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current topic NPS in Alaska Before 1972


Response to ANCSA, 1971-1973


NPS in Alaska, 1973-1980





The National Park Service and the
Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980: Administrative History

Chapter One:
The National Park Service in Alaska Before 1972
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A. The National Park System in Alaska, 1910-1970

On January 11, 1972, the National Park Service forwarded its preliminary recommendations for withdrawal of twenty-one areas totaling 44,169,600 acres of land in Alaska for study as possible additions to the National Park System. [1] Part of a general Department of the Interior preliminary proposal that totaled 101,373,600 acres, the recommendations were mandated by section 17(d)(2) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of December 18, 1971. [2]

map of Alaska
(click on map for larger size)

These preliminary recommendations were put together in a matter of days after the passage of ANCSA. They were not whimsical, however, but were based on a body of knowledge of the resources of Alaska gained through years of experience and study there. By 1972 the National Park Service administered four areas in Alaska that totaled just over 7,545,000 acres. [3] The Service had established a presence there, that, while too often superficial, perhaps, existed from its earliest days as an organization.

In light of later events, it is perhaps ironic that the origin of the National Park System in Alaska is to be found in President William Howard Taft's use of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Responding to a report that documented the destruction of resources in a public park (Totem Park) in the small southeastern Alaska fishing village of Sitka, President Taft invoked the Antiquities Act to establish Sitka National Monument on March 23, 1910. [4]

Sitka National Monument was established to protect significant historic and cultural resources relating to the Russian-Tlingit battle of 1804, and cultural artifacts of southeast Alaska Natives. [5] Use of the proclamation provision for Sitka was not, however, the last time a president would invoke the Antiquities Act to protect what he deemed to be nationally significant resources in Alaska. In fact, before 1970 the National Park System in Alaska was one that existed primarily by executive action. The one exception was the 1,408,000-acre Mt. McKinley National Park, authorized on February 26, 1917, to protect the wildlife in an area of incomparable grandeur that included portions of the highest mountain in North America. [6]

Establishment of Mount McKinley National Park was not the result of any broadbased movement, but, rather, was due largely to the efforts of the Boone and Crockett Club and, in particular, its game committee chairman, Charles T. Sheldon. Valuable support came from the Camp Fire Club of America, American Game Protective Association, and key officials in the Department of the Interior, including Assistant Secretary Stephen T. Mather, who would soon become the first director of the newly-created National Park Service. [7] It was Sheldon, however, a well-known naturalist, who first conceived of "Denali" National Park when he wintered on the Toklat River in 1907-08, initiated the process, secured the approval of Department of the Interior officials, did much to drum up support for the proposal, and drafted the initial boundaries. [8]

Despite support from conservation groups, Department of the Interior officials, the governor of the territory of Alaska, and Alaska's delegate to Congress, James Wickersham, who introduced the bill in April 1916, the proposal ran into unexpected opposition in Congress—much of which apparently had little to do with the proposal itself. The bill was reported out of the House Committee on Public lands late in the session and passed the full House on February 19, 1917. The next day the Senate, which had already passed Senator Key Pittman's version of the bill, concurred in the amended House bill. President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law on February 26, 1917. [9]

Officials in the newly-created National Park Service were surely pleased with passage of the bill that brought Mount McKinley National Park into the National Park System. Yet at the same time, they were concerned that the problems the bill encountered in the House might imperil future park projects. [10] As a result, when Robert F. Griggs and the National Geographic Society proposed establishing a national park in an area of extreme volcanic activity on the Alaska Peninsula later in 1917, Acting NPS Director Horace M. Albright indicated that such an action was impossible. [11] Although he personally agreed that the area surrounding Mt. Katmai, which still displayed the affects of a violent eruption that occurred in 1912, met national park criteria, Albright believed that protection would have to come through presidential, not congressional action. [12] Accordingly, Griggs and the National Geographic Society, aided by NPS officials, undertook a campaign that culminated when President Woodrow Wilson set aside the 1,087,990-acre Katmai National Monument on September 24, 1918. [13]

The monument, which included primarily the active volcanic peaks surrounding Mt. Katmai, the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, and the most promising east and west access routes, was set aside, President Wilson said in his proclamation, to preserve an area that would

be of importance in the study of volcanism . . . offer excellent opportunities for studying the causes of the catastrophe and its results and affording a conspicuous lesson in volcanism to visitors interested in the great forces which have made and still are making America.

The proclamation made no mention of the wildlife, particularly bears, that is so significant a part of the visitor experience at Katmai today.

Chapter One continues . . .


Last Modified: Tues, Jan 9 2001 10:08 am PDT

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