Jimmy Carter Supports Protection of Izembek NWR Wilderness


Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is a 315,000 acre protected landscape located on the Alaskan Peninsula, a chain of volcanos that eventually leds to the Aleutian Islands.

Former President Jimmy Carter has filed an AMICUS CURIAE supporting a rehearing of a District Court decision to allow a road to be constructed across the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Wilderness in Alaska. A recent article in the NYT sums up the issue well.

The road would connect the King Cove community to an all-weather airstrip (built during WW11) 37 miles away in Cold Bay, Alaska. The airport was initially operated as a military base before being transferred to the state of Alaska.

The decision upheld the building of a road on a Congressionally designated Wilderness land through a drastic reinterpretation of the foundations of the statute.

Carter argues in his brief that the Court misinterpreted the purposes of the Alaska National Interest Conservation Act (ANILCA), which he signed as President of the United States in 1980. Carter argues that allowing a road to be constructed across the Izembek NWR Wilderness could “undercut” the purposes of the law and set a dangerous precedent that could threaten Wilderness and conservation lands across the country.

Carter characterized the Court’s decision as “not only deeply mistaken, it is also dangerous.”

He supports a rehearing of the case.

Black brant one of the species that utilize Izembek NWR.

Izembek NWR is a globally important wildlife refuge, supporting 98% of the global population of black brant as well as numerous other wildlife including brown bear (grizzlies) wolves, caribou, and numerous other waterfowl.

If left unchallenged, Carter says the decision could “imperil” all public lands, including national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, and Bureau of Land Management protected lands, not only for roads but be applied for any development on these protected areas.

He asks the Court to reinstate the original wilderness protection granted Izembek and all other designated wilderness lands covered by ANILCA.

National Wildlife Refuges (colored) on map created ANILCA. 

ANILCA is no ordinary legislation. It protected 100 million acres of land. This includes 50% of the Nation’s Congressionally designated Wilderness, 80% of the lands in the national wildlife refuge system, and 60% of the federal park acreage.

Carter argues that ALILCA’s importance is even greater today for its role In protecting biodiversity and climate change.

Carter argues that he was intimately involved with the crafting of ANILCA. He feels that the Court’s interpretation that the Secretary of Interior has “discretion” to determine whether lands like Izembek should be retained in a natural state or that social and economic concerns outweigh the intention of the legislation to protect wildlands.

When ANILCA was negotiated, it was clear that there were ongoing short-term economic values that would be forfeited. However, protecting these lands, Carter says, for the greater good of the nation and international community was recognized as an essential purpose of the legislation.

Specific to the Izembek NWR, Carter says the Secretary of Interior has no authority to exchange lands to facilitate private development and release any lands from Congressionally designated Wilderness. The Act (ANILCA) only permits land exchanges when it furthers the purposes of the Act.

Much of the Alaskan Peninsula’s critical wildlife habitat was protected by ANILCA. Photo George Wuerthner

In his brief, Carter says ANILCA does not grant the Secretary of Interior the “power, under the acquisition provision, to overrule Congress’s judgment and authorize land exchanges that will result in degradation of lands Congress decided have “inestimable” ecological and subsistence value in their unaltered state.”


For any compromise of wilderness protections, Carter argues that ANILCA requires at a minimum a decision by the Secretary of Interior, approval of a resolution by the President, and an act of Congress. Carter says a high bar was created to demonstrate the importance of wilderness protection by those who put together the ANILCA legislation.

Economic interests will always be attempting to undermine the prime purposes of ANILCA to protect, for all time, the natural and wildlands values of these federal lands.

Carter concludes that allowing the land exchange and road construction to proceed would “effectively annuls core provisions of this landmark law. The administrative evasion here, now blessed by the panel’s decision, will surely be used again, making for open season on the precious, globally unique, ecologically rich and intact areas ANILCA set aside for posterity. Review by the en banc court is necessary.”








  1. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Bless you Pres. Jimmy Carter… The country still needs you!

    1. Ida Lupine Avatar
      Ida Lupine

      Yes, thank you! It is supposed to be a refuge.

  2. Joanne Gura Avatar
    Joanne Gura

    It sounds like there needs to be a review and perhaps a better exchange of views. This is a bigger decision then letting the Sect. of the Interior make changes that involve so much change. We are talking about congressionally designated wilderness, 80%of the lands in the national wildllife refuge system, and 60% of federal park acreage…not a small number. We need to protect our wildlands while we can. Thank you.

  3. Maggie Frazier Avatar
    Maggie Frazier

    It also seems much more of a danger if there is a future Republican DOI! This sure does need protection.

  4. rastadoggie Avatar

    My Forest Service lands guy cites ANILCA for all of the big bad roads (“driveways”) he permits across National Forest to inholdings, degrading or destroying every other public land use and value. FS: get busy pursuing inholding acquisition – you know where they are – to protect precious public land ecosystem integrity. America the Beautiful, 30 x 30, should ensure that the agencies do this.


George Wuerthner is an ecologist and writer who has published 38 books on various topics related to environmental and natural history. He has visited over 400 designated wilderness areas and over 200 national park units.

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George Wuerthner