The Aftermath 19802003

The struggle between business corporations, sports enthusiasts, preservationists, hunters, and fishers has continued unabated since 1980. Conservation groups have challenged resource projects, oil and gas lease sales, decisions by the Interior Secretary, land transfers, and commercial fishing interests; Native individuals and villages have fought development activities, agency reorganizations, timber harvests, and violations of environmental protections; and the state of Alaska and a variety of business and private associations have attacked federal regulations, land use restrictions, and rural preferences. Continued conflicts over subsistence and resource development have been the most divisive.

The 8th section of ANILCA states that the taking of fish and wildlife on public lands in Alaska "for non-wasteful subsistence uses shall be given preference . . . over other consumptive uses." Here subsistence is defined as the "customary and traditional" use of wild resources by rural residents for direct personal and family consumption. This rural priority is a partial fulfillment of Congress's promise to protect Alaska Native village economies, and a response to Alaskan concerns over group or racial discrimination. ANILCA permits the state to regulate fish and game on national lands as long as Alaska law recognized a rural preference. However, in 1989 the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in McDowell v. Alaska that residency as a criterion for subsistence violated the equal rights and com mon use provisions of the Alaska Constitution, and therefore was unconstitutional. With the state no longer in compliance with federal law, the national government reluctantly took over the management of public lands in Alaska. Since 1990, the courts, Congress, the state, and various Alaska Native organizations have tried to devise a compromise that would both protect subsistence and insure individual equity. Thus far, there is no solution in sight.

The debate over the development of the coastal range of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) derives from a clause in ANILCA that calls for "... an analysis of the impacts of oil and gas exploration, development, and production, and to authorize exploratory activity within the coastal plain in a manner that avoids significant adverse effects on the fish and wildlife and other resources" (Section 1001 (a) Purpose). The Arctic National Wildlife Range was originally established by the Eisenhower administration in 1960. In 1980, Congress increased the size of the refuge to 19 million acres and set aside the "1002 area" for future study for its oil and gas potential. To date, there have been eight independent assessments, with widely divergent results. Alaska's Governor Frank Murkowski estimates that there are 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the area. The most recent study by the US Geological Survey estimates there are 5 to 7 billion barrels depending on the price of oil when production begins. Developmental interests, including the Bush Administration, the Teamsters union, Alaska representatives, the AFN, and many others, claim that opening the refuge will offer employment to thousands and lessen the dependence of the United States on Middle Eastern suppliers. Opponents worry about possible damage to the ecology of the Arctic and threats to the wildlife, and people like the Gwich'in and the Iñupiat who depend on them.

The ANILCA is testament to the fluidity of legislative compromise and the difficulty of finding lasting solutions to deep-seated social, cultural, and political differences. It represents what a former president described "as one of the most important pieces of conservation legislation ever passed in this nation . Never before have we seized the opportunity to preserve so much of America's natural and cultural heritage on so grand a scale." (remarks by Jimmy Carter at the White House upon signing H.R. 39 into law (December 2, 1980)). It also reveals another, less commendable historical impulse. As one leader testified a generation ago: "It really seems ironic to us that we should sit here and beg for the privilege to continue to use these lands . in which we have always used them. Our life and our independence and our happiness in large part depends on our continued activity to provide for ourselves and our families in the traditional manner of our people from the resources of our land" (statement of Rachael Craig in Kotzebue, Alaska, at the Hearings Before the Subcommittee on General Oversight and Alaska Lands of the US House of Representatives (August 17, 1977)).

David C. Maas

See also Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA); Alaska Treaty (Convention for the Cession of the Russian Possessions in North America to the United States); National Parks and Protected Areas: Alaska

Further Reading

Buck, Eugene, "Alaska National Interest Lands (d-2) Legislation: Issue Brief," Washington, District of Columbia: Library of Congress, October 13, 1977 Hull, T. & L. Leask, "Dividing Alaska, 1867-2GGG: changing land ownership and management." Alaska Review of Social and Economic Conditions, 32(1) (2GGG): 1-12 Williss, Frank, Administrative History: The National Park Service and ANILCA, Washington, District of Columbia: National Park Service, 198G

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