Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus properly demonstrated the Carter administration's determination to protect Alaska's lands by extending for 20 years restrictions on 40 million acres of the federal holdings. The restrictions, imposed in 1978 when President Carter set aside 110 million acress in all for preservation, were to have expired in 1981. Of that 110-million-acre set-aside, 56 million acres were designated national monuments and thereby permanently protected. But the remainder of the land was only temporarily closed to developers to give Congress time to debate it s use.
The action by Mr. Andrus will give Congress ample opportunity to considers bills in both houses that would make permanent wildlife refuges of the land. Strong legislation approved by the House, as well as proposed amendments to a weaker bill before the Senate, not only would safeguard Alaska's caribou herds, bears, and millions of waterfowl. They would also leave open for oil exploration and discovery 95 percent of the state's lands that are believed to have the greatest oil and gas potential. Moreover, the more than 50 percent of Alaskan oil reserves that lie offshore would remain available for energy development.
Alaska's development-minded senators have led opposition to previous congressional attempts to preserve the state's wilderness areas. More than once they have succeeded in derailing legislation that had the backing of the Carter administration and environmental groups. In this session, Senator Gravel seems to be employing delaying tactics in hopes of doing so again. Congress ought to stop dallying and enact these reasonable measures. In the meantime, Secretary Andrus has made certain Alaska's rich natural heritage won't be destroyed by overzealous developers.