Federal law preserves unique Alaskan and state lifestyle and culture
In a recent Op-Ed, Deborah Williams opines how a recent 9e US Circuit Court ruling allowed road construction on small portion of Izenbeck Wildlife Refuge [“Why Alaska’s land battle matters to the NW and beyond” June 9, Opinion].
It would appear that she has never read the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) or two recent United States Supreme Court unanimous decisions on the law.
The author is correct that ANILCA was historic legislation not only for Alaska, but for the entire nation. What the Op-Ed got wrong was the overall purpose of this legislation. The general objective of the law was summed up very well in Sturgeon v. U.S. Supreme Court Frost 2019.
The United States Supreme Court recognized that ANILCA was a great compromise between preserving much of Alaska for its environmental value as well as its economic and social needs. This was in fact the reasoning of the 9e Circuit used to overrule the lower court’s decision. Here 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 scenic, natural, cultural and environmental values on public lands in Alaska.’
“And second, to provide ‘an adequate opportunity for the satisfaction of the economic and social needs of the State of Alaska and its people.’ “
The proposed 12-mile route in question runs from the home village of King Cove to the much larger town of Cold Bay. King Cove does not have an all-weather airport, unlike Cold Bay. The purpose of the road is to allow residents of King Cove to be able to transport ill and injured residents to the all-weather accessible Cold Bay Airport.
Residents of King Cove view this road as a matter of life and death. Between 1980 and 1994, 12 people died during air medical evacuations en route from King Cove to Central Airport. The proposed road will save many lives for many years to come, and any potential damage to wildlife will be minimal for all but the wilderness purists.
9e Circuit had it all, because ANILCA wasn’t just about preserving Alaska’s natural beauty. It also aimed to preserve Alaska’s unique lifestyle and culture.