By Rich Moniak
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is being asked to approve building an 11-mile, single lane road across the 500 square mile Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. It would give residents of King Cove a land bridge to Cold Bay. David Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges, argues that having “a small community like that reap horrible damage on one of the jewels of the refuge system would be a travesty, and a terrible blow to the American people.”
In 2014, after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell opted not to permit construction of the road, Wesley J. Smith responded with a National Review article titled “The Obama Administration’s War on Humans.”
Both statements are worse than trash talk. Instead of being aimed at demoralizing athletes on an opposing team, it’s language bordering on dehumanizing the political opposition.
Last week, Haaland was in King Cove to listen to residents make their case for building the road through Izembek. The community is located near the end of the Alaska Peninsula. Their airport, which is situated alongside mountainous terrain, is closed due to inclement weather more than a hundred days each year. That’s a serious problem for people who need emergency medical care in Anchorage.
Cold Bay’s airport is more dependable. It has instrument landing capability and is maintained as an emergency landing site for flights between North America and Asia. That’s why King Cove wants road access to it. To connect the existing road system of both communities, they need one traversing the three-mile-wide isthmus within Izembek’s boundaries.
Aside from the direct impact to wildlife caused by road construction, opponents believe easier access to the isthmus will encourage legal and illegal all-terrain vehicle use and lead to irreparable damage of critical wildlife habitat across a much greater area. That’s a reasonable concern given that the purpose of wildlife refuges is to protect wildlife.
It was the Obama administration’s prioritizing wildlife protection over the emergency medical needs of people that sparked Smith’s response. Referring to his book “War on Humans,” he wrote “such despicable callousness toward the value of human life is now rife in the environmental movement.”
Raskin’s exaggeration of potential harm the Izembek’s road would cause feeds the extremist rhetoric of writers like Smith. So does eliciting fear of the domino effect, as the Wilderness Society did in this case by claiming that building the road across the Izembek wilderness will “set a chilling precedent for other wilderness areas across the nation.”
For decades, that strategy has been effectively used by the National Rifle Association. They’ve convinced their many gun owners that a ban on any one weapon will eventually lead to a ban on all weapons.
Legendary columnist Mike Ryoko said he’d written enough columns on gun control “to fill a book” and probably “more columns on handguns than any columnist in the United States.” He once satirically responded to the NRA by saying that after the government confiscated all the guns, they’d come after our forks and spoons.
But in 1993 he realized his efforts led nowhere.
“When it comes to guns, the Congress of the United States has no guts, presidents have no guts, and most of our state legislatures have no guts.”
He also admitted the “NRA seems to be right: The cities and states that have the toughest gun laws have the most murder and mayhem. Just as junkies find drugs, criminals find weapons. And I haven’t the faintest idea how to prevent it.”
The NRA hasn’t even attempted to solve that problem. Like environmentalists, they focus on rallying the troops to their cause. Because maintaining a fanatical following gives them the power to intimidate enough members of Congress to suffocate all debate on the issue.
What’s even worse is the NRA’s failure to genuinely empathize with the thousands who have lost family members and friends to America’s epidemic of gun violence.
To show they’re better than that, the leaders of the environmental groups opposed to the Izembek road need to find the sense of humility expressed by Ryoko. Then, they should travel to King Salmon like Haaland did and listen to the stories of its human residents. And she shouldn’t consider blocking the road until they and the State Department officials who support their position make that trip.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.