The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), passed into US law in 1980, sets aside land for national parks and wildlife refuges, while making Alaska-specific provisions for traditional use. While the environmental protection afforded to the lands from timber, mineral, and hydrocarbons development was groundbreaking, controversy over restricted economic development and use by sports enthusiasts, subsistence hunters, and fishers has continued.
US expansion into Alaska was initially propelled by an interest in fur and gold. On October 18, 1867, the Treaty of Cession was signed, which transferred jurisdiction over Alaska from Russia to the United States. Further, the Treaty provided that "Uncivilized tribes will be subject to such laws and regulations as the United States may, from time to time, adopt in regard to aboriginal tribes in that country." Congress recognized this obligation in 1884 when it passed the first Organic Act extending the civil and criminal laws of Oregon to Alaska: "Indians or other persons in said district shall not be disturbed in the possession of any lands actually in their use or occupation or now claimed by them under which such persons may acquire title to such lands are reserved for future legislation by Congress."
Despite this disclaimer in the Organic Act, land was usually available for the economic and conservation interests that needed it. The first fish canneries were built in 1878, and within six years dotted the shores of southern Alaska. Gold claims and camps soon followed. Legislation in 1891, 1898, and 1900 permitted trade and manufacturing sites, town sites, home-steading, rights of way for a railroad, and timber harvests. Millions of acres were also withdrawn for national forests, parks, and wildlife refuges. In 1959, The Alaska Statehood Act granted the state 104 million acres of land. As public officials began selecting land, imposing rules, and applying laws, Alaska Native opposition arose. Within six years, 12 regional associations were formed to pursue their respective land claims. Early in 1967, regional leaders formed the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) to secure their rights, inform the public of their positions, preserve the cultural values of Native peoples, and gain an equitable settlement.
The first major bill to settle the claims of Alaska Natives was introduced in June 1967. The key to a Congressional settlement was oil. In the late 1960s, large quantities of oil were discovered in Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic coast of Alaska. A plan was devised to extract and transport the crude oil to refineries and markets in the continental United States. Land claims, however, prevented the construction of a pipeline to Valdez on Prince William Sound. Thereafter, an unusual coalition of energy companies, Native lobbyists, Alaskan public officials, executives from the Nixon administration, and environmental groups convinced Congress to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971.
Despite the title of ANCSA, Alaska Natives were not the only or primary beneficiaries of the legislation. Under the terms of the settlement, Alaska Native regional and village corporations received approximately 962 million dollars and 44 million acres of land. In exchange, claims over the remaining 330 million acres of land and aboriginal rights to hunt and fish were extinguished. A consortium of oil companies was permitted to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which led to the development of the largest oil fields in the United States, enormous profits for the industry, and substantial revenues and royalties for the state of Alaska. The President and Congress were able to achieve what they wanted most—a domestic source of oil that would counter earlier price increases for fuel and heating oil. Finally, the dreams of environmental groups for protected public lands were realized through the requirement that the Secretary of the Interior withdraw up to 80 million acres for inclusion into the "National Park, Forest, Wildlife Refuge, and Wild and Scenic Rivers Systems."
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