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By Sam Schipani

While the world was distracted by the government shutdown last Monday, Jan. 22, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke signed a land-swap agreement with the King Cove Native Corporation to trade 500 acres of federal land in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, on the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula, for tribal land of equal value. The land will be used to build a 20-mile gravel road connecting King Cove to the nearby city of Cold Bay for medical evacuations in poor weather, 11 miles of which will pass through the wildlife refuge.

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The main gate was blocked at Saguaro National Park as part of its semi-closed status during the shutdown. NPCA / Flickr

During the government shutdown, visitors to public lands encountered locked doors, deserted parks and ambiguous instructions.

The third weekend in January kicked off with a federal government shutdown. At least some Americans went ahead with their plans to visit national parks and other public lands, perhaps heartened by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's imprecise (yet exhaustively publicized) plan to keep them open.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Red fox at Kinzarof Lagoon, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. Kristine Sowl, USFWS / Flickr

The Interior Department has reached a deal with a remote Alaskan village to construct a controversial road through a national wildlife refuge.

Local officials from King Cove in the Aleutian Islands said last week that the Interior Department has approved a land swap that would allow the village to build a 12-mile gravel road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge that will connect the village to the nearby town of Cold Bay.

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Brant at Izembek Lagoon. Kristine Sowl / USFWS

Ryan Zinke's Interior Department is working behind the scenes to build a controversial and long-contested road through the heart of Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, documents show.

The refuge was established more than 30 years ago to conserve wetlands and habitats for migrating birds, brown bears and salmon and other wildlife. 300,000 of its 315,000 acres has been designated as Wilderness in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

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