Building Awareness, Understanding and Appreciation

A group of lawmakers stand in a room clapping. President Carter is near the center.
President Carter signs the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act on December 2, 1980.

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library photo.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) is considered by many to be the single-most significant piece of conservation legislation ever enacted. This year, the National Park Service will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Act that was passed into law by President Jimmy Carter on December 2, 1980.

The history of ANILCA begins in 1971 with another law: the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). ANCSA was intended to resolve long-standing issues surrounding aboriginal land claims in Alaska, as well as to stimulate economic development throughout Alaska. Section 17(d)(2) of ANCSA directed the Secretary of the Interior to “withdraw…up to…but not to exceed, eighty million acres of unreserved public lands in the State of Alaska which the Secretary deems are suitable for addition to or creation as units fof the National Park, Forest, Wildlife Refuge, and Scenic Rivers systems…”

From Section 17(d)(2) of ANCSA, a chain of events was set in motion which culminated in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. ANILCA went beyond the original limit set by ANCSA and created over 100 million acres of new conservation system units in Alaska. In ANILCA, Congress sought to preserve for future generations certain lands and waters in Alaska containing nationally significant values, including areas important for wildlife, subsistence, wilderness, recreation, scientific, scenic, and historic reasons. 

ANILCA created or added to 13 national parks, 16 wildlife refuges, 2 national forests, 2 national monuments, 2 conservation areas, and 26 wild and scenic rivers. In total, ANILCA protected more than 104 million acres in Alaska. Nearly half of the land, 57 million acres, was set aside as designated Wilderness, the highest level of protection for public lands. 

For many Americans, who themselves saw troublesome overdevelopment in their own states, ANILCA was considered a “win” in the effort to balance land management in Alaska with areas being conserved as pristine for future generations, but also identifying areas for their resource development potential.

Learn more about the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA):

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