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Alaska delegation fights Beringia park plan

Posted: Friday, October 13, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska's congressional delegation wants Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to resist the creation of a Beringian Heritage International Park bridging the Bering Sea.

The park was recommended this week at a meeting of the World Conservation Congress in Amman, Jordan.

But the delegation's request may be about a decade too late.

While no park has been established to celebrate the shared cultural history of Russian and Alaska Natives, the idea was endorsed by the Reagan administration, and legislation was introduced in Congress in 1990 when President Bush was in the White House.

The World Conservation Congress, the highest governing body of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, approved a resolution at its recent meeting urging creation of the Beringia international park.

The Alaska congressional delegation urged the United States to object to the resolution because it's controversial and not supported by the public.

''The Beringia resolution asks the United States and Russia to establish 'joint management' of lands in Beringia and states that the indigenous communities and governments in the region support the creation of the Beringia International Park,'' the delegation said.

''This is simply not true. Many of the indigenous people of the area oppose the designation, and the Alaska State Legislature has expressed its opposition to a Beringia international park in two resolutions sent to Congress.''

John Quinley, a spokesman for the National Park Service in Alaska, said the idea was for the two countries to independently establish parks on their respective sides of the Bering Sea -- not for one country to be able to dictate land policy for the other.

The Park Service opposed the resolution for some of the same reasons expressed by the Alaska congressional delegation, he said.

The idea of a park first was proposed in the 1960s but gained steam in October 1987 with the creation of the Beringian Heritage International Park project.

In 1989, American and Soviet planners presented the concept of an international park during a tour of Native villages in Northwest Alaska and the Chukotka Peninsula in the Russian Far East.

At a summit between President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, the two countries announced their intention to create an international park, with each country selecting its own park units.

Draft legislation was introduced in November of 1991 but was not acted upon, and efforts to reach compromise legislation supported by Natives and conservationists failed.

The idea of creating a park collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union, and there hasn't been much interest on the Russian side since, Quinley said.

''The timing isn't right with Russia,'' Quinley told the Anchorage Daily News. ''Establishing an international park is not high on their agenda.''

But Quinley said Congress has been funding about $450,000 a year for research and cultural cooperation.

A two-day conference wrapped up Thursday at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, where some research findings were presented.

''This is the kind of thing we envision as part of an international park,'' Quinley said. ''Alaska Natives and the University of Alaska have been two of the primary beneficiaries of the research programs.''



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