Izembek National Wildlife Refuge  

  • Size: 315,000 acres
  • Established: 1960

Izembek is the smallest national wildlife refuge in Alaska, but its ecological importance far exceeds its modest size. The Refuge wraps around Izembek Lagoon, a huge open-air restaurant for waterfowl. Thirty miles long, five miles wide, the lagoon has the continent’s largest eelgrass beds. The lagoon and surrounding lands support vulnerable bird species, including Pacific black brant, emperor geese, and Steller’s eiders.

Izembek has seen a long-running battle over whether to build a road through its designated wilderness area. The small fishing community of King Cove would like year-round road access to the all-weather jet runway in nearby Cold Bay. Building a road through such wet terrain will disrupt the hydrology of the area and the new traffic would disturb nearby waterfowl and birds.

In 2009, Congress authorized a complicated land swap to clear the way for the road, provided the US Secretary of the Interior finds that the road is in the public interest. There’s still hope to stop this invasion on some of North America’s most important bird habitat. See an updated report.

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