In a recent Op-Ed, Deborah Williams opines how terrible a recent 9th The US Circuit Court decision was that it allowed a road to be built across a small portion of the Izenbeck Wildlife Refuge [“Why Alaska’s land battle matters to the NW and beyond” June 9, Opinion].
It would seem she never read the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) or two recent unanimous US Supreme Court decisions on the act.
The author is correct hat ANILCA was landmark legislation not only for Alaska but the entire nation. What the Op-Ed got wrong was the overall purpose of this legislation. The act’s overall purpose was summarized in the US Supreme Court’s Sturgeon v. Frost 2019 decision very well.
The US Supreme Court acknowledged ANILCA was a grand compromise between preserving much of Alaska for its environmental value as well as its economic and social needs. That was in fact the reasoning the 9th Circuit used to overturn the lower court’s decision. The following is a quote from that Supreme Court decision when it wrote about the purpose of ANILCA:
“First, to provide ‘sufficient protection for the national interest in the scenic, natural, cultural and environmental values on the public lands in Alaska.’
“And second, to provide ‘adequate opportunity for satisfaction of the economic and social needs of the State of Alaska and its people.’ “
The proposed 12-mile road in question is from the native village of King Cove to the much larger town of Cold Bay. King Cove doesn’t have an all-weather airport while Cold Bay does. The purpose of the road is to allow King Cove residents to be able to transport ill and injured residents to the all-weather Cold Bay airport.
King Cove residents consider this road as a life-and-death matter. Between 1980 and 1994, 12 people died during aerial medical evacuations en route flying from King Cove to the hub airport. The proposed road will save many lives over many years, and any potential harm to wildlife will be minimal to all except wilderness purists.
The 9th Circuit got it completely right, since ANILCA wasn’t just to preserve the natural beauty of Alaska. It was also meant to preserve Alaska’s unique lifestyle and culture.