In November 1980 the U.S. Congress passed an act that has been called "the most important environmental legislation in the history of the nation" the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act or ANILCA. The act made 104 million acres of Alaskan land into national parks and preserves, national forests, and national fish and wildlife preserves. About half of the land, 50 million acres, was set aside as wilderness.
The act had great consequences for Alaska. After the 104 million acres granted to Alaska in the 1958 Statehood Act and the 44 million acres in Native title in ANCSA in 1971, this was the last major land act for Alaska. If you add the pre-statehood federal set asides for parks, forests and monuments (Mt. McKinley National Park, for example, and the Tongass and Chugach National Forests), only 74 million acres of land in Alaska remains "open." It is managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as public domain. Altogether, the federal government owns 60% of Alaska, 224 million acres and most of it is in conservation reserves that are off limits to most economic development. Some people believe all land in Alaska should be open to potential economic development. Others believe that America's last, vast stretches of undeveloped land should be protected and preserved, and handed off to future generations.
Conservationists had been interested in Alaska from the beginning of its statehood. John Muir traveled in Alaska in the last decades of the 19th century and wrote vividly and dramatically about Alaska's wildness and natural beauty and wonder.
After the turn of the century many major national conservationists, like George Bird Grinnell, Charles Sheldon, Belmore Browne, Bernard Fernhow, worked to protect Alaska environmental areas like Mt. McKinley, Katmai, and Glacier Bay. They also worked to protect the Alaska brown bear and the Dall sheep. In 1925 Congress passed a game law for Alaska, limiting the killing of Alaska species. In 1933 Robert Marshall, founder of the Wilderness Society, published his account of his year in Wiseman. It is a romantic description of the wonders of Alaska wilderness.
From then on conservation groups such as the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club were interested in Alaska and its natural wonders. They campaigned for the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Range both in and outside Alaska, and President Eisenhower signed the order creating ANWR in 1960.
In 1963 the Wilderness Society held its annual meeting in Alaska, at Camp Denali outside the boundary of Mt. McKinley National Park. The purpose was to raise awareness of Alaska conservation issues for national environmental organizations. Delegates produced a statement calling on state and federal officials to make sure that wilderness areas were preserved in any plans for future land use. Alaskans were resistant to this idea, but one group, the Federal Field Committee, developed a report calling for land planning in Alaska, including identifying areas as conservation units. To identify which lands these might be, the committee talked with the Wilderness Society among others. This time the state was unresponsive to Committee requests for joint planning. Realizing that Congressional action would be the only way to protect any wilderness in Alaska, in early 1971 a number of national conservation groups met together to lobby in Washington D.C. to include conservation withdrawals in the claims bill. They called themselves the Alaska Coalition. The willingness of most of America's environmental organizations to pool their resources to deal with Alaska environmental issues shows the importance of Alaska land to the American people. When the bill passed, it included section 17(d)(2) which provided that within eight years of passage of the act, Congress would set aside 80 million acres of Alaska land in new conservation units.
In March 1972, Secretary Rogers C.B. Morton withdrew the 80 million acres in areas that the conservation lobby, and officials in the Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and had recommended. He also set aside 45 million acres for study, for possible future conservation units, 40 million acres around villages and in traditional areas for Native selection, and set aside an additional 3 million acres from which Natives could select as "make-up lands" if any of the conservation withdrawals took traditional Native lands. Finally, the Secretary designated 35 million acres for the state to select. Further state selections would have to wait until the conservation and Native selections were complete. I It was an extraordinary action that surprised most people. It was more than the conservationists had hoped for, and it was in line with ANCSA It also seemed to freeze Alaskans out of the process and made many Alaskan angry.
Congressman Nick Begich called it a "massive land grab." Attorney General Havelock called it a "sell out of the people of Alaska." The Anchorage Times said it was a "dirty deed." Soon afterward the state filed a suit challenging the federal withdrawals. In the meantime, the planning commission began its work, taking testimony recommending resolution of a number of federal/state conflicts. Federal and state negotiators also worked independently of the commission., The state then withdrew its lawsuit, in exchange for the right to make some immediate selections in areas that had been set aside for conservation. Three months later, in December 1973, the Secretary forwarded his final recommendation for conservation withdrawals to Congress; they totaled over 83 million acres. This time the state was not as angry for even though officials had not been permitted to select all the lands they wished, the Secretary had left most of the lands the state wanted available. On the other hand, conservationists were not pleased, for they hoped for a lot more acreage, and they wanted much of the withdrawn land classified as wilderness., That meant it would not open to mining, hunting, fishing, motorized boats or vehicles, or other "imprints of man". The battle over Alaska lands was far from over.
Because of the Watergate drama of 1973-74, the Alaska lands bill slipped from Congressional attention. But Jimmy Carter made conservation in Alaska a major campaign initiative. When he was elected in 1976 he expected Congress to act before the old eight year deadline for land selection in 1978.
On the first day of the new Congress in 1977 Rep. Morris Udall of Arizona, introduced a bill calling for 115 million acres of Alaska conservation reserves, much more than provided in ANCSA. The bill was named H.R. 39, and would become famous in Alaska by that name. The bill would protect the environmental "crown jewels of Alaska," Udall said, a phrase that would be heard often in the "d-2" debate. The crown jewels were Alaska's "most spectacular natural environments, recreation areas, and wildlife habitats." The bill would create 10 new national parks and expand existing ones, 14 new wildlife refuges, 23 wild and scenic rivers, and would enlarge the two national forests where there were mineral deposits the national wilderness system created by the 1964 Wilderness Act was doubled. . The bill was truly monumental.
The House assigned the bill to a subcommittee for "General Oversight and Alaska Lands.". The subcommittee held hearings in the spring and summer of 1977 in five cities in the Lower 48 - Washington, D.C., Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle, as well as communities in Alaska. In each of the stateside cities, the Alaska Coalition publicized the hearings widely before the Congressmen arrived. As a result, over two thousand people testified, almost all of them speaking for the bill, for wilderness in Alaska.
The bill proposed that Natives would continue to have access to traditional resources within the conservation units. One hunter from the village of Minto told the Congressmen that if their generation failed to protect the land," God might forgive them, but their children would not". Urban Alaska seemed determined to keep Alaska open for development, but village Alaska wanted protection from development.
The Anchorage Times complained about "locking up" the mineral resources of Alaska, making the riches of the national parks accessible only to "butterfly chasers" and backpackers. Alaska was "pioneering country," former Governor Hickel told a New York Times reporter; it didn't need "a no growth approach." "Is a trapper's cabin on a bend of a remote river an unsightly thing or something of beauty," he asked. Tom Snapp, editor of a Fairbanks weekly paper, wrote, "We were supposed to be taken in as a state on an equal basis, but we're not going to be allowed to develop the way other states develop their resources."
The belief that Alaska was a "frontier society" that could generate its own economic well being was at the heart of much of the criticism of the Udall "lock up." Hickel believed that the resources of Alaska should belong to Alaskans. To develop Alaska meant to take the resources as the base of an economy that could expand, providing jobs, livelihoods and material comfort for all those who wanted to live in the state. He could not understand why the opportunity for development should be stopped.
But though the tide seemed to be running with the environmentalists' drive for a strong environmental bill, the U.S. Senate has a tradition of not passing any bill that impacts a particular state when the senators from that state have strong objections. This gave Alaska Senators Stevens and Gravel leverage, and instead of taking up the House bill, they persuaded the Senate to mark up its own bill. The tactic was to use every opportunity to delay the bill so that the deadline, December 1978, would pass before the Congress could produce a bill. Senator Stevens recognized that a compromise was probably necessary because if Congress did not produce a bill, Alaska would be left in limbo.. Senator Gravel, on the other hand, said from the beginning, when Udall introduced H.R. 39 that he would filibuster and kill any bill he did not like.
Gravel was true to his word. As the Senate diddled over its Alaska bill for months, environmentalists became more and more concerned. Some began to think that Stevens and Gravel would be able to sidetrack the whole process, and six years of work would go up in smoke.. . When negotiations collapsed, the Secretary of the Interior Cecil Andrus made it clear that he would use any means he had the power to use to withdraw all the lands under discussion if Congress failed to produce legislation.
As the deadline drew nearer, Andrus made this threat public. The Alaska press was quick to notice. So was the AFN. AFN President Byron Mallott contacted Andrus to ask about Native access, in case the Secretary did withdraw the lands. Andrus assured Mallott that he did in fact intend to use the Antiquities Act if necessary, and that allowances would be made for Native subsistence access if he did so. . Meanwhile, in the last hours of the 95th Congress Gravel took to the Senate floor to filibuster a joint resolution to extend the deadline for two years. On October 14, the session expired with no Alaska bill.
State government officials in Alaska did not wait for the Secretary to carry out his threat. Having provisional approval of 26 million acres, and the promise of an 35 million more already agreed upon,, the state still had 43 million acres to complete its entitlement under the statehood act. State leaders had nervously watched as Congress wrestled with the size and location of the proposed Alaska units, wondering what would be left when they were through. Andrus understood there was an agreement that the state would wait until Congress passed an Alaska act before moving ahead on the last round of selections. But the state didn't wait. In early November, the state filed an application with the BLM for 41 million acres. Nearly one quarter of the selections were in proposed new federal conservation units.
Now Andrus did not wait. Two days later he withdrew nearly 111 million acres of Alaska land, using the authority of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976. Andrus named 40 million of the withdrawn land as study areas, preventing mineral or other commercial activity. At the request of the Agriculture Secretary, President Carter suspended the operation of public land laws on 11 million acres of the existing Tongass National Forest. Then, two weeks later, President Carter withdrew 56 million more acres in Alaska, using the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act, placing the land in 17 new national monuments. The brought the total Carter administration withdrawals to 154 million acres, which were to last three years. Without a doubt it the most dramatic and sweeping withdrawal of public lands in the history of the nation, and it left Alaskans in a state of confusion. .
"Shocked State Leaders Try to Fathom Effect of Freeze," the Fairbanks News Miner told its readers. "Leaders React Angrily to Andrus' Withdrawals," the Anchorage Times proclaimed. Republican Governor Jay Hammond said, "It appears Alaska's worst fears have been realized." Some of the land was closed to sport hunting, Hammond said, which was "absolutely unacceptable." Gravel said, "I think it is clear the administration has overstepped the bounds of law," and the state attorney general announced an immediate suit to overturn the executive actions. "." Environmentalists "are very pleased," said the state's Wilderness Society director.. Charles Clusen, executive director of the Alaska Coalition noted, "President Carter has now replaced Teddy Roosevelt as the greatest conservation president of all time." Congressman Don Young complained that "Alaskans have been slanderously portrayed as land rapists by the preservation lobby and the President has chosen to believe this image." Perhaps the President could not be blamed. At a rally in Fairbanks, citizens burned Carter in effigy. The state legislature debated, but did not adopt, a measure to pay for legal assistance for people who might violate new monument boundaries., . Perhaps the most threatening action occurred in the non-Native village of Eagle on the Yukon River., The town council there adopted a resolution saying, "We do not intend to obey the directives and regulations of the National Park Service." They did not advocate violence, the council said, but they could not be responsible for the actions of individual citizens. When the new director of the NPS Area Office appeared in the village in January, 1979, he was confronted with signs saying "National Park Service employees and anyone else advocating a dictatorship (including those locally who support National Park Service activities under the Antiquities Act) are not welcome here!"
Whether they recognized it or not, Alaskans felt the weight of a common national opinion of land in Alaska. Carter and Andrus were the targets for resentment over the change in Alaska's national role. When asked about the environment, many Alaskans responded that they wanted to protect environment, but "this is going too far." Few seemed to recognize that what likely drove them was the desire to exploit that environment, either for their own direct use, or for jobs and material well-being that it provided
Carter and Andrus' actions did indeed produce an Alaska lands act before the end of the next Congress.. At the beginning of the 96th Congress Morris Udall again introduced H.R. 39. But this version was a stronger environmental bill than the original one, without many of the compromises. In the meantime, Sen. Stevens guided a compromise bill through the legislative process. It would set aside only 104 million acres of new reserves, 15 percent less than Udall's House bill. The bill included over 56 million acres of new wilderness lands. The Senate passed the bill in August..
Stevens warned the House environmentalists that the Senate bill was a "take it or leave it" proposal.. Neither he nor Senator Gravel would accept any amendments. In the House, Congressman Udall prepared to stand firm. There matters stood as the country went to the polls in November, 1980.
As in the settlement of Alaska Native land claims, it would be the American people who would resolve this impasse, and make the decision on Alaska lands. In the 1980 elections voters elected Ronald Reagan president, and sent a Republican majority to the Senate. When the new Congress took office in January, there were fewer delegates in favor of a strong environmental bill than there was in the 96th Congress. There was now no chance of getting approval of Udall's H.R. 39. Accepting this reality, two weeks after the election Udall asked the House to approve the Senate bill. They did so by voice vote. On December 2, 1980, President Carter signed into law the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
"Mr. Udall gives In," the Anchorage Times announced; "he struck his battle flags and gave up the fight."In Washington, President Carter said of the act, "It is a victory in the long struggle to resolve this issue, and is truly an historic moment in our nation's history." Sen. Paul Tsongas, a steady conservation supporter, said that the bill was "a victory for the administration and for those of us in Congress who have worked for so many years to protect the staggering beauty and abundant natural resources, and wildlife of the Alaska wilderness." "No single piece of legislation in our history," he said, "surpasses this act."
ANILCA was sweeping legislation, it set aside 104 million acres of Alaska land in a variety of new conservation units; 56.4 million were classified as wilderness. It provided national park protection to ten new areas and made additions to three existing ones. It added 1.3 million acres to the Tongass Forests, naming 5.4 million of them wilderness. In the creation of a vast area of reserves across the south flank of the Brooks Range south to the Yukon River, ANILCA brought protection to a significant area of the state previously open to mining and other kinds of entry. These units include the Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley National Parks, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Noatak National Preserve, and the Selawick, Koyukuk, Nowitna and Innoko National Wildlife Refuges. West of the Canada border, the act created the vast Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, together with the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. On the upper Yukon River ANILCA set up the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, together with the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, and on BLM land, the Steese National Conservation Area and the White Mountains National Recreation Area. Though the name of Mt. McKinley remained, the park was renamed Denali National Park, and expanded. Near the Alaska Peninsula ANILCA created the Lake Clark and Katmai National Park and Preserves, and the Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve. Other units were created, including huge areas of wildlife refuge. In all of these areas, wildlife, water and land resources would be more fully protected than ever before.
Conservationists in America were happy at first, even though they did not get many of the areas they wanted to protect into the bill. As they began to carefully review the bill some became even more disappointed, for what at first seemed to be protection instead was very confusing. . Senators Stevens and Gravel and Congressman Young had been able to write a great many exceptions into the act., Some of the exceptions drew boundaries of one sort or another around lands of economic potential, excluding them from the conservation units. The Alaska Coalition had wanted whole ecosystems preserved, but in many instances, they were cut up or incomplete. A number of units that the conservationists had wanted named as parks had instead been given a new conservation classification: preserve. This meant that sport hunting and other kinds of activities were permitted in them - these activities were banned from Lower 48 parks. Snow machines, motorboats and floatplanes, as well as high-powered rifles, chain saws, and even cabins would be allowed in areas called "wilderness". The act allowed prospecting on most land known to have mineral or oil potential, including such areas as Glacier Bay National Monument (where a rich nickel-copper deposit was found in the 1950s), and a bornite (a sulfide of copper) deposit in the Kobuk River drainage. Areas specifically excluded from the act included a world class lead and zinc deposit, Red Dog, on the Arctic Coast north of Kotzebue, a molybdenum deposit at Quartz Hill in the Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan , a silver and lead deposit at Greens Creek near Juneau , and a gold deposit at Golden Zone. In the Tongass National Forest, where two pulp mills operated in Ketchikan and Sitka, the act provided a $40 million annual subsidy for the U.S. Forest Service: Alaska Region. This was to make sure that timber lease sales, together with forest roads, would allow 4.5 million board feet of timber to be cut annually, a 35% increase in the average annual cut from the past. No other forest region in the country was supported like this for timber lease sales. Conservationists considered many of these exceptions as serious flaws in the act, making it a shell of what it had started out to be.
And there were other important parts of the act that disappointed conservationists. The act guaranteed access by floatplane, motorboat and snow machine to millions of acres not just for sport hunting, but for other traditional activities Areas can be closed if the guaranteed access causes negative impacts on resources. Access was guaranteed in holdings in the national parks and refuges. Access was also to be protected to state lands and waters that lie within federal units or are surrounded by them. . In addition, the Secretary of the Interior was to assess the potential for oil development in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and he had the power to permit exploratory drilling there.. After review of all the exceptions, some critics wondered if it could be called a conservation act at all. Yet most recognized that even though there would be much controversy as the act was implemented, it did provide a framework for preservation in Alaska. President Carter, writing 15 years after ANILCA, said that it was "one of my proudest accomplishments as President," a feeling most Americans accepted.