Alaska Subsistence
A National Park Service Management History
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Chapter 8:

F. Subsistence in the Legislature, Part II: Gates of the Arctic ATV Use

Another contentious subsistence-related issue during this period dealt with the all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in Gates of the Arctic National Park. As Chapter 6 has noted, the NPS determined during the early 1980s that ATVs were not a traditional means of access in the park; then, in January 1986, the NPS issued a memorandum stating that Anaktuvuk Pass residents' use of ATVs was nontraditional. But NPS officials, recognizing that the amount of ATV-accessible land was insufficient to support villagers' needs, had begun talks back in 1984 to resolve the situation, and in March 1986 the park's Subsistence Resource Commission passed a resolution supporting the concept of a three-way land exchange between the NPS, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) and the Nunamiut Corporation. Work on an exchange agreement was finalized on January 20, 1989, when the NPS, ASRC, Nunamiut Corporation and the City of Anaktuvuk Pass signed a draft agreement. Among its other provisions, the agreement would have designated several thousand acres as wilderness (of both existing parkland and Native lands transferred to the federal government), and deauthorized wilderness on several thousand additional acres. [71] All parties knew that only Congress could approve these actions, so a team of 11 NPS officials set to work on a legislative environmental impact statement (LEIS) that would provide a factual basis for the proposed land transfers. In the meantime, all parties recognized that until a bill passed Congress, ATV use on park lands was technically illegal. To circumvent that technicality, and to serve the greater interest of a negotiated settlement, NPS officials granted a series of one-year extensions to the 1986-88 ATV impact study, because only under the guise of that study could park ATV use legally continue in areas where a historical pattern had been established. [72]

Work on the document consumed far longer than anyone expected; at least five working drafts were prepared. [73] A final version of the draft LEIS was issued in January 1991. It offered three alternatives, the first of which called for a continuation of the status quo. A second alternative, which combined a negotiated agreement with proposed legislation, was the NPS's proposed action. And a third alternative called for all elements of the second alternative plus a land transfer from the NPS to the ASRC; some 28,115 acres of NPS wilderness land northwest of Anaktuvuk Pass would be transferred to the ASRC, while a 38,840-acre parcel northeast of the village would be transferred from the ASRC and the Nunamiut Corporation to the NPS. This latter parcel would become designated wilderness land.

The second alternative—the NPS's proposed action—stated that 17,825 acres within Gates of the Arctic National Park would be designated as wilderness and would thus be prohibited to ATV use. It also called for the deauthorization of wilderness on 73,880 acres in the park, plus the allowance of dispersed ATV use for subsistence purposes on 83,441 acres of park nonwilderness. (Within the latter category, a network of designated ATV easements had existed since the 1983 Chandler Lake Exchange Agreement—in which ASRC had transferred key Native lands within the park to the federal government—but area residents soon found that access to caribou often took them well away from those easements.) As stated in the draft LEIS, the proposal was intended to "foster a more reasonable relationship between NPS, recreational users and the village residents and provide better public access across Native land to park land." [74]

During March 1991, the NPS held public hearings on the draft LEIS in Anchorage and Fairbanks as well as in Anaktuvuk Pass. [75] As a result of those meetings, the agency received six written replies plus additional oral input. It then commenced preparing its final LEIS, which was completed in February 1992 and issued two months later. In a surprising move, the agency adopted its third alternative—not the second alternative, which had been championed a year earlier. Due to slight variations in acreage calculation from the previous year's document, the NPS agreed to allow 73,992 acres of Gates of the Arctic National Park wilderness to be transferred to less restrictive uses: 46,231 acres would allow for dispersed ATV use, while another 27,762 acres would be transferred from NPS to ASRC ownership. In addition, the deal called for 17,985 acres of park land to be designated as new wilderness, and another 80,401 acres of nonwilderness park land to be opened to dispersed ATV use, and another 2,880 acres of nonwilderness park land to be transferred to Native ownership. A final aspect of the deal, as noted above, was that the ownership of a 38,840-acre parcel northeast of Anaktuvuk Pass would be transferred from Native corporations to the NPS; all of that acreage, moreover, would be designated wilderness. [76] On October 20, 1992, an Interior Department official issued a Record of Decision in favor of implementing the third alternative; that decision was then forwarded to the other three governments for their signature.

The NPS, it should be noted, was careful in its Anaktuvuk Pass-area negotiations to sidestep the larger question of whether ATVs were a traditional means of access in Alaska's national park units. As the Record of Decision noted, the agency still did "not consider ATVs a traditional means of access for subsistence use in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and prohibits their use on NPS land. The Native community of Anaktuvuk Pass contends, however, that ATVs have been traditionally used and are necessary to reach subsistence resources in the summer. ... The proposed agreement and legislation meet the objective of resolving the ATV controversy. ... The agreement will also avoid a legal battle over the meaning of the legislative phrase '...other means of surface transportation traditionally employed...' and the NPS position that ATVs are not a traditional means of surface transportation." [77]

The last of the four participants in the Anaktuvuk Pass-area land exchange signed the agreement on December 17, 1992. [78] Revised agreements were signed in both 1993 and 1994, and in June 1994 the administration finally submitted the proposal to Congress. A month later, on July 13, bills intended to implement the agreement were introduced. Two different bills were submitted in the U.S. House of Representatives that day: H.R. 4746, introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) by request, and H.R. 4754, by Alaska Representative Don Young. [79] A third bill, S. 2303, was introduced a week later by Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski. The three bills, all called the "Anaktuvuk Pass Land Exchange and Wilderness Redesignation Act of 1994," were identical in asking for an additional 56,825 acres of park wilderness and the dedesignation of 73,993 acres of park wilderness. Where they differed, however, was whether new wilderness acreage was contemplated elsewhere. Miller's bill, which was backed by environmental interests, called for an additional 41,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management wilderness in the Nigu River valley adjacent to Noatak National Preserve, while Young's and Murkowski's bills made no such provision.

On September 21, the major players in this issue—George Miller, Bruce Vento (D-Minn.), and Don Young—brokered a deal and agreed to settle the differences in acreage, and on September 27 the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee issued a report on S. 2303 that called for an additional 17,168 acres of wilderness in the Nigu River Valley. (This figure was chosen so that the bill would result in no net change in wilderness acreage.) This acreage was also incorporated into H.R. 4746. During the closing weeks of the 103rd Congress, many additional NPS-related provisions were added onto H.R. 4746, so when the bill passed the House of Representatives on October 3, the various provisions related to Gates of the Arctic National Park were just one section of a much larger omnibus bill. H.R. 4746 was forwarded on to the Senate, which received the bill on October 8; the Senate, however, was unable to pass a bill containing an Anaktuvuk Pass land exchange during the waning hours of the 103rd Congress. [80]

A bill to implement the deal was quickly re-introduced in January 1995, and because it was fairly noncontroversial, it moved fairly quickly. H.R. 400, introduced on January 4 and calling for 17,168 acres of new wilderness acreage in the Upper Nigu River to be added to Noatak National Preserve, sailed through the House Resources Committee on January 18, and on February 1 the bill passed the full House on a unanimous 427-0 vote. [81] Action then shifted to the Senate, which waited for several months before considering it. The full Senate considered the measure on June 30. During those deliberations, Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) introduced an amendment to the bill urging action on provisions unrelated to the Anaktuvuk Pass ATV issue. The bill, with Dole's amendment, passed the Senate that day on a voice vote. [82] That bill's provisions, however, were soon folded into an even larger bill, H.R. 1296, which passed the Senate on May 1, 1996. Four months later, during the waning weeks of the 104th Congress, legislators cobbled together an even more comprehensive bill, H.R. 4236. This bill, called the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996, was introduced on September 27, and within the next month it passed both houses of Congress. President Clinton signed the bill on November 12. [83] Twelve years after Anaktuvuk Pass residents and NPS officials began working on the problem, the land exchange was finally implemented. Anaktuvuk Pass residents responded by holding a festive November 14 celebration in the village's community hall. [84]

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Last Updated: 14-Mar-2003