Should more Alaskan parkland be opened to hunters?

Under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), enacted in late 1980, more than 22 million acres of new national park lands in Alaska, an area larger than the State of Indiana, are open only to subsistence hunting. Before the lands act, this land had been open to all hunters without harm to wildlife populations.

ANILCA's sweeping restriction of hunting was not the product of a political consensus in Congress. In fact, a majority of the Senate voted at one point during the Alaska lands debate to keep much more land open to hunting than ANILCA, but procedural constraints precluded amending ANILCA to match the Senate majority's decision. As a result, there was no compromise in the Senate on hunting, and the legitimate concerns of non-subsistence hunters were not addressed by the Congress in its consideration of ANILCA.

Earlier this year Sen. Frank Murkowski and I introduced S. 49, which would restore access for all hunters to 12 million acres in Alaska by redesignating some lands in the new national parks as national park preserves.

In addition to redressing the wrong done non-subsistence hunters in 1980, S. 49 would facilitate the conservation of Alaska's wildlife. The International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, an organization of fish and wildlife officials from all 50 states, has endorsed our legislation. The association recognizes properly managed hunting as an effective wildlife conservation tool; hunting plays an important role in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's highly-regarded wildlife conservation program.

When federal land is open to hunting, all hunters should have the opportunity to hunt, subject to the requirements of proper wildlife management and the needs of other users of the land. Under ANILCA, however, only rural Alaskan hunters can qualify for subsistence status despite the fact that many urban hunters depend on hunting to supplement their families' food supply. S. 49 would correct this inequity.

The integrity of the National Park System is not threatened by S. 49. The bill would take no land out of the System. Congress used the park preserve designation in the Alaska Lands Act to deal with Alaska's special needs while remaining within the national park concept. S. 49 does not expand the use of the park preserve designation beyond the context of Alaska's unique situation. It would in no way affect national parks in the lower 48 or pre-1978 national parks in Alaska.

The park preserves designated by S. 49 would be managed, as are all national parks and national park preserves in Alaska, by the National Park Service, subject to all the use restrictions that apply to all Alaska national park lands except hunting. No mineral exploration and extraction, timber harvesting, or other commercial resource development is permitted in national park preserves in Alaska. Senator Murkowski and I have pledged to prevent amendments to ANILCA during the present Congress that would lift these restrictions.

S. 49 would not seriously interfere with nonhunting recreational uses of Alaska's national parks. First, most of the areas included in the bill are miles away from present and planned recreational sites in the park complexes and are little visited by backpackers. In fact some of the areas are so inaccessible or of such minimal scenic value that the ban on hunting excludes the only recreational users who would visit these areas: hunters. Second, most hunting in Alaska takes place in the fall after nonhunting recreational use of the park areas has peaked.

Some argue that since the National Park System units in Alaska occupy only around 9 percent of the state's surface area, expansion of the park preserves is unnecessary. This argument is incorrect. Obviously, the millions of acres of glaciers, and mountain peaks in Alaska offer few hunting opportunities. In addition, much of the big game habitat that is open to hunting is of low-quality or is virtually inaccessible. Despite arguments to the contrary, the fact remains that ANILCA closed some of the finest, accessible hunting lands in Alaska, previously used only by non-subsistence hunters, to the only people who had enjoyed them. The vast majority of these excluded non-subsistence hunters are Alaskan residents, not wealthy out-of-state residents.

S. 49 responds to the hunters who were discriminated against in 1980. It would facilitate the conservation and preservation of Alaska's wildlife and correct a serious inequity between rural and urban hunters without jeopardizing the wildlife, scenic, and nonhunting recreational values of Alaska's national park complexes. Even after passage of S. 49, more than 20 million acres of national park lands would remain closed to hunting. This is an area greater than all of the national park lands in the rest of the US combined.

Simple justice leads to the conclusion that federal land which is open to hunting by some Americans should be open to all Americans.

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