online book
cover to Admin History





current topic NPS in Alaska Before 1972


Response to ANCSA, 1971-1973


NPS in Alaska, 1973-1980





The National Park Service and the
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980: Administrative History

Chapter One:
The National Park Service in Alaska Before 1972
NPS logo

A. The National Park System in Alaska, 1910-1970 (continued)

Using the Antiquities Act to establish Katmai National Monument allowed the Service and its friends to protect an area of unquestioned national significance while avoiding a potentially costly battle in Congress. At the same time, it exposed another problem that is familiar today—the opposition of most Alaskans to withdrawal of lands by the executive branch of the Federal Government. This view was expressed in a letter from Territorial Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr., shortly after the establishment of Katmai National Monument:

I cannot help but feel that the withdrawal of land embraced in this monument was ill-advised, owing to the intense feeling which is aroused in Alaska through additional withdrawals. It is a common saying throughout the Territory that the President's announcement about the rights of small peoples to have a voice in their government applies to everybody on the face of the earth except Alaska. [14]

Six years later, when another group sought to secure preservation of an area at Glacier Bay, the editors of the Juneau Empire expressed the attitude of Alaskans toward land withdrawals. Calling the proposal "A Monstrous Proposition," the paper said:

It tempts patience to try to discuss such nonsensical performances. The suggestion that a reserve be established to protect a glacier that none could disturb if he wanted and none would want to disturb if he could or to permit the study of plant and insect life is the quintessence of silliness. And then when it is proposed to put millions of acres, taking in established industries and agriculture lands and potential resources that are capable of supporting people and adding to the population of Alaska, it becomes a monstrous crime against development.

"It leads one to wonder," the editors wrote, "if Washington has gone crazy through catering to conservation faddists." [15]

The fury of the editors of the Juneau Empire had been aroused when President Calvin Coolidge ordered the temporary withdrawal of land at Glacier Bay, pending determination of an area to be permanently withdrawn as a national monument. [16] The next year, following resolution of a conflict over boundaries, President Coolidge invoked the Antiquities Act to establish the 1,164,800-acre Glacier Bay National Monument. [17]

As was the case with Katmai National Monument, the movement to establish a national monument at Glacier Bay was due primarily to the efforts of scientists and conservationists—in this case, the National Ecological Society—and the area was set aside to reserve a significant resource for scientific research. [18] In fact, with the exception of a statement regarding accessibility, the reasons for protection in the President's proclamation were those originally drafted by the National Ecological Society: protection of tidewater glaciers and a large stand of coastal forests in natural conditions, the unique opportunity for scientific study "of glacier behavior and of resulting movements and development of flora and fauna and of certain valuable relics of ancient interglacial forests." [19]

One additional area—Old Kasaan National Monument—was administered by the Service for some twenty years. Located on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska, Old Kasaan was set aside by President Woodrow Wilson on October 25, 1916, to protect the ruins of a former Haida Indian Village. [20] Because Old Kasaan was in Tongass National Forest, the monument was originally administered by the Forest Service. Administration was transferred to the NPS by Executive Order 6166 on August 10, 1933. [21] The monument was abolished on August 25, 1955. [22]

With establishment of Glacier Bay National Monument, the National Park System in Alaska prior to 1972 was complete, save boundary adjustments and the transitory inclusion of Old Kasaan National Monument. In addition to the one historical area (Sitka National Monument), the system consisted of three natural areas that were places of superlative beauty and grandeur seldom matched elsewhere. Moreover, Katmai and Glacier Bay were recognized as being unique living laboratories for students of volcanism and glaciology, and Mt. McKinley National Park was recognized, as it is today, as one of the world's great wildlife reserves.

It was, too, a system that reflected some of the unique conditions encountered in Alaska. In size alone, the parks mirrored the place—only Yellowstone exceeded the three natural Alaskan areas in size in 1925. The four Alaska areas made up slightly more than forty percent of the total acreage of lands administered by the National Park Service in 1925. [23]

An examination of the legislation, moreover, reveals at least some effort to make adjustments to unique conditions in Alaska. Mount McKinley National Park, for example, was left open for mining, and section 6 of the enabling legislation of that park stipulated that "prospectors and miners engaged in prospecting or mining in said park may take and kill therein so much game as may be necessary for their actual necessities when short of food." [24]

Despite such efforts to make the areas more palatable to Alaskans by tailoring the legislation to local concerns, the Alaska park units existed primarily as a result of executive action taken under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Particularly in the anti-government, individualistic Alaskan society, this meant that neither the areas nor the agency that managed them would enjoy the broadbased support most often enjoyed in the "Lower 48." [25] Combined with the size of the areas and distance from the central office, this lack of support, that sometimes amounted to hostility, would have made the job of managing the Alaska areas difficult at best. Given a parsimonious Congress, the nature of the organization of the Service itself and its interpretation of its mission, providing adequate management of the Alaskan areas was, until the 1960s, something that too often eluded the National Park Service.

Chapter One continues with...
NPS Administration in Alaska, 1916-1950


Last Modified: Tues, Jan 9 2001 10:08 am PDT

ParkNet Home