Former President Jimmy Carter asks court to defend Alaska’s ‘unrivaled wilderness’

water and mountains
Frosty Creek, Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. (Kristine Sowl/ Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Former President Jimmy Carter on Monday took the bizarre step of weighing in on a courtroom case involving his landmark conservation act and a distant refuge in Alaska.

Carter filed an amicus temporary within the longstanding authorized dispute over efforts to construct a street via the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, fearful {that a} latest ruling in favor of a proposed land trade aimed toward constructing the street goes past this one case and will enable tens of millions of acres to be opened for “adverse development.”

Residents in the neighborhood of King Cove wish to trade land to construct a gravel street via the refuge to offer entry to an all-weather airport in close by Cold Bay for medical transports.

Carter in 1980 signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which established 162,500 sq. miles of nationwide park lands in Alaska. The act, he mentioned, struck a “careful and lasting balance” between improvement and safety.

Congress created the 486-square-mile Izembek National Wildlife Refuge that yr. Izembek Lagoon holds one of many world’s largest beds of eelgrass, a wealthy meals supply for Pacific brant geese, endangered Steller’s eider sea geese and different migratory birds.

In 2013, then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a land trade. Environmental teams oppose a street for the precedent it could set and for the potential hurt to brown bear, caribou, salmon and seabird habitat.

Former President Donald Trump’s first Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, signed a brand new land trade deal, which a federal decide later dominated in opposition to. Later, Zinke’s successor, David Bernhardt, agreed to a swap, saying the wants of King Cove residents have been extra vital. However, that settlement was vacated by one other decide, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick, in 2020.

In March, a three-judge panel of the ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Sedwick’s choice. Earlier this month, Trustees for Alaska, representing environmental pursuits, requested {that a} bigger group of judges on the appeals courtroom assessment the case, and Carter’s temporary helps that request. The present Interior secretary, Deb Haaland, visited the refuge and King Cove final month however didn’t announce any place on a land trade.

Carter mentioned the divided panel choice doesn’t mirror the stability between improvement and safety.

“It is overbroad and permits the Secretary of Interior to undo Congressionally designated Wilderness and other conservation lands. Unless reversed, it would open tens of millions of acres of public lands for adverse development,” Carter wrote in an announcement.

He requested the courtroom to assessment the choice “and to defend the unrivaled wilderness in the national public lands of Alaska.”

Opponents say the choice by the panel, if allowed to face, would enable future Interior secretaries to wheel-and-deal nationwide curiosity lands in Alaska as they see match.

“And once (national interest) lands are developed, how do you get that back?” mentioned Peter Van Tuyn of Anchorage, one in every of three attorneys who represents Carter on the submitting.

“It’s not like a future secretary can undo anything. It’s a one-way valve there, and it’s extremely dangerous to the integrity of all of those lands,” he mentioned.

Deborah Williams, a former particular assistant to the secretary of the Interior underneath President Bill Clinton, mentioned Congress made clear within the laws that it had two functions: conservation and the safety of subsistence.

“The split panel decision would allow the secretary, without any public process or without compliance with any other laws, to engage in a backroom land exchange,” Williams mentioned.

“In order to trade away crucial lands in any of the areas protected by (the act) for development purposes, this, without question, is not what Congress intended, and this is not what the legislation clearly provides,” she mentioned.

An Interior Department spokesperson didn’t have any remark.

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