by John Coghill
July 03, 2005
The people of Alaska voted to accept statehood with the federal government. Statehood was for us about independence and our ability to develop the vast natural resources of this State.
For the first twenty-one years after Statehood, Alaskans had reasonable access and use of federal lands. But then Section 17 (d)2 of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act provided that Congress could address the issue of additional conservation lands at a later date, which they did by enacting ANILCA in 1980.
ANILCA was to be the "no more" legislation setting aside 104 million acres in Conservation System Units (CSU). The understanding was that the federal government would not withdraw any more lands from the use of Alaskans and there would be protection for continued access and use of existing rights, lands, and resources.
The Alaska Statehood Act admitted us into the Union "on an equal footing with the other States in all respects ..." yet more than 50% of the nation's park lands, and 87% of the refuge lands in the United States are located in Alaska. The Department of Interior (DOI) manages 58% of Alaska's lands and has more than 3,200 employees assigned to Alaska. The land designated as "wilderness" in ANILCA as a single land mass would be more than one half the size of California.
ANILCA made promises of reasonable access for existing landholders, Native allotments, Native regional and village lands, and holders of mining claims who now rely on access to their own land through ANILCA lands. ANILCA gave the National Park Service surface management authority over the mining operations newly surrounded by NPS lands. Even though existing mining operations were "valid existing rights", NPS stopped mining operations through various means. Congress appropriated funds to compensate miners in the Kantishna Mining District but less than a handful have been paid for the takings.
The U.S. Forest Service continues to propose special restrictions for their federal land use in Alaska. Under President Clinton's watch, the Bureau of Land Management changed the rules and allowed BLM bureaucrats to study new lands for CSU withdrawals or other restricted designations.
Professional game guides have probably fared even worse than miners under ANILCA. Miners had property rights whereas professional game guides had leases. When a lease comes up for renewal the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service changes the rules and terms of the leases and has managed to run many, if not most, of the professional guides out of business.
Title VIII of ANILCA divides us into "rural" and "urban" on equality and subsistence issues. This section of ANILCA is a denial of the States' sovereignty, equal footing, and public trust responsibility. And, it mandates discrimination against urban Alaskans' use of fish and game based on zip codes. I believe ANILCA should not preempt nor diminish the State of Alaska's sovereign authorities over its own lands, water, and resources. I have been consistent in saying that I will not compromise equality to accommodate federal mandates that are unconstitutional.
We must recover from the losses in mining, timber, fishing, and the inability to access public land for the growth of this state. I think we have proven to the world that we are willing and able to care for our environment while developing our resources. I would like to see those who say that they are for the protection of our environment prove it by promoting good stewardship through harvesting timber, reclaiming mining areas for public purposes, and promoting sustained yield harvest principles for fish and game management.
How did "no more" become "more"? Mr. Carter, help us protect our individual liberty, our States' rights and a healthy private economy leaving a strong legacy for the next generation.
Representative John Coghill (R) is a member of the Alaska State Legislature representing District 11 - North Pole...
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