Groups Slam Zinke's 'Backroom Deals' to Build Road Through Alaskan Wildlife Refuge
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.
The proposed 11-mile road would essentially bisect Izembek to connect the towns of King Cove, population 989, and Cold Bay. Proponents, including Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, say the road is needed for medical emergency evacuations, as King Cove's airport is inaccessible during inclement weather, forcing residents to use boats or helicopters.
But refuge advocates fear the road would disrupt critical wildlife habitat and set a precedent to open wildlife refuges, national monuments, wilderness areas and other public lands to economic development.
The Center for Biological Diversity, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and other environmental organizations have also warned that the project is about "privatizing public lands for profit from a seafood venture."
The Obama administration shelved the King Cove road project years ago after then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell decided after a 2013 visit to the refuge that building a road would "cause irreversible damage not only to the Refuge itself, but to the wildlife that depend on it."
In June, however, Zinke's Interior department issued the state permission to survey a route for the road. Then in July, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to authorize a land swap between Alaska and the federal government to build the one-lane road. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R- Alaska), who has long fought for the road, introduced a Senate version of the bill that is still pending.
Now, a new report from the Washington Post suggests that the Trump administration is making the issue a top priority and has taken steps to hide discussions from the public.
According to the Post's report:
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 documents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service make clear that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has elevated the issue to one of the agency's top priorities, and his appointees have taken deliberate steps to conceal the plan from the public.
At one point, a refuge official relayed his conversation with a department attorney about questions Zinke raised over public review of agency action related to Alaska's survey of a possible road through Izembek.
"He indicated the Secretary would like to see folks on the ground doing the survey in the next couple of days," the official emailed colleagues. "He did not seem to [sic] excited about the direction that it was going out for public comment."
The documents were obtained by Defenders of Wildlife under the Freedom of Information Act.
"These records expose yet another of Secretary Zinke's secretive, backroom deals to sell off and sell out our public lands and wildlife," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. "We will not stand by and watch while some of the most important wildlife habitat on the planet is sacrificed for surreptitious commercial interests. If this proposal, which reflects a terrible abuse of power, is successful in Izembek, then none of our public lands, waters and wildlife will be safe."
“This is an appalling move by the Trump administration to bypass the public process and cut a sneaky, backroom deal that not only would harm Izembek Refuge, but will threaten all of our nation's refuges, public lands, and many of our bedrock environmental laws," Whittington-Evans said. "This proposed road is an economic-development project for the community of King Cove, and taxpayers should be outraged at this secretive attempt to gut a globally important wildlife refuge—which belongs to all Americans—by transferring public lands to private ownership."
“The Izembek land exchange and road proposal have been considered many times—most recently through an exhaustive, scientific study by the U.S. Interior Department, which determined that the road should not be built and that it would harm the very species the refuge was established to protect," Whittington-Evans added.
“The Army Corps of Engineers in 2015 issued a report emphasizing that several alternatives to a road would effectively meet the emergency needs of King Cove residents. If this were about medical evacuations, as road proponents claim, the government should be talking about other options that would result in faster and more reliable transportation, instead of conspiring to strip protections from the Izembek refuge."
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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