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By J.p. Tangen
Special to Mining News 

Alaskans discuss 35 years under ANILCA

Columnist offers U.S. Senate Committee thoughts on how ANILCA can be made more workable for Alaska's development industries


Last updated 12/20/2015 at Noon

For many of us, Dec. 2, 1980 was one of the darkest days in Alaska's history, for that was the day that more than 100 million acres of public land in Alaska were ripped from the public domain and placed off limits to virtually all forms of development. Fortunately, Alaskans were promised two things by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act: First, that this statute satisfied the need of the Carter administration to bend to the will of his Green constituency; and second, that the withdrawals would not preclude access across the withdrawn lands by Alaskans.

Of course, these promises were simply lies. Twenty years after ANILCA was passed the Alaska Miners Association published a short book called "d(2), Part 2, a Report to the People of Alaska on the Land Promises Made in ANILCA 20 Years Later." That book detailed many of the abuses by the land management agencies that had taken place in the two decades that preceded its publication.

Now another 15 years have elapsed, and the troubling problems that first bedeviled us are still like open sores on a leper, while new and even more problems continue to emerge.

On Dec. 3, 2015, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the problems that ANILCA has created and solicited recommendations from a panel of Alaskans as to how some of these problems could be remedied. I was honored to have been invited to testify on that panel.

In my oral testimony, due to time constraints, I was able to identify only a couple of matters that were illustrative of the problems that Alaskans have with the way the land managing agencies are implementing their statutory responsibilities; however, the list is long. I also identified for the committee more than a dozen remedial actions that Congress should consider enacting to put a stop to the federal overreach which is so visible in the context of ANILCA.

What came through to me, however, more than any other single point, is that the depredations are rampant and ongoing, perpetrated by bureaucrats who care neither for the needs of Alaska to develop its resources nor for the words of the law that demand they circumscribe their ambitions.

Accordingly, I walked away from the hearing more determined than ever to ensure that d(2), Part 2, Second Edition is published and have started the process to make that happen. Because it is a volume about Alaskans, I feel it should be by Alaskans, and am aggressively soliciting contributions to the manuscript by anyone who has a tale to share.

The first edition included 15 articles, frequently anecdotal, about how we got to where we were and what the issues of the day were. Interested readers of this column ought to be able to secure a copy of the first edition from the Alaska Miners Association. I also understand that it may soon be available digitally from the AMA.

Individuals wishing to make contributions to the next edition should contact me or Steve Borell, former executive director of the AMA to discuss the details of their proposed chapter. The main point is that writers need to plan on a Feb. 1, 2016 deadline.

Among the things that I feel should be addressed by Congress are the following:

That ANILCA ought to be considered an action-forcing statute binding on federal land managers in Alaska;

That the federal courts should review de novo agency decisions that deny Alaskans access through and across Conservation System Units (CSUs);

That all waters in Alaska be deemed navigable and subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state unless the affected agency can prove that a specific reach or impoundment is not owned by the state; and that logging roads and historic RS 2477 rights of way be deemed granted.

I also recommended that permits and studies required by an agency shall be paid for by that agency; that applications for access to or development of resources on inholdings shall be approved, unless denied for cause, within one year of the filing date; that all lapsed Public Land Orders be revoked by statute; and that wetlands within the more than 104 million acres of CSUs and Wilderness Areas in Alaska be deemed sufficient to satisfy the Clean Water Act's mitigation requirements for any development project in Alaska;

In addition, I urged that the Alaska Land Use Council be re-established to ensure that the promises of ANILCA are kept; that the Quiet Title Act should not apply to the transfer to the state of public lands in Alaska; and that the Mining in the Parks Act shall not apply to Alaska.

Although I recognize that the foregoing list is not comprehensive, and probably not politically possible, it seems to me that these few points are a place to start the conversation. It does have to be a conversation that involves all of these points and more, though. We have literally lost our timber industry in Alaska. Oil and gas takes it on the chin on a regular basis. Most miners wouldn't consider trying to bring a new property on federal land into production, and mining on State land is often the target of those who believe we should all live in trees and eat snakes. Management of hunting and trapping on the public lands is continuously being circumscribed.

It is high time that interested Alaskans ask ourselves whether this is the treatment that we deserve from our federal government, and if not, what we are going to do about it.


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