Cold Bay to King Cove
I came to the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge with the notion that this place would soon be changed as the Trump Administration, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, had fewer ideological reservations to building a road through the refuge to connect the community of King Cove to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay. The two communities lie at the literal edge of the North American continent and the convergence of the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. The landscape between the communities is an undulating expanse of rolling hills coated with tussocky tundra that lie in-between active and dormant volcanoes in the middle of the Ring of Fire.
Looming volcanoes and their ever-present fumaroles belching acrid sulfuric smoke, line the horizon of the nearby lagoons carved from the slow-motion advance and retreat across the land of the frozen rivers of ice in the last ice age. The lagoons provide refuge to the entire world’s population of emperor geese and nearly all the black brant. The Izembek lagoon and its habitat provide the multitude of species of geese and seabirds the succulent mana that fuels them through the long Alaskan winter in the form of abundant eel grass that lines its shallow inter-tidal zones. Izembek is a birding mecca whether you have a pair of binoculars or a shotgun hanging from your shoulder.
The two communities separated by the refuge harbor distinct views regarding an 11 mile one-lane dirt road that would provide a lifeline for King Cove’s 900 residents in a medical emergency. Cold Bay’s 50 residents largely oppose the road, most viewing little advantage for the community. King Cove however, has lobbied for a road for nearly three decades with Della Trumble as one of its strongest proponents; after watching a plane with her daughter aboard crash land at the King Cove airport. As it currently stands in a medevac emergency, residents of King Cove have only a couple options when the commonly inclement weather prevents medevac flights from landing. The first option is to be flown 20 miles to the Cold Bay airport in a Coast Guard C130 or Jayhawk Helicopter, to the tune of up to $210,000. The other is to rely on a neighbor with a large crab boat to take them in stormy seas to the Cold Bay dock. In the second scenario, the only way for elders to get to the dock is to be loaded in crab pots and craned up.
In 1986 Sarina Kenezuroff’s mother went into pre-mature labor, and was forced to board the crab boat F/V Gayle Maureen. While being transported in stormy seas to Cold Bay, Sarina was born at 2 lbs. 3 oz. in the galley of the vessel and placed in the oven like a diminutive pot roast to keep her warm and alive long enough to make it to the plane. Everyone I spoke with in King Cove had a personal story or that of a friend or loved one who had been medevac’d.
Roads by their very nature transform the natural landscape to ameliorate the flow of people and goods. The Romans perfected road construction and used them as tools of economic and geopolitical domination. Roads expand the reach of mankind to dominate and penetrate the natural and wild spaces to facilitate the colonization of our species across the globe. Ultimately, it is a zero-sum game, the more roads spread into the ever decreasing undeveloped and wild spaces, the more we lose our connection to areas that act as counter balance to the homogenization and colonization of the planet. We also lose our connection to a world that existed before human transformation and our ability to connect our past with our present.
There is no doubt that a road that bisects the Izembek Refuge would change the landscape and immutable changes to the wildlife. People too have been apart of the landscape for thousands of years in the region, many of their ancestors still live in nearby King Cove. As one resident of King Cove put it, “are the geese more important than my family and neighbors?”