Rural Alaska

Conservation groups push for reversal of ruling that allows King Cove road to advance

Conservation groups are asking the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to review a ruling by a three-judge panel that would otherwise allow the advancement of a controversial road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, on the Alaska Peninsula.

Attorneys from Trustees for Alaska, the firm representing the nine environmental groups, filed their petition Friday morning.

It represents the latest effort to stop the road — a project supported by Alaska’s statewide elected officials and residents of the village of King Cove.

Those proponents say the project would allow King Cove residents to more reliably get to medical evacuation flights in the nearby community of Cold Bay, which has the area’s only jet-accessible runway. But critics say that potential impacts on the refuge’s globally-significant bird and other wildlife populations outweigh the benefits of the road, which they argue could prove difficult to drive in bad weather.

The road proposal got a boost during former President Donald Trump’s administration, which struck a land exchange deal with King Cove’s Alaska Native village corporation that would allow the road to move forward.

A lower court judge struck down an initial version of the exchange, and then another judge rejected a second version.

But the 9th Circuit’s three-judge panel, in a 2-1 decision last month, reinstated the deal, agreeing with former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that the exchange complies with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA. The two judges in the majority were appointed by Trump, while the dissenting judge was appointed by former President Bill Clinton.


Friday’s petition asks the full 9th Circuit to re-hear the case, arguing that the panel’s decision allows the executive branch to “override Congress and exchange lands out of federal ownership for development purposes, putting millions of acres of conservation lands in Alaska at risk.”

President Joe Biden’s administration has not yet taken a position on the road proposal and land exchange. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited King Cove last week, and officials from her agency say they’re waiting for the lawsuit to play out before taking their next steps.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at