Policy Update Dec 3, 2015

Testimony: Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act

Written testimony by Joan Frankevich for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on December 3, 2015

Chairwoman Murkowski, Ranking Member Cantwell and members of the committee, on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association’s (NPCA) more than one million members and supporters across the country, including over 2,000 in Alaska, I thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in regard to this hearing on the implementation of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Founded in 1919, NPCA is the leading, independent, private citizen voice in support of promoting, protecting and enhancing America’s national parks for present and future generations.

I am Joan Frankevich, Program Manager for the Alaska Regional Office of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and have been a resident of Alaska for over 25 years. I am proud of the outstanding natural and cultural resources ANILCA has protected and enjoy them often with my family, friends, and out-of-state visitors. Some of my more memorable experiences include watching in awe as hundreds of caribou streamed past either side of my tent in Gates of the Arctic National Park; touring the rustic remains of the Kennecott Copper Mines in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park; watching whales, puffins and calving glaciers during a boat tour in Kenai Fjords National Park; and traveling by sled dog on the Chulitna River in Denali National Park.

Upon its enactment in 1980, ANILCA protected over 100 million acres of America’s wildest landscapes with the creation of national parks, national wildlife refuges and national forests. The Act represents a desire to preserve and manage entire ecosystems and it is considered by many to be the most significant land conservation measure in the history of our nation. ANILCA created, expanded, or clarified administrative direction for:

  • 9 National Parks and Preserves
  • 6 National Monuments
  • 16 National Wildlife Refuges (Including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge)
  • 2 National Conservation Areas
  • 2 National Forests (including the Tongass, our nation’s largest)
  • 25 Wild and Scenic rivers
  • 35 wilderness areas (on park, refuge and forest lands)

ANILCA was not simply a conservation success, it was also a carefully balanced compromise. Not one party got everything they wanted from ANILCA, and disagreements continue today. However, overall the Act is a tremendous success story, honoring ALASKA and benefiting residents, the state’s economy, and all Americans.

Below I highlight the terrific benefits ANILCA has provided Alaskans through the lens of our national parks—the economic benefits, the land use balance the Act attempts to strike, the shared management opportunities, and more.

ANILCA and national parks

ANILCA doubled the total acreage of the U.S. National Park System, creating 10 new national park units and increasing the acreage of three existing parks. These parks contain some of the most unique and breathtaking lands on earth—from glaciers and high snowy peaks, to valleys filled with bears, moose, caribou and other wildlife. Many parks protect entire ecosystems with a full complement of native plants and animals that is rarely found outside of the state. Recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities are unsurpassed anywhere else in the world and are treasured by Alaskans and our visitors.

National parks in Alaska are different

From the time it was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1977 until it was enacted in 1980, Congress considered over a dozen versions of the ANILCA legislation. Many modifications were made to the bill that considered Alaska’s unique situations and the desire to preserve traditional ways of life for residents. This resulted in many provisions not typically found in national parks in the lower 48 states.

For example, of the 54 million acres of land managed by the National Park Service (NPS) in Alaska, the majority is open to some form of hunting:

  • 44 million acres (81%) is open to subsistence hunting by local rural residents
  • 21 million acres (39%) is open to sport hunting by all persons

Additionally, ANILCA allows the use of motorized transportation (snowmobiles, motorboats, and airplanes) for access to traditional activities such as hunting, fishing, berry picking and travel to and from remote villages and homesites. These provisions are intended to enable rural residents to raise their families and live as they have for generations. It’s not an easy lifestyle to choose or inherit and ANILCA endeavors to honor Alaska’s tribes and pioneers.

National parks in Alaska are also the same

While national parks in Alaska have several unique provisions, it is important to note their overall purpose remains resource protection, and the laws governing parks nationwide (such as the Organic Act and the Wilderness Act) still apply to those in Alaska. For example, while ANILCA allows several specific uses generally not allowed in designated Wilderness, the overall tenets of the Wilderness Act still apply. Congress made this very clear in Section 102(13) of the Act, which states:

The terms ‘wilderness’ and 'National Wilderness Preservation System’ have the same meaning as when used in the Wilderness Act.

Even more telling are the purpose statements described in the establishment of each area under ANILCA, which clearly articulate the same type of park protection principals found throughout the country. The following are examples of purpose statements for a few areas:

To protect habitat, and populations of, fish and wildlife including but not limited to caribou, moose, black and grizzly bears, wolves, and waterfowl. - Kobuk Valley National Park

To maintain unimpaired the scenic beauty and quality of high mountain peaks, foothills, glacial systems, lakes, and streams, valleys, and coastal landscapes in their natural state. - Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park& Preserve

To maintain the wild and undeveloped character of the area, including opportunities for visitors to experience solitude. - Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve

To protect the watershed necessary for perpetuation of the red salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. - Lake Clark

To protect and interpret historical sites and events associated with the gold rush on the Yukon River and the geological and paleontological history and cultural prehistory of the area. - Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve

To protect habitat for internationally significant populations of migratory birds. - Bering Land Bridge National Preserve

ANILCA provides balanced land ownership

Following Statehood in 1959 and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971, ANILCA completed the major lands designations for the state. The Act is a delicately crafted compromise that balances the needs for development and conservation of public lands in Alaska. In addition to the lands managed by NPS, federal protected areas include National Wildlife Refuges, Wild & Scenic Rivers, and Forest Service Monuments and Wilderness areas. ANILCA calls these “Conservation System Units” (CSUs) and they comprise about 34% of the state. The mosaic of lands across the state include the following1:

  • Federal CSUs (parks, refuges, monuments & wilderness) – 125 million acres
  • Other federal land (Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service) – 95 million acres
  • State land – 105 million acres
    • When the additional 60 million acres of state owned tidelands, shorelines and submerged lands are included, total state lands equal 165 million acres, making the state of Alaska the second largest landowner in the United States. The state of Alaska owns more land than all other states combined.
  • Native corporation land – 42 million acres
  • Municipal and other private – 4 million acres

While much focus is put on what isn’t allowed in federal CSUs, often overlooked is the vast areas of the state (including other federal lands) that are open to mining, oil & gas, logging and other forms of development.

National Parks are essential to Alaska’s economy

Tourism is the second largest private sector employer in Alaska, and therefore a critical component of Alaska’s economy. An Alaska Travel Industry Association2 survey asked “Why would you want to visit Alaska?” and the top three answers were:

  1. to see spectacular scenery and wildlife;
  2. to see glaciers and fjords; and
  3. to view wildlife in their natural habitats.

The number one place chosen by visitors to accomplish these goals—to see wildlife, scenery and glaciers —is our national parks. Alaska’s national parks support a viable visitor industry that has long provided a strong, sustainable economic engine that will continue long into the future.

Direct spending by National Park visitors

In 2014, Alaska’s national parks hosted a record number of visitors, and visitation is expected to grow. Statewide, 2.68 million park visitors contributed $1.6 billion to the state’s economy and supported 17,000 jobs3. In Denali National Park alone, visitors spent an estimated $524.3 million in gateway communities, which supported 6,800 jobs. Nationwide, Denali has the third largest expenditure for a single park, topped only by Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smokey Mountains.

Statewide, NPS has about 400 permitted operators that provide visitors services. These businesses employ an estimated 2,100 people and their revenues are estimated to exceed $110 million.

Most of the economic benefit from Alaska’s national parks is in surrounding gateway communities – hotels, restaurants, gift shops, and activities. However, Alaska residents in general also benefit from a greater range of amenities supported by tourism. According to a tourism marketing study by Nichols Gilstrap, Inc.4:

It is obvious that the range of trails, restaurants, employment opportunities, art galleries, unique shopping and many other similar assets found in Alaska would not exist without an active tourism economy. The local population base is simply not large enough to support the size and scope of the state’s current amenity infrastructure.

Spending on park operations: Keeping it local

Federal spending is extremely important to Alaska’s economy. NPS in Alaska hosts a roughly $100 million/year operation, funds primarily spent on in-state payroll and purchases. NPS employs about 500 permanent employees, with a peak approaching 1,000 in the summer. These represent good paying jobs, not only in places like Anchorage and Fairbanks – but a source of year around income for residents of places like Copper Center, Kotzebue, Nome, Gustavus, Sitka, and Skagway. Most parks strive to hire local residents through the local hire provision of ANILCA, providing employment and economic benefit in rural communities where jobs are scarce.

Infrastructure construction

The other major economic benefit from our national parks is construction necessary for visitor services and to support Alaska’s NPS employees. Nearly every project uses local businesses that hire crews of Alaskan workers. Some recent examples include:

  • Wrangell-St. Elias – Kennecott Mill Stabilization
    • Twin Peaks Construction of Anchor Point, AK - $3 million
  • Katmai – Barge Lands and Access Road
    • Carpenter Contracting of Delta Junction, AK - $1.5 million
  • Glacier Bay – Huna Tribal House
    • PK Builders of Ketchikan, AK - $2.9 million
  • Denali - Replace Utilidor
    • GMC Contracting of Anchorage, AK - $8.6 million

The combined impact of visitor spending, government spending on operations, and construction projects, plus the larger economic draw that national parks provide to a geographic area is worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually to Alaska’s economy. National parks are vital to maximizing Alaska’s appeal in the world tourism market. Alaska has the wildlife, glaciers, and wilderness that the rest of the world wants to see. And as wilderness becomes an increasingly scarce economic resource worldwide, Alaska will continue to see growth in the value of our parks and protected areas.

Case Study: Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park

The city of Seward, gateway community to Kenai Fjords National Park, provides an example of both the misconceptions about and benefits of ANILCA.

  • 1975 – Seward City Council passed a resolution condemning the formation of Kenai Fjords National Park
  • 1980 – ANILCA passed; Kenai Fjords National Park was created
  • 1985 – Seward City Council rescinded its resolution

By 1985 the City Council recognized that a trend had begun. There was an increasing number of visitors directly attributable to Kenai Fjords National Park, and these visitors benefitted the community. A 2001 report by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at University of Alaska at Anchorage states that since Kenai Fjords was created:

…the Seward economy has expanded and strengthened. … There is now widespread agreement among the residents of Seward that creation of the Kenai Fjords National Park has been good for the visitor industry, the economy, and for the community. The standard of living is higher, there are more job opportunities, local public revenues have grown, and the economy is more diversified.

NPS works in partnership with the State of Alaska

Passage of ANILCA has long provided an opportunity for federal and state land managers to work together to protect and enhance the state’s resources. NPS cooperates with the State of Alaska on a daily basis in a variety of areas, including:

  • Assisting Alaska State Troopers with public safety in remote communities.
  • Providing grounds maintenance and litter removal at two state parks near Sitka when state funding was no longer available due to budget reductions.
  • Assisting State Department of Transportation on road projects in Denali, Kenai Fjords and Klondike Gold Rush.
  • Cooperating with biologists and resource managers in the field, such as with the Western Arctic Caribou Herd.


As exemplified throughout my testimony, ANILCA is an historic piece of legislation with both measurable (e.g. economic benefits) and immeasurable benefits. Overall, the Act has been a tremendous success for the state of Alaska, preserving some of our nation’s most treasured places, while providing direct benefits to local communities.

Certainly there are a few areas within the Act that NPCA would love to see enhanced—for example, the completion of the Wilderness designations in parks and refuges (see Section 1317), and the addition of the “wolf townships” to Denali National Park and Preserve—affirming the 1980 Senate Report language for ANILCA which originally recommended that these lands be added to the park. However, overall we recognize that the final Act was a well-crafted compromise that reflects the struggles for balance between development and conservation of public lands in Alaska.

Thank you for your consideration of my testimony. Alaska is home to me and it is my hope, as well as the hope of NPCA’s one million members and supporters, that the magnificent national parks and other units created under ANILCA will continue to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren as much as they are today.

1. Source: Alaska Department of Natural Resources

2. Source year: 2000

3. Source: 2014 NPS Visitor Spending Effects Report

4. Source: Alaska State Department of Commerce, November 2000.

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