When I was president, I became thoroughly familiar with four maps. One was of Israel and the occupied territories; I knew it almost by heart. I also learned in detail about the Panama Canal Zone. Another focus was on a very small area of Iran. Finally, I learned the map of Alaska.
Just as memorable to me as Alaska’s map are the people who were deeply involved in the political contest over the future of her public lands. The debate really began as soon as Alaska became a state and culminated on December 2, 1980, when I signed the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act into law.
This was the largest and most comprehensive piece of conservation legislation ever passed, involving fierce debate and compromise. One of the gifts to the nation bequeathed to us by the act was the 54 million acres of national park lands in Alaska.
The national parks in Alaska are different from parks elsewhere in the nation in both scope and scale. They contain the largest units in the National Park Service system, and most measure their acreage in the millions. Alaska’s parks represent two-thirds of the acres in the entire park system and three-fourths of our wilderness areas. Alaska’s parks were perhaps the last ones of large size that will be created anywhere in the United States, protecting natural landscapes on an ecosystem scale. And finally, Alaska’s parks both preserve an archeological record of more than 10,000 years of human occupation, and are used today by both local residents and visitors. Alaska’s national parks are different, but like their counterparts elsewhere in the nation, they represent the promise of the future even as we preserve and honor the past.
This anniversary issue of Alaska Park Science explores how ANILCA has shaped science in the parks, and provides a history and an overview of the kinds of science needed as a result of the act. It highlights subsistence use—fisheries, caribou, and the human tradition; mining legacy and abandoned mine restoration; access to parks and wilderness; and opportunities for future research. Included is a discussion of what we know and what we need to know to manage these parks in perpetuity.
ANILCA has been in place for 25 years —a generation of excitement and pleasure. The passage of this act is one of the proudest achievements of my presidency and one that will endure through the centuries. Poll after poll has shown that the American people remain firmly committed to the protection that makes these unspoiled lands the envy of the world. It has been my pleasure to introduce this issue of Alaska Park Science and to join in celebrating the 25th anniversary of ANILCA. Happy Anniversary!
- Jimmy Carter
Last updated: April 2, 2018