wildlife’s President and CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark released the following statement:

“We are grateful the Ninth Circuit has chosen to rehear this case and reconsider a deeply flawed decision. 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.”

Before the case went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, two Alaska District Court decisions rejected such an exchange. The Biden administration defended the Trump era land swap on appeal. A three judge Ninth Circuit panel ruled 2 to 1 in March that the Interior Secretary could use the land exchange provision of ANILCA to gut a National Wildlife Refuge and congressionally designated Wilderness Area without congressional approval. The panel also found that ANILCA’s purposes include providing economic benefits to the State and corporations within it, contrary to the law’s plain language explaining that it is intended to protect conservation and subsistence in Alaska.

That court’s decision upheld a land swap designed to make way for a commercial gravel road in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Law firm Trustees for Alaska filed a petition for rehearing en banc in April 2022 asking the entire Ninth Circuit Court to review the split court decision that threatens Izembek lands, waters and animals, and has dangerous and expansive implications for all public lands in Alaska.

Trustees for Alaska represents nine groups in the lawsuit including Defenders of Wildlife. They also represent Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, Alaska Wilderness League, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Wilderness Watch.

It’s interesting that many of these groups, known to be close with the Biden Admin, split with them on this issue.
The Rewilding Institute was more upfront about who wanted the road and why, and why Rewilding thinks they are wrong..

The Biden Administration, with the apparent support of Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, has sided with Alaskan Natives and the previous Trump Administration to approve the construction of a road through the designated wilderness of Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge….

Other Alaskan native groups support the land exchange, likely because they believe they could use the precedent to further their own economic interests.

I had never heard this one before, it’s a bit of an argument that the Native Alaskans are not negotiating in good faith..

The Aleut people living in the village of King Cove claim they need the road for medical emergencies so that injured people can readily access an all-weather runway in nearby Cold Bay, a former military base.

Currently, access to Cold Bay’s runway is by boat or from a smaller airstrip in King Cove. But in stormy weather, travel by any means, including by road, is often dangerous and difficult. This situation is by no means unique to King Cove. Many Alaskan villages are far from hospitals and infrastructure that many Americans take for granted.

However, many wilderness advocates believe the real reason for the road is to carry fish captured by the commercial fishing fleet in King Cove to planes in Cold Bay for rapid shipment to markets.

I appreciate (although don’t agree with) the consistency of this group.. they don’t seem to care whether people are Indigenous or not, we are all equally subordinate to their vision of economic development for communities that want it, or “access to the same infrastructure that many Americans” have as a bad thing.

Mostly we tend to think of this as a tendency of international ENGOs (we developed and used resources, but we think you shouldn’t, for environmental reasons) but apparently this is not an entirely international phenomenon.

2 thoughts on “Native Alaskans and Biden Admin vs. Some ENGOs: More on the Izembek Road Case”

  1. If Native Corporation own both ends of the road, and the road use agreement with USFWS ONLY allows use and maintenance for emergency medical, safety, life and death use and/or USFWS administrative use, opposition is based on ideology, not human rights and equality, equity, inclusiveness to protect and preserve Native Tribal health afforded the vast majority of US residents with lesser claims to free travel across public lands once Native occupied.

    In a word, environmental concerns must find compromise or the issue does become racist and discriminatory.

    Oregon has USFWS refuges built on eminent domain confiscated private farmland to serve waterfowl that marshals annually pre south migration on the lagoon. We can’t hunt them so Native Alaskan subsistence hunters can. I don’t wish them prohibited to either access to sustenance or prompt medical care.

  2. The point you’re making about how being “subordinate to their vision of economic development for communities that want it” needs a reality check.

    You and all the capitalist folk seem to love to pretend that we’re all created equal under capitalism and that everyone should have a right to so called ‘economic development’ no matter how harmful it is to the ecosystem.

    It’s as if you think it’s somehow disingenuous for virtuous environmentalists trying to protect the environment are not willing to be subordinate to indigenous people’s short-sided capitalist agenda. As if the 1st world destroying indigenous land for centuries wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t let them destroy their land too…

    Furthermore, us first world folks are all a product of centuries of colonization, genocide and theft of land from indigenous people who’s abundant resource base has always been our defacto resource base just because we were so quick to exhaust our own. This always comes at their expense and our benefit. The massive wealth of the first world was built up on this incredibly immoral and evil system. And as the logic goes, if you live in a wooden house than its wrong to oppose logging, right?

    For centuries all over the world, the indigenous people are only given rights to their stolen land if they’re willing to join in on the short-term capitalist cash grab of planetary destruction. But if the indigenous people say no to that destruction and don’t allow us or them to devour their territory we’ll kill off all the leaders who want their ecosystem protected until there’s nothing left but indigenous people who have endured so much loss that they’ll go along with furthering the capitalist liquidation because there’s no longer any other option.

    In this regard, I often think of the case studies I wrote of indigenous people in the tropical rainforests of Africa who can’t even afford a pair of boots, but nevertheless are setting choke in their bare feet from dawn till dusk because helping them log their former tribe’s forest is the only way they can earn 1/2 a meal for their starving child for barely a day.

    And all these atrocities are so easy for you and your ilk to overlook because you’re so eager to make sure us eco-advocates for a living planet of functional ecosystems and abundant resources are portrayed as immoral and misguided because we won’t let indigenous people do the same kind of destruction that you consider normal economic development. If that ain’t the pot calling the kettle black I don’t know what is…


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