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NPS in Alaska Before 1972


Response to ANCSA, 1971-1973

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NPS in Alaska, 1973-1980





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

Chapter Four:
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act: A Legislative History
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F. The Alaska National Interest Lands Bills in Congress, 1977-1978

While the Department of Interior analyzed H.R. 39 in the spring and summer of 1977, Congress conducted its own review. Representative John Seiberling's newly-formed Subcommittee on General Oversight and Alaska Lands embarked on an extensive series of public hearings to gauge the reaction of the American public to the issues addressed by H.R. 39. From April through September the congressmen met to take testimony not only in five major cities in the "Lower 48", but also in such places in Alaska as Bethel, Kotzebue, Anaktuvuk Pass, Fort Yukon, and Galena. It was a remarkable undertaking. More than 2300 people, 1,000 of them from Alaska, testified. The committee heard from people from all walks of life—former Assistant Secretary of the Interior Nathaniel P. Reed exhorted the committee to "be bold," reminding them that the "scars on the land in Alaska and the lower 48 states give grim evidence of our past failures"; Alaska's bush pilot-turned-Governor, Jay Hammond, reminded them that "it is not easy to be both the oil barrel to the nation and national park to the world"; and sixty-four-year-old Robert Vent from Wishdale on the Koyukuk River worried about the effect of sport hunting on subsistence. The testimony before the subcommittee, which is recorded in a sixteen-volume report, captures much of the essence of the struggle over the Alaska National Interest Lands. [78]

The Alaska Coalition, which had determined to use the hearings to demonstrate broad support for a strong Alaska lands bill, as well as to build support for the upcoming legislative battle, had done its work well. Supporters of the bill overwhelmed the opposition in the "Lower 48." Even in Alaska, where the congressmen expected to find near unanimous opposition, opinion was nearly evenly divided. [79]

Despite the show of strength the conservationists had been able to muster, the decision to rewrite H.R. 39 had been made earlier, and that decision had been reinforced during the hearings the past spring and summer. [80] In October staff members revised the bill to reflect concerns raised during subcommittee hearings as well as Department of the Interior recommendations. [81] The subcommittee ignored an alternative proposal made by Representative Don Young and adopted, instead, Committee Print No. 2 (October 28) as the mark-up vehicle for H.R. 39. The revisions incorporated in this version, John Seiberling indicated, accommodated mining and hunting interests, and left open seventy-five percent of Alaska's land for mineral development, eighty percent of its timber for logging, and sixty percent of the land for sport hunting. [82] The revision struck a balance, too, between the administration's September 15 proposals and H.R. 39 as introduced on January 4, 1977. The Interior Department, which had input along the way, praised the subcommittee's approach to areas and boundaries, which were generally in agreement with those in the Interior Department's September 15 recommendations. The committee proposed additions to the four national systems amounting to 104,717,000 acres, increasing NPS acreage to 45,670,000. The larger acreage was due primarily to the addition of a 1,100,000-acre Gates of the Arctic National Preserve in the Nigu-Etivluk Valley in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and inclusion of Squirrel River watershed portions of the lower Noatak (2,500,000 acres). The committee recommended the addition of 53,550,000 acres to the wildlife refuge system, 5,840,000 acres in forests, and 2,747,000 acres in wild and scenic rivers (fourteen rivers with provision for study of eleven more). [83]

The Interior Department expressed, nonetheless, concern over several provisions that remained in the mark-up vehicle. The amount of "instant wilderness" exceeded the administration's recommendation, although it had been reduced from 145,000,000 acres in the original version of the bill to 81,700,000 acres. A complex procedure threatened to open national preserves, wildlife refuges, and wild and scenic rivers to exploration and development of hard rock minerals and oil and gas. Finally, the Department of the Interior opposed a transportation title that established a process for rights-of-way across d-2 areas. [84]

Representative Seiberling hoped, originally, to begin mark-up sessions on November 9, 1977, but the subcommittee did not begin work until January 1978. The bill was not reported to the full Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs until February 7, following fourteen days of mark-up. [85]

The subcommittee had beaten back an effort to substitute a new "fifth-system," multiple-use proposal offered by Representative Lloyd Meeds as the mark-up vehicle, but had accepted, according to John Seiberling, eighty-five of eighty-nine amendments offered by Alaska Representative Don Young. [86] It had resolved, to a large extent, differences over outside boundaries, although Representative Young would introduce an amendment to reduce boundaries by a total of 5,000,000 acres during debate on the floor of the House in May. [87]

As a result, discussions during the nine days of mark-up by the full committee on Interior and Insular Affairs centered primarily on levels of protection afforded the areas. Once again Representatives Don Young and Lloyd Meeds led the effort to amend the bill, and though they managed to win some of their amendments, the major attempts to change the bill lost each time by one or two votes. [88] Among the changes sought, for example, were those increasing the size of preserves in Cape Krusenstern, Gates of the Arctic, Wrangell-Saint Elias, and converting Kenai-Fjords, Noatak, Yukon-Charley, and Bering Land Bridge into proposed wildlife refuges. [89]

On March 21, 1978, having defeated another attempt by Congressman Lloyd Meeds to substitute a multiple-use proposal, the committee recommended the addition of some 98,387,000 acres to the four systems, including 42,650,000 in national park units, 50,710,000 in wildlife refuges 1,687,000 in wild and scenic rivers, and 3,340,000 in forests. The committee's revision included some 16,000,000 acres of national preserves, adding preserves in Gates of the Arctic (60,000), Denali (400,000), and Katmai (210,000) to those proposed by the administration. [90] The committee reduced "instant wilderness" by more than 6,000,000 acres, an action taken over the protests of committee staff. [91]

As ordered by the Speaker of the House, the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee referred the revised bill to the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, resolving a long-standing jurisdictional dispute between the committees. [92] Staff of the Merchant Marine committee had participated in the 1977 hearings, and the committee, which has responsibility for wildlife refuges, had held its own hearings on April 4-7, 1978. On May 3 the committee reported H.R. 39, with amendments increasing the size of the wildlife refuge system to 77,500,000 acres, decreasing wilderness designation in the refuges from 28,470,000 to 20,000,000 acres. The committee would have permitted coordinated management of fish and wildlife resources in the Bristol Bay region, providing for cooperative management of areas seaward of coastal refuges. The Secretary of the Interior would have been authorized to permit oil and gas leasing, construction and operation of pipelines, and leasing for exploration and extraction of locatable minerals in Alaska Wildlife Refuges following a determination of compatibility. [93]

In an effort to speed consideration of the Alaska lands bill by the full House, the two committees agreed to a compromise bill—H.R. 12625—that would be offered on the House floor. The bill did not purport to resolve all differences between the committees but was, rather, merely intended to be a vehicle for debate on the Alaska national interest land issue in the House of Representatives. [94]

Finally, six long years of planning, hearings, and review by agency professionals, congressional committees and staffs were over, and Congress took up the question of the disposition of the Alaska national interest lands. Knowing that nothing more could be done than the counting of the votes, interest groups—conservationists, state of Alaska, Natives, and virtually every industry with any interest in Alaska—had marshalled their forces when Morris Udall addressed what he called " surely the greatest conservation opportunity ever to be placed before the House of Representatives" on May 17, 1978. [95]

The debates on the floor of the House of Representatives had been presaged in the preceding six years. Harrowing as it may have been for the participants, the record of the three days of debate provides a fascinating, if sometimes bewildering, glimpse of the legislative process. After considerable wrangling over parliamentary procedures, the defeat of an amendment by Don Young to cut some 5,000,000 acres from d-2 lands and make them available for state selection, and defeat of multiple-use alternatives offered by Representative Lloyd Meeds, the vote on H.R. 39 came on May 19, 1978. [96] Following a rousing speech by Morris Udall, the House defeated an effort to recommit, and passed H.R. 39 by a vote of 279-31. [97]

H.R. 39, as passed by the House on May 19, certainly did not contain everything either the conservationists or NPS officials hoped it would. Although compromises had been made, the bill was stronger than the bills first introduced in 1974, and some believe that it may have been the best bill passed by either house during the entire d-2 process. The bill provided for the addition of more than 100,000,000 acres to the four national systems. Ten new park units and additions to three existing areas totalled 42,720,000 acres:

Aniakchak National Monument350,000
Aniakchak National Preserve160,000
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve2,480,000
Cape Krusenstern National Monument540,000
Gates of the Arctic National Park8,050,000
Gates of the Arctic National Preserve60,000
Kenai-Fjords National Park420,000
Kobuk Valley National Park1,717,000
Lake Clark National Park2,395,000
Lake Clark National Preserve1,095,000
Noatak National Preserve6,080,000
Wrangell Saint Elias National Park8,670,000
Wrangell-Saint Elias National Preserve3,380,000
Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve1,683,000
Denali National Park additions
  Denali National Preserve
Glacier Bay National Monument550,000
Katmai National Monument additions
  Katmai National Preserve

Seventeen national wildlife refuges totalled over 77,000,000 acres. [99] The bill as passed by the House provided for the addition of 2,740,000 acres to Chugach and Tongass national forests, and the designation of twenty-five wild and scenic rivers with an additional fifteen to be studied. A majority (41,690,000 acres) of the 65,500,000 acres to be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System would be in National Park System units. [100]

The bill provided for cooperative management of the Bristol Bay region and seaward areas adjacent to refuges. The bill protected subsistence, and allowed sport hunting in national preserves only by specific action of the Secretary of the Interior. Mining and mineral leasing in all units of the National Park System was prohibited, but the bill directed the Secretary of the Interior to continue a mineral assessments program in the state, and the president to submit a proposal for evaluating applications for mineral exploration and extraction on conservation system units by 1981. Additionally, the bill provided for an expedited consideration of applications for rights-of-way across units of the National Park System. [101]

In what was in part a result of the lengthening debate over Alaska's public lands, a growing complexity of the bill was noticeable. Among other provisions, for example, was the "grandfathering" of hunting guides in Katmai, Denali, Gates of the Arctic, and Wrangell-Saint Elias national parks; designation of the Iditarod National Historic Trail; amendment of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Act to permit state land exchanges; and authorization of existing and future navigation aids and facilities. [102]

Supporters of H.R. 39 hoped that the overwhelming margin of victory in the House of Representatives would put pressure on the Senate to act expeditiously. Few believed, however, that so strong a bill would emerge from that body. The Senate is traditionally very reluctant to pass any bill affecting a state over the protests of that state's senators. Both senators from Alaska were on record in opposition. Mike Gravel, who had introduced his own bill on April 19, had stated over and over that he intended to prevent passage of any bill that session.[103] Senator Stevens felt just as strongly, and had hinted, earlier, that a bill might not pass before expiration of d-2 protection on December 15, 1978. [104] But he recognized that uncertainty regarding the national interest lands was a barrier to progress in Alaska, and determined to work for resolution of the issue. He had made it clear, however, that any bill passed would do so on his terms. The tactic he followed from the beginning, and Representative Don Young had successfully followed his lead in the House, was to delay the bill at every step, recognizing that compromise would come more readily when the December 18, 1978 expiration of d-2 protection loomed closer. [105]

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (formerly Interior and Insular Affairs) had held hearings in preparation for Senate consideration of the Alaska lands bill in 1976 and seven additional days during 1978. Its staff had held workshops in seven Alaskan communities during September 1977 and February 1978. [106] Nevertheless, events seemed to conspire to slow progress of the bill in the Senate. Although Senator Henry Jackson had originally intended to report a bill during July, work on energy issues delayed mark-up until June 22. [107] H.R. 39, referred to the Senate on June 8, 1978, was only one of eleven different pending bills that related to the Alaska national interest lands. [108] On June 28 the committee voted to consolidate the pending bills, rather than using the House-passed H.R. 39 as mark-up vehicle. [109]

Senator Jackson, too, invited both Senators Stevens and Gravel to participate in the committee mark-up sessions, giving them an opportunity to delay and bring about significant changes before the bill reached the Senate floor. [110] Senator Gravel chose to follow his own counsel, and did not participate. Senator Stevens, however, attended every one of the forty-two oft-tedious sessions. He proved a skillful opponent. Cajoling and threatening, when necessary, he often dominated debate, and clearly left his imprint on the bill. [111]

Not until October 5, with just eight days before adjournment, did the committee formally report a bill that had, in the estimate of conservationists and Interior Department staff, severely weakened the protection afforded the lands in both the House-passed version of H. R. 39 and the Carter administration's proposals. The slightly more than 88,000,000 acres proposed for the conservation systems included over 16,000,000 acres in multiple-use lands—8,520,000 acres in national forests and 7,550,000 acres in BLM-managed "National Conservation Areas" (including a 986,000-acre White Mountain National Recreation Area). The committee added a 1,530,000-acre Misty Fjords National Preserve in Southeast Alaska, bringing total acreage in proposed additions to the National Park System to 43,650,000 acres. Less than half of that total (20,650,000 acres) was offered protection as parks and monuments, however, and the balance was given less protection as preserves (20,340,000). [112]

The committee divided Gates of the Arctic into five separate units, three of which would be opened to sport hunting. A two-unit national park (Igikpak and Doonerak units) was divided by a national preserve in the John River Valley. Two national recreation areas totalled 1,040,000 acres The first would include the south half of the valley on the North Fork of Koyukuk River, just below the two peaks from which came the name "Gates of the Arctic." The second encompassed Selby Lake and headwaters of the Kobuk River. The 1,400,000-acre national recreation area in the Wrangell-Saint Elias proposal left much of the most important wildlife habitat and recreational land open to mining. The preserve at Katmai was situated so as to leave a "firing line"—an area open to hunting through which the bears would have to migrate. [113]

Elsewhere, the committee cut instant wilderness designation to 36,520,000 acres, 30,210,000 of it in the National Park System, and mandated oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Range. It established a process for expediting requests for transportation corridors through conservation units, mandating specific rights-of-way across Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and across the "boot" at Gates of the Arctic (the upper watershed of the Kobuk River and Selby Lake region) .

The bill reported by the Senate Energy Committee proved unacceptable to the Carter Administration, supporters of H.R. 39 in the House, and conservationists alike. [114] Because no time remained for a House-Senate conference to resolve differences before adjournment, H.R. 39, a bill that seemed unstoppable in May, appeared to be dead. [115]

Chapter Four continues with...
The National Monument Interlude


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

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