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History of the Public Lands in Alaska
Rocky cliffs of Coronation Island, Alaska
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

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.

Anchorage Alaska Public Lands Information Center logo

The Alaska Centers

Due to ANILCA, the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers were born. The first opened was Tok in 1984, followed by Fairbanks in 1986, Anchorage in 1987, and finally Ketchikan in 1995. These centers, though each is managed by a single department (state, National Park Service, National Park Service, and National Forest Service, respectively), represent nine different State and Federal partners:

Watch the video below for additional information on the impact of public lands in Alaska!

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State Park Logo
State Parks
Find information about Alaska's State Parks.
Denali National Park & Preserve
Denali National Park & Preserve
Massive glaciers flank the towering Mt. McKinley
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
Spectacular viewing of glaciers carving into the ocean
Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, photo credit: USFWS
Arctic Refuge 50th Anniversary
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!
Wrangell - St. Elias National Park & Preserve
The largest assemblage of glaciers on the continent
The South face of the sharply pointed Mount St Elias is covered in snow. Did You Know?
Mount Saint Elias in Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve is located only 10 miles from the head of Icy Bay and stands at 18,008 feet. Due to the proximity to ocean waters, it has the highest coastal vertical relief of any mountain in the world.