Washington, DC — Without public review, the National Park Service has embraced new guidance promoting economic growth of private holdings and communities located inside Alaskan national parks, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Contrary to traditional Park Service policy stressing the primacy of resource protection and pursuing acquisition of private holdings which threaten those resources, the new Alaska guidance seeks to enable private inholdings to “thrive.”
Private lands or property rights, such as tenancies, located within national parks are called inholdings. Under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, these inholdings have the right of adequate and feasible access to their lands.
In July 2007, overriding internal objections, the National Park Service (NPS) Alaska Regional Director adopted an “Interim User’s Guide to Accessing Inholdings in National Park System Units in Alaska.” The principal departure of this new guidance from previous policy is the posture that NPS should foster the prosperity and growth of private interests located inside Alaska parks. The Alaska guidance –
- Abandons the policy of acquiring inholdings which threatens to harm park resources or wildlife;
- Omits any mention of wilderness protection, despite the vast wilderness tracts in Alaska parks that are impacted by motorized access from inholders; and
- Allows wetlands destruction inside parks, without any requirement for restoration or replacement, in projects that fall below the threshold of constituting a significant federal action.
“The National Park Service is not supposed to compete with the Alaska Chamber of Commerce,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who today sent a letter of protest on the interim guidance to NPS Director Mary Bomar. “In attempting to accommodate financial interests in Alaska and that state’s powerful congressional delegation, the Park Service has lost sight of its mission.”
The economic prerogatives of Alaska inholders has long been a rallying point for property rights groups. The controversy reached its zenith in 2003 when a survivalist called Papa Pilgrim tried to bulldoze a road from his remote cabin inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the nation’s largest. Pilgrim’s star within the property rights movement dimmed after he was convicted of rape and incest earlier this year.
While the NPS claims that the new Alaska interim guidance reflects public comments on earlier draft policies, the interim guidance itself is not subject to public comment nor is the process by which the interim guidance is finalized. PEER is asking NPS to subject this guidance to the Administrative Procedures Act and its formal public comment rules.
“We are calling on Director Bomar to open up her review of this interim guidance to the light of day,” Ruch added. “The refrain that ‘Alaska is different’ does not entitle parks in Alaska to secede from the national park system.”