ANILCA: A Guarantee of Access to Public Lands

Park areas in Alaska are vast and remote, and access to and within them can be difficult, often requiring the use of motorized vehicles, such as airplanes and motorboats. When Congress enacted ANILCA in 1980, it understood that the creation or expansion of federal conservation system units in Alaska such as national parks, might impede “traditional means and levels of access.” Alaska’s national park areas were designed to be managed differently from other parks in the National Park System, including with regard for access. This consideration led Congress to provide, in Title XI of ANILCA, for the continuation of appropriate types of access across and into Alaska’s national park areas.

Title XI of ANILCA addresses: (1) growth and development of Alaska’s transportation system; (2) routes of access to non-federal lands within or adjacent to park areas; and (3) “special access” for traditional activities. This special access is guaranteed in Section 1110(a) of ANILCA and balances the preservation of national park areas in Alaska with protection of access to and across such lands for “traditional activities.”

ANILCA 1110(a) states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act or other law, the Secretary shall permit, on conservation system units…, the use of snowmachines (during periods of adequate snow cover, or frozen river conditions in the case of wild and scenic rivers), motorboats, airplanes, and nonmotorized surface transportation methods for traditional activities (where such activities are permitted by this Act or other law) and for travel to and from villages and homesites. Such use shall be subject to reasonable regulations by the Secretary to protect the natural and other values of the conservation system units…and shall not be prohibited unless, after notice and hearing in the vicinity of the affected unit or area, the Secretary finds that such use would be detrimental to the resource values of the unit or area. Nothing in this section shall be construed as prohibiting the use of other methods of transportation for such travel and activities on conservation system lands where such use is permitted by this Act or other law.”

Although the types of access found in ANILCA park areas are generally more permissive than what is found in parks in the Lower 48, as noted above, Section 1110(a) specifically authorizes the Secretary to issue “reasonable regulations” to protect the “natural and other values” of the affected area. This section also authorizes the Secretary to close an area otherwise open to these types of motorized vehicles for such “special access” if, after notice and a hearing in the vicinity of the affected area, the Secretary finds that such use would be “detrimental to the resource values of the unit or area.”

This is the great promise and compromise of ANILCA: its ability to balance appropriate types and levels of access while ensuring that park resources, purposes and values are preserved and protected for future generations.

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

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    Last updated: November 12, 2020