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NPS in Alaska Before 1972


Response to ANCSA, 1971-1973


current topic NPS in Alaska, 1973-1980





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

Chapter Five:
The National Park Service in Alaska, 1973-1980
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C. Management of the National Monuments, 1979-80

Primary responsibility for interim management of the d-2 lands rested with the Bureau of Land Management. Because any activities allowed could significantly alter resources and limit options available to future managers, and because that agency possessed limited capability to adequately monitor those activities, the National Park Service and other four-systems agencies had been closely involved from the very beginning. The Service cooperated with the BLM and other agencies in developing procedures and stipulations for seismic and surface geology programs and a policy regarding use of all-terrain vehicles on d-2 lands. They reviewed applications and assisted in developing stipulations for permits that ranged from a proposal for construction of an ice road on Cape Espenberg, a request to conduct military maneuvers at Gates of the Arctic, requests for oil and gas exploration permits such as Standard Oil's proposal for a geological-geophysical study in the central arctic, to a request for a permit to cut firewood near Walker Lake in Gates of the Arctic. All the while the Alaska Area Office maintained an ongoing program of monitoring activities in the proposed parklands. [59]

The relationship between the Park Service and BLM regarding interim management of the d-2 lands was often contentious. Nevertheless, the Service did gain an understanding of the complexity of management in the new Alaska areas and experience in dealing with many of the issues that exist to the present.

The Park Service and the other federal agencies had looked forward to management of the proposed Alaskan areas since 1972. Despite involvement in interim management, and the planning and preparation for management that had gone on, few could have predicted that management responsibility would come the way in which it did—thrust upon the Service as a result of President Carter's December 1, 1978, National Monument proclamations.

When he recommended national monument protection for the proposed parklands, NPS Director Whalen wrote, "our business is managing people and resources, and we will apply the law reasonably and firmly in the Alaska monuments." [60] Whalen did not make clear how that would be accomplished, and implementing his pledge would prove to be no simple task. The negative reaction of Alaska residents provided a signal that the Service should take a cautious approach. Personnel ceilings and budget constraints prevented the Service from assigning new people to the monuments. The Department of the Interior did not request a FY '79 supplemental appropriation for the $3,469,000 to $5,200,000 estimated to be necessary for management of the NPS monuments, but instead submitted a request to reprogram existing funds. When this request, which was supported by OMB, was denied, the Service simply had no adequate funds to staff the areas. Furthermore, the general feeling that the monument proclamations were a temporary measure pending legislative action, made aggressive management seem inappropriate. [61]

The wisdom of the decision not to staff the new monuments could not be tested during the winter months, when little activity, save local trapping and hunting, traditionally takes place. John Cook and members of his staff did visit various "hot spots"—communities like Eagle and Glenallen—where opposition to the monuments and the Park Service was particularly high. When the Real Alaska Coalition, a statewide coalition of sportsmen's and recreation groups, sponsored an attempt at organized law-breaking at the "Great Denali Trespass" in early February, existing personnel, along with ten rangers reassigned from parks in the Pacific Northwest, met the situation discreetly and with few difficulties. [62]

The initial approach to management of the new NPS monuments rested, in part, on the assumption that Congress would act on the proposed legislation prior to the next Alaska sport hunting season which would begin in early August 1979. [63] As it became clear that the legislative process would not be completed before that critical date, NPS and Interior Department officials agreed that some method of establishing an NPS presence in the monuments must be found, despite the personnel and funding constraints. In early June Alaska area Director Cook requested Bill Tanner, then chief ranger at Chamizal National Monument, to draw up a plan for the short-term staffing of the new Alaska monuments. [64] Although patterned roughly on the concept of the special events teams, the staffing and operational plan which Tanner prepared and the Park Service and Interior Department approved was a protection rather than enforcement plan designed to:

provide accurate information regarding the National Park Service, its objectives and policies; to provide the traditional services of search and rescue, emergency medical care and other public services to the visitors and residents of the monuments; [and] to provide the best possible protection to the resources of the monuments. [65]

The eventual cost of the program was $551,000. Travel pay and expenses came from the reprogramming authority of the Service's emergency law and order account. The twenty-one rangers and one clerk-typist detailed to Alaska, however, were paid by their home parks. [66]

During the first week of July 1979 Richard Smith, whom Director Whalen had chosen to coordinate the program, Tanner, Walt Dabney, Park Ranger at Grand Teton National Park, and Mike Finley, then assigned to the Service's WASO office, selected the rest of what became known as the Ranger Task Force. The twenty-one rangers on the task force were all people with considerable experience, holding, generally, senior level ranger positions (district rangers and chief rangers) in seventeen parks, the Washington office, and Albright Training Center at Grand Canyon. Among the other criteria used in selection were a proven ability to deal with people under stressful circumstances, demonstrated skill in ranger activities, and an ability to operate independently for long periods of time. Finally, all were commissioned law enforcement officers. [67]

The first members of the Task Force flew into Anchorage on July 15, with the rest arriving on August 1 . Seven people were assigned to specific areas (Wrangell-St. Elias, Gates of the Arctic, Kenai Fjords, and, toward the latter part of the summer, Kotzebue). [68] The remaining fourteen people remained in the Anchorage office, with one group responsible for task force affairs and liaison with the Alaska Area Office. Another group acted as liaison with other federal agencies and with search and rescue operations, and a third group was assigned to field areas as required. The latter was in the field most of the time. Four people, for example, spent ten days at Lake Minchumina adjacent to Denali National Monument, and four more spent ten days at Katmai. [69]

Regardless of the reasons for not more actively managing the new monuments before August 1979, the Park Service had given a false impression of its intentions in Alaska, and had contributed to a growing belief that President Carter's national monument proclamations actually intended to have little effect on the lives and lifestyles of Alaskans. Arrival of the Ranger Task Force, indicating as it did, that the Park Service was indeed serious about protecting resources in those areas, shattered the prevailing 'business as usual' calm that had followed the initial outburst of opposition to the Carter administration's actions, and sparked a new round of protests against the monuments and the Park Service. Rangers assigned to Kenai Fjords, Lake Clark, and Kotzebue encountered little overt resentment and went about their jobs with little apparent difficulty. Elsewhere, however, task force rangers found themselves to be the brunt of considerable hostility. [70] Business establishments at Bettles Field (Gates of the Arctic N.M.) and in the Wrangell-Saint Elias area refused services to the Task Force rangers, and those assigned to the latter were forced to leave their rented quarters when their landlady received a bomb threat. Even those in Anchorage encountered similar situations. When Stu Coleman, who had been assigned to Lake Clark, came to Anchorage for treatment of an impacted tooth, the first dentist visited indicated that he would prefer not to treat a National Park Service employee. [71]

Such incidents quite naturally proved irritating. Of greater concern, however, was an underlying threat of actual violence directed toward the Ranger Task Force. Many Task Force Rangers at one time or another received anonymous death threats. Several incidents throughout the summer gave these threats a credibility they might not have had ordinarily. Someone, for example, fired five shots through John Cook's office window one night, and another assaulted an individual known to be friendly to rangers assigned at Wrangell-Saint Elias. On September 11, an arsonist destroyed a plane chartered for the use of the three rangers manning that area. [72]

Task Force Rangers recognized that such incidents described above were the work of individuals, and did not reflect on the vast majority of Alaskans. [73] In the face of considerable opposition, and without the traditional organizational support structure that existed elsewhere, task force rangers went about the jobs they had been sent to do—patrolling huge areas, answering hundreds of questions about the monuments, carrying out searches for downed aircraft and issuing citations, when necessary, for illegal hunting in the monuments. [74]

In the public's perception, ranger activities had mixed results, some members of the Ranger Task Force were charged with using excessive force ("Gestapo" tactics) and others with deliberately refusing to enforce the law. [75] Some within the Service itself criticized the task force approach, arguing that it allowed the Service to avoid responsibility for managing the national monuments as Director Whalen had said it would do. There may be some a certain truth to that charge, but probably the real criticism should have been leveled at decisions that failed to provide requested funding for a more permanent commitment of staff and operations. Nevertheless the 1979 Ranger Task Force, and the one that followed in 1980, had, under the most trying conditions, established a NPS presence in the proposed Alaska Parklands, and made a clear statement that the resource values there would be protected. [76] It introduced and personalized the operational side of the NPS to many local people. In return it had introduced the Alaska context to a number of people in the Park Service, many of whom would assume responsible positions in the areas following passage of ANILCA. The Ranger Task force had absorbed—and dissipated—considerable hostility. Though that hostility had by no means disappeared when the Service began to permanently staff the areas following passage of ANILCA, the new superintendents and staffs found their work to be much easier because of the pioneering effort of the task force.

Thus, the Park Service could look back on nine years of intensive study, planning, and management of the Alaska parklands when President Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. But the job was just beginning. For the Park Service, it would mean a formal commitment to properly managing a total area that more than doubled the existing National Park system. The experience the Service had gained during the preceding nine years, would prove to be vital in the coming years.

End of Chapter Five


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

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