online book
cover to Admin History





NPS in Alaska Before 1972


Response to ANCSA, 1971-1973


NPS in Alaska, 1973-1980

current topic Epilogue




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

NPS logo

Supporters of the Alaska Lands bill breathed a collective sigh of relief when President Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. The enormity of the task ahead, however, tempered the celebration of National Park Service employees. For the National Park Service, and other agencies that would manage the newly-created conservation areas in Alaska, passage of the bill was only the beginning. The real challenge lay in implementation of the act. [1] During the nine tumultuous years preceding ANILCA, the Park Service had expended an enormous amount of energy to achieve passage of national interest lands legislation, as well as preparing for management of the areas once the legislation passed. Whether the lessons learned during that time carried over and whether the same level of intensity could be maintained in implementing the act would determine, in large part, if the promise of ANILCA would be fulfilled.

The complexity of the job required of the various federal agencies by ANILCA was underscored in Interior Secretary Andrus's December 2, 1980 ANILCA Implementation Directive, a document that, with appendices, amounted to some seventy-five pages. In addition to the nearly overwhelming job of establishing day-to-day operations in the new conservation areas and developing relations between agencies, state of Alaska, Natives, and ANILCA-mandated Alaska Land Use Council, the act required preparation of nearly 100 separate sets of regulations, reports and studies. Among other things, ANILCA required the National Park Service to prepare general management plans with appropriate environmental compliance documents for all new park areas within five years; prepare an environmental and economic analysis of surface transportation right-of-way across Gates of the Arctic National Preserve; conduct wilderness reviews of all lands within the park system not designated as wilderness under the act; participate in an analysis of management options for mineral development and protection of park resources in the Kantishna Hills and Dunkle Mine areas in Denali National Park; take the lead in preparing reports on the suitability of twelve rivers for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System; prepare regulations regarding public uses in the new park units to replace those affecting the national monuments; and appoint park and monument subsistence commissions. [2]

The National Park Service had, during the previous nine years, identified many of the management problems it would face in managing the new Alaska parklands, as well as manpower requirements there. Nevertheless the new Alaska Regional Office faced a most formidable challenge in implementing ANILCA, a challenge, to use former Regional Director Cook's favorite analogy, not unlike that the Service and "Boss" Pinkley faced in the old Southwest Monuments of the 1920s and 1930s. [3]

The job would be complicated, too, by severe budget restrictions. Interior Secretary Andrus had indicated, on December 2, 1980, that he would recommend additional funds for implementing ANILCA be included in a supplemental budget request. He had done so, no action was taken on his request, the Service was left with only the $3,000,000 appropriated for staffing the Alaska monuments in FY 1981:

Wrangell-Saint Elias600,000
Gates of the Arctic540,000
Kenai Fjords100,000
Lake Clark400,000
Bering Land Bridge100,000
Kobuk Valley/Noatak/Cape Krusenstern400,000
Mining in the parks and Mineral management650,000

Even that amount represented a reduction of the Service's original request of $11,400,000 for managing the national monuments. [4]

In the face of continuing budget restrictions, the Park Service moved ahead, if cautiously, knowing that virtually every action taken during the start-up period would establish a precedent. In fact, the initial approach taken by the Park Service was similar to that recommended by the Alaska Task Force keymen in 1975—experimenting and taking no actions that would have an irrevocable affect on the resources. Implementation in Alaska would occur at two levels—the Alaska Regional Office and in each individual area. The Regional office would be required to establish direction and policy, develop state-wide programs for an entirely new Alaska park system, perform a variety of support functions for the new areas, work with other agencies and offices within the Park Service to perform the various studies required by ANILCA, and establish the necessary working relationships within the Service which would be vital to successful implementation. [5]

One of the first immediate needs, of course, was to place permanent staffs in the new areas and to augment the regional office staff to accommodate new programs and responsibilities. [6] Regional Director Cook had initiated the process of hiring staff for the field areas in the fall of 1979 when, through the use of joint appointments, he had named Chuck Budge as ranger-in-charge of Wrangell-Saint Elias National Monument and Paul Haertel to a similar position at Lake Clark. [7] The following year he hired Mack Shaver, who previously had participated in the 1979 ranger task force and had returned to monitor the spring 1980 bear hunt, as ranger-in-charge of the northwest areas (Cape Krusenstern, Kobuk Valley, and Noatak). [8]

Within weeks of the passage of ANILCA, Regional Director Cook had sent out vacancy announcements for the positions of park managers for the new areas, and by late spring 1981, the new cadre of superintendents were in the field to establish park operations. [9] By the standards set in the "Lower 48", certainly, these first year's operations were shoestring affairs. Using borrowed stationery and his own cardtable, for example, Dave Moore set up headquarters at Kenai Fjords National Park in the basement of the Seward Forest Service Office. With a budget of $100,000 for Park operations in FY 1981, Moore's staff consisted of himself, an administrative technician and two seasonal park rangers. [10]

Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the smallest of the new Alaska parklands, but the situation there was similar to that elsewhere. In northwest Alaska Mack Shaver managed three areas (Cape Krusenstern, Kobuk Valley, and Noatak) with a combined acreage of 8,730,000 acres on a budget of $406,700. During that first summer Shaver's staff consisted of himself, a chief ranger, two experienced seasonal park rangers, and three locally hired Natives. [11] In an area of Alaska where the airplane is the primary mode of transport in the summer, the only aircraft available to Shaver was his personal plane, or those hired for charter flights. At Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve Dave Mihalic did not even have a telephone, but had to carry on park business from the phone at a local store at the cost of a dollar a call. [12] Operations at Gates of the Arctic during that first season were similar to those which had been carried on during summers of 1979 and 1980 by the ranger task forces, although now with greater emphasis on gathering information for planning and management purposes; and in Wrangell-Saint Elias, Chuck Budge faced the prospect of managing the largest single unit in the entire National Park System (12,180,000 acres) with an operating budget of $548,700 and a staff of six. [13]

As the new superintendents and their miniscule staffs began to set up operations in the new Alaska parklands they generally faced the same kinds of problems as managers of new parks elsewhere, but exaggerated by such things as size, distance, isolation, and logistical costs in roadless wilderness, which defined all the new acreages. At the same time ANILCA created new and unique problems of both kind and scale for park managers—mining, access, sport hunting, use of cabins in park areas, and subsistence, for example—all compounded by social environments almost wholly negative in the beginning. In the long run, the subsistence issue may prove to be the most vexing. In ANILCA, Congress mandated preservation of traditional national park values along with preservation of the lifestyle of the people who live there. Protecting resources in those magnificent parklands while preserving traditional consumptive uses immediately presented daily challenges to the new superintendents, and the Park Service as a whole. Whether it would prove able to evolve new management strategies appropriate to conditions imposed by ANILCA, or whether it would attempt to retreat to traditional management practices will be for the Park Service, one of the major challenges of ANILCA. [14]

The park staffs, small as they were, did begin to collect information for planning, and by mid-1983, statements for management of the new areas had been prepared and circulated for review. [15] Nevertheless, given the funds available for park operations, the small staffs, size of the areas to be managed, and nearly absolute lack of any infra-structure in the new parks, it is not surprising that the main thrust of park management during the first seasons of operations were primarily custodial in nature. [16] For the new park staffs, many of whom were new to Alaska, this meant repeating the process of familiarization with the areas and establishment of credibility and rapport with residents similar to that accomplished during the d-2 planning period. [17] In the northwest areas operations during the 1981 field season consisted of patrol trips every ten days on the Kobuk and Noatak rivers to determine levels of use, developing information on the resources, and performing any needed visitor services. Additionally, park staff manned a visitor contact station in the Native Regional Corporation (NANA) museum in Kotzebue, making contact with some 2,000 people. [18] At Gates of the Arctic, park staff spent the entire 1981 field season living out of briefcases and backpacks in an effort to meet as many people as possible, and begin to accumulate knowledge about the area that would be necessary for proper management. [19]

Particularly important in building rapport in the local communities and establishing credibility for the Park Service as a land managing agency was the establishment of a year-around presence in the new areas. [20] In doing so, NPS employees in Alaska turned a full circle, back, in a manner of speaking, to the very earliest days of life in the national parks. Certainly, life in rural Alaska has its rewards. But, at the same time, NPS employees moving to Alaska parks from those in the "Lower 48" were forced, sometimes, to make sometimes radical adjustments in their lifestyles. Although there are duty stations in the "Lower 48" that are isolated, few could have experienced the isolation one finds in many places in rural Alaska. [21] They had to overcome, too, long, cold, dark winters, as well as summers with long daylight hours, a phenomenon that brings its own special set of problems. Whether it was a Park Service employee in Nome or Kotzebue receiving his/her twice-yearly order of bulk groceries or a superintendent receiving a new dump truck whose warranty had expired by the time it was delivered, the costs and inconvenience of living in rural Alaska are extreme by standards elsewhere in the country. [22] Housing is expensive and difficult to find. Even then, the newly assigned staff had to accept living conditions with few of the amenities taken for granted elsewhere. [23] The experience of Jim Hannah, district ranger at Chitina in Wrangell-Saint Elias, typifies the experience of new Park Service employees in Alaska. Hannah, who came to Alaska from Big Bend National Park in Texas, found himself living with his wife and two teenage daughters in a cabin with no indoor plumbing, and heated only by a wood stove. [24] For the entire family, a considerable amount of energy would be spent in simply surviving.

Despite difficulties they have faced, NPS employees in the Alaska parks have persevered. They have established credible on-going operations in the new areas. The Alaska parks are now parks for today, as well as parks for the future. NPS employees and their families are becoming part of the communities in which they live Although some resentment toward the Park Service remains, and likely will continue for some time to come, park employees have gone far in overcoming the hostility built up over the course of the d-2 period. It is possible, too, that the challenging experiences of the staffs in the Alaskan parks will have a certain rejuvenating affect on the Park Service as a whole, much as did the experience of their pioneering predecessors in national parks of the 1920s and 1930s. Because there has been little personnel movement in and out of Alaska as of this writing, however, whether or not that is true remains to be seen.

While park staffs were working toward establishing working park operations and adjusting to life in Alaska, the Service initiated the planning process mandated by ANILCA, a process that would involve the joint efforts of the Denver Service Center, Alaska Regional office, and superintendents and staffs of the various field areas. [25]

ANILCA placed a five-year deadline on completion of general management plan for the thirteen new Alaska parklands. In FY 1982, $295,000 was made available for general management planning at Lake Clark ($54,000), Glacier Bay ($100,000), Denali ($56,000), Wrangell-Saint Elias ($35,000), and Yukon-Charley ($20,000). [26] In addition, the Alaska Regional Office received funds to undertake development concept planning activities at Kenai Fjords (Exit Glacier), Katmai (Brooks Camp, King Salmon), and Denali (road corridor). [27]

The general approach the Park Service would take in preparing general management plans for the Alaska parks complemented the approach taken by managers in the Alaska Regional Office and on the ground in the new parks. As outlined in a 1981 task directive, NPS Alaska planning would meet minimum mandates established by Congress in ANILCA as well as any immediate threats to resources in the parks. It was agreed that the actions proposed in those plans would be of such a small scale as to require environmental assessments rather than full-scale environmental impact statements such as those prepared by the Alaska Planning Group in 1973-75. [28]

As it reviewed the events of the d-2 period in 1979, the Joint Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission observed:

A new land ethic had evolved. Resources would no longer be exploited without thought to resource conservation and environmental protection. [29]

Perhaps. As the National Park Service began to establish operations in the new parklands and prepare general management plans, however, it quickly found that while ANILCA had settled most of the remaining questions regarding ownership of Alaska's public lands, it had not put to rest the basic debate over the use of those lands. It is little wonder. Debate over the use of Alaska's lands, which had dominated the legislative struggle over ANILCA, was, in fact, only a chapter in a longer debate that had its origins in Nineteenth-Century America. The ink was hardly dry on the act when the question was raised again, and it seems likely that debate over the use of the Alaska lands will go on for the indefinite future. [30]

As it has throughout its history the National Park Service faces a number of difficult choices in the future. It does seem clear, however, that the Service cannot simply stand idly by and hope for the best for the Alaska parklands. In former years Katmai and Glacier Bay national monuments suffered only limited damage from the lack of management. That good fortune did not come by design, but rather, resulted from other factors—isolation and lack of development pressures. But the Alaska of fifty years ago no longer exists. Regularly scheduled flights service even some of the most remote areas, and the Alaska Highway, which in the recent past attracted only the hardiest of travelers, is today crowded with tourists from all parts of the nation. Places that only yesterday were virtually unexplored are today easily reached by airplane. Even in Gates of the Arctic National Park, a land set aside "to protect the wild and undeveloped character of the area", increased visitation is already bringing conflict between different types of recreational users. [31] Despite the huge size of many of these areas, certain small attractive sites or narrow river corridors will continue to be the focus of recreational visitor interest and receive a disproportionate - and potentially damaging - amount of use. Pressures are already being felt from development on lands outside park boundaries—the Red Dog Mine near Cape Krusenstern, a fish hatchery on the Noatak River, proposed mining of coal, tungsten, and asbestos, and oil and gas development near Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, and increased visitor use from the Dalton Highway (the pipeline haul road) along the eastern boundary of Gates of the Arctic. These among seemingly countless examples signal that the long-term fate of the new Alaska parklands hangs in the balance. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 created some of the most magnificent and unique units in the entire National Park System. ANILCA gave the National Park Service the opportunity to correct the mistakes made in the past, both in Alaska and in the "lower 48". Without aggressively protective and flexibly adaptive management, however, the promises of ANILCA could easily be lost.

End of Epilogue


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

ParkNet Home