ANILCA provision conflicts with animal protection law

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- An access provision in the 20-year-old law that created most of the federal parks and refuges in Alaska is headed for a Lower 48 showdown with another federal law -- the Endangered Species Act.

The battle is over caribou, but the scene is a long way from Alaska.

The Stimson Lumber Co. of Portland, Ore. wants to log land it owns within the Colville National Forest in the northeastern corner of Washington. The area happens to be home to 34 woodland caribou, an endangered species in the United States but not particularly scarce just across the border in Canada.

The lumber company is citing a provision of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to make its case for access.

The act says the secretary of Agriculture, who oversees U.S. Forest Service land, ''shall provide such access to non-federally owned land (within national forests) ... as the secretary deems adequate to secure the owner...reasonable use...''

The law applies not just to Alaska but nationwide, according to Connie Smith, with the Colville National Forest.

A coalition of environmental groups says the road would harm the caribou by destroying their habitat, an illegal act under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The question becomes this: Which federal law will win?

The Selkirk Coalition said it is worried that if Stimson Lumber is granted access, the decision will set a precedent of using ANILCA to overcome endangered species protections nationwide.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing a biological opinion on whether the road would harm the caribou. The Forest Service will make a decision on the road access after it receives the biological opinion, Smith said.

Smith said the Forest Service is caught in the middle.

''We have options, but I think we'll go to court either way,'' she said.

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