Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Alaska and Alaskans vs. the United States

The Grand Compromise:
Back in the late 60's, when the richest oil field in North America (on state-owned land) was discovered at Prudhoe Bay, decades old land ownership issues had to be settled once and for all. Why? The Alaskan pipeline. Who owned the land the pipeline was going to be built one?
The Native Alaskans knew that the Reservation/land ownership method in the lower 48 did not work with those Native Americans, so the Native Alaskans wanted to come up with a different and better "solution" before they were forced on Reservations. They had a unique situation, in that their law-suits and claims were being recognized in Federal court. They were being heard and won't just be forced to Reservations like what happened in the lower 48 in the 1800's.
Then Pres. Nixon was getting pressure because the pipeline was going to have to cross millions of acres of land of which ownership was in dispute. The Dept. of the Interior could not grant permits, due to the court claims by the Native Alaskans, due in large part to Secretary of the Interior, Morris Udall, who, under Pres. Johnson, installed a "land freeze" that the courts upheld until ownership and the claims by the Natives could be determined.
So, to get off of 50 years of law-suits that the Natives started in the 1920's, Nixon, the Native Americans, Conservationists and the oil industry "compromised".
Conservation and pollution was just getting to be a big deal and only Congress had the power to resolve the issue of land ownership due to the Udall law of freezing federal lands pending resolution of Native American claims.
Nixon and the oil industry knew they needed a different approach and got behind the Natives cause. The Democrats, under conservation and it's possible effect on the local ecology, opposed the pipeline outright.
Nixon agreed to veto anything the Natives did not agree with. A grand compromise took shape. For oil and the State, Congress then passed a law providing right-of-way to build the pipeline including all environmental lawsuits and policy requirements. In exchange the Natives got 44 million acres of land and $1 Billion which was entrusted to a newly formed corporation whose stockholders were all Alaskan Natives.
For conservationists, 80 million acres eventually became all the national parks we now have in Alaska. Even with all this, Congress tied on the vote and then Vice Pres. Agnew had to cast the deciding vote to make it happen.
The book spent a number of pages on the topic. The same book, by the way, that Lynn bought last year and gave to me last Christmas with a note inside that read "We're going in 2009". The book was the basis of where and how we'd travel and the sights we wanted to see.
But it wasn't over. ANILCA marked the end of who owns over 100 million acres in Alaska. In the end, the answer of ownership of a large part of Alaska became, "We do" meaning all Americans.
The impression I got from the book, and from actually asking questions and listening to the locals the 3 weeks I was up there, is that because so much of Alaska is controlled by Washington D.C. because so much of the land is public (parks) and National lands, National control and government influence is everywhere which over rides local decisions and possible local needs.

Some of the locals resent this and some don't, as Alaska has become the playground for the lower 48 to some. But, other States have National Parks, as well.

68% of Alaska is publicly owned. Over 200 million acres. For reference, the state of California is approximately 100 million acres.
It's an interesting history.

Public Lands in Alaska

Alaska contains over 200 million acres of federal public lands - lands owned by each and every American. Your lands in Alaska include 15 National Parks, 16 National Wildlife Refuges, and our nation's two largest national forests.

Alaska's public lands offer incredible wildlife habitat, opportunities for solitude, and spectacular scenery.
Current Land Statistics in Alaska
National Public Land Ownership
National Park Lands:
  • 52.9 million acres (68% of nation’s total acreage)
  • 33.5 million acres in wilderness
National Wildlife Refuge Lands
  • 72.4 million acres (83% of nation’s total acreage)
  • 18.7 million acres in wilderness
National Forest Service Lands
  • 22.5 million acres
    (The nation’s two largest National Forests – Tongass more than 3 times larger than any other)
  • 5.8 million acres in wilderness
BLM lands: Approximately 70 million acres

  • Alaska contains 365,500,000 acres of land
  • Reference Point: CA is approximately 100 million acres

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