The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Citizens advisory group bites the dust

In national terms, Alaska is the tail on the political pig, but the governor's red pen may hurt more than 1,000 pages of regs

It has been a long time since I took high school civics, so it is easy to understand how things may have changed. However, one of its precepts that has served me to this day is the idea that there was a significant difference of opinion among our founding fathers as to whether the newly-formed nation should be a democratic or a republican form of government. (Please note the absence of capital letters.)

Democracy was advanced as a way to allow the people to rule through a simple majority; whereas, a republic was envisioned as a way of ensuring that minority rights would be respected. The French revolution which temporally followed our own by only a few years illustrated the weakness of an unrestrained and tyrannical democracy.

The United States dodged that bullet by loading our constating documents with significant restraints on the central government. Theoretically, those powers not granted were retained by the several states.

This time-worn concept has, of course, been eroded over the ensuing centuries; nonetheless, there are many pockets around the nation that are quick to point to the innumerable, ongoing breaches by the national government that strip freedom and liberty from the people in the name of regimentation. As hard as it is for many of us to understand the justification for immutable centralization, the dispute continues.

For Alaskans, many of whom have migrated here for refuge from the heavy hand of Washington, the manic-depressive political cycle of the past half-century has been a wild ride. First, the Statehood Act promised us one-third of the last frontier for the purpose of developing our resources; then the necessity to stay our selections to accommodate the unjustifiably-ignored land rights of our first citizens intervened; thereafter, the Green guys wanted to ensure that a few of "America's [local] Crown Jewels" were perpetuated inviolate. ANILCA was conceived by some of us to be the ultimate compromise that would put a stop to all that, in retrospect, insatiable, blather.

As the land managing agencies began to tighten the screws on Alaska residents following ANILCA, the State established a counter-insurgency force called the Citizens' Advisory Commission on Federal Areas in Alaska. CACFA ostensibly spoke for the people in screaming "foul" over the abusive misconduct of our absentee landlord. CACFA, however, was frequently defunded and reinstated in a series of legislative mood swings, including one nine-year gap in service. Since re-established in 2007, it has been seriously and conscientiously doing what it could to at least highlight, if not thwart, the incessant breaches by the federeaucrats. It has now been, again, defunded.

Insanely, at a moment when our state is in the turmoil of a petty financial crisis, our governor has drawn a red-line through the current CACFA appropriation, as if to say that he cares little about the mandate of the council. In essence, he has declared that whatever the national government may be induced to do on its two-thirds of the land in the state is just fine with him, even though the serpentine boundaries of those holdings effectively preclude access to and use of the vast tracts upon which our citizens literally depend for existence.

Mining, oil and gas recovery, timbering and even fishing - not to mention hunting, trapping, dog-mushing, pack-trailing and a plethora of other uses that Alaskans make of the land - will be more aggressively circumscribed because of the re-defunding of CACFA. The irony of the governor's timing is that it was preceded only a matter of weeks by the euphoria we all felt when the U. S. Supreme Court unanimously proclaimed that Alaska is different from the other states when it comes to land management, and that the vassals of (the U.S. Department of) Interior and the (U.S.) Forest Service must respect the differences.

Granted, CACFA has operated just below the surface of public awareness; but it has provided a steady, thoughtful and pertinent commentary of the conflict between the State and national perceptions of land use planning. Responsible and meaningful criticism should not be rewarded by extirpation; but its low profile undoubtedly will make the chore of those calling for its restitution more difficult.

CACFA should be promptly resuscitated, and if funding from state coffers cannot be justified by the head-shed in Juneau, then alternative sources of funding should be identified and embraced. Alaska cannot afford to lose a key watchdog when it comes to protecting our central needs and rights.


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