|Coronation Island was designated as a wilderness area in 1980 under ANILCA.|
In 1872, Yellowstone was designated as the first National Park, and America's legacy of conservation began. A New Agency: The National Park Service was created in the Organic Act of 1916. The new agency's mission as managers of national parks and monuments was clearly stated.
"....to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
Alaska gained statehood in 1959, which raised questions as to what should happen to the vast amount of land that was available there. Many Alaskans (and in general Americans) wanted to leave the lands open for development and resources, like mining.
However, in 1971, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) passed, granting 44 million acres of land to the Native peoples that had lived in Alaska for tens of thousands of years. In addition, ANCSA also set aside 80 million acres to study for possible conservation. ANCSA was largely in response to the discovery of oil on the north slope, with conflict arising over how much claim the indigenous people had to that oil, and the other resources around the State.
The debate lasted for nearly a decade, and with the completion of the trans-Alaska pipeline in 1977, oil was a bigger issue than ever. Finally, during President Carter's last days as president, he accepted a compromise that ensured Alaska's status as the last frontier:
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 provided the following:
- 10 National Parks and Preserves
- 2 National Monuments
- 9 National Wildlife Refuges (Including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR)
- 2 National Conservation Areas
- 25 Wild and Scenic rivers
ANILCA also expanded a number of other parks that were already in existence. When all was said and done, 104 million acres were put aside for conservation and protection - an area larger than the state of California.
Initial reaction to the new public lands was not always positive. In Seward, people were very upset over the creation of Kenai Fjords National Park because they felt it would adversely affect their economy. Quite the contrary, within a few years the park had become a major part of the city's economy.
Not that debate has ceased on this subject. There are still many supporters for the drilling of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a virtually pristine wilderness that may contain significant amounts of oil.
While controversy will always surround public lands to some degree, they remain special places. Alaska's public lands boast glaciers the size of Rhode Island, and some of the largest National Parks and Forests in the country. What's more, public lands are for the people to love, enjoy, cherish, and most importantly, protect.