ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A bill that would require the Interior Department to contract with Alaska Native tribes for work in parks and refuges got a chilly reception from an Interior Department official and an environmental group.
The House Resources Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the measure, sponsored by Rep. Don Young.
The land-management bill would establish demonstration projects in which Native tribes would manage federal parks and refuges by contract.
Young said his bill would begin to correct the department's 20-year failure to follow the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which tells the department to hire Natives and contract with Native corporations for some services.
Managers are also supposed to buy or rent Native land for visitor facilities and to exempt experienced locals from technical training requirements when hiring. Instead, agencies are hiring from the Lower 48, Young said.
''What I find is there is a lot of uncles and cousins going to work in the parks in the summer,'' he said.
Young's bill would direct the Interior Department to enter at least a dozen contracts with tribal groups over the next two years.
Paul Hoffman, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, testified against the measure. Hoffman said he applauds the goal, but said special rules for Native contracting don't make sense for managing parks and refuges that were established for all Americans. It also would be disruptive for the current employees, he said.
Jack Hession of the Sierra Club said his group strongly opposes the bill, which he said would turn park management over to a private organization.
''Where else in the nation does a private entity manage a national park?'' he asked.
Young said it would be a welcome change. The Park Service isn't a good manager, he said.
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