Law helped define Alaska, but the road hasn't been smooth

Posted: Monday, December 04, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act is 20 years old.

President Jimmy Carter signed ANILCA on Dec. 2, 1980, completing the foundation of land ownership in the state. It was one of his last significant acts in office. Carter was a few weeks from leaving the White House having lost to Ronald Reagan.

The law, which changed the rules on about a third of the state's 375 million acres, was the final piece in a long line of federal actions that broadly defined the state -- the 1867 purchase from Russia, the 1912 territorial recognition, the 1959 statehood grant and the 1971 Native claims settlement.

Some find ANILCA too constricting.

''Having been born and raised here, I certainly feel we've been shortchanged,'' says Pete Haggland of Fairbanks, a pilot and sometime miner who organized opposition to ANILCA in the 1970s. ''It's really a convoluted situation up here anymore.''

Others find the lines too loose.

''I love the fact that there are protected areas,'' says Frank Keim, also a longtime Alaskan who spent 23 years teaching in Bush schools. But special exemptions for Alaskans in ANILCA diluted the protection too far, especially in parks, he said.

''They should not be for multiple purposes. They should be for what parks are for -- protection of the ecosystems in perpetuity,'' he told The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Those who seek more restrictions don't find much favor with the current members of the Alaska delegation who have viewed ANILCA as unfair and unbalanced from the start.

''We don't feel it's something worth celebrating,'' said Christopher Fluhr, with Rep. Don Young's staff on the House Resources Committee.

''It's not something I would tilt a glass of champagne for,'' said Sen. Ted Stevens, commenting on the anniversary last week.

However, Stevens said the bill needed to be passed. Alaska had to get its lands issues settled, and that couldn't be until the bill was done, he said.

Despite their displeasure with the act, Alaska's delegation has been cautious about pushing wholesale rewrites during the past 20 years because they have lacked backing in Congress.

In fact, the delegation has suffered steady losses on one of its top priorities, timber harvest in the Tongass National Forest. At Stevens' insistence, ANILCA mandated an annual sale of 450 million board feet, but legislative reforms and administrative rules have reduced that to 176 million board feet. President Clinton's recent roadless protection initiative would reduce allowable cuts again to an estimated 68 million board feet.

In the face of such challenges, there has been a ''reluctance'' to really open up ANILCA, Murkowski said. Now, with a narrowly split Congress, ''I don't know that we're in position to make any definitive recommendations,'' he said.

The delegation hopes that the so-called ''no more'' clause in ANILCA will prevent establishment of new wilderness areas, particularly in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Tongass. The clause prohibits federal agencies from spending money on designating any ''new'' conservation units.

Wilderness supporters, however, believe the clause doesn't preclude wilderness designations of land within existing conservation units because they aren't new.

Most agree that the new land regime and rules in Alaska have changed the character of the place.

To some that was inevitable and necessary.

''I'll have to say there are a lot more rules and regulations,'' said Keim, the former Bush teacher who now lives in Fairbanks. ''It's distasteful on one hand but its necessary on the other, and I accept that.''

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