Over half of the National Wilderness Preservation System is in Alaska (about 57.5 million acres), with the system’s largest units all here – Wrangell-St. Elias (9 + million acres), Arctic (8 million acres), Gates of the Arctic (7.2 million acres) and Noatak (5.7 million acres). The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980 designated most of the Alaska’s Wilderness. While ANILCA was generous with adding Wilderness to the national system, it did so with several exceptions to the Wilderness Act of 1964. For example, airplanes, motor boats and snowmachines are allowed in most Wildernesses in Alaska for traditional activities. These and several other exceptions create great challenges for stewardship of the Alaskan half of our nation’s Wilderness system.
The Alaska Chapter of Wilderness Watch was organized in April of 2002 when a group of Alaska wilderness activists met with staff from Wilderness Watch’s national office at the Cloudberry Lookout B&B in Fairbanks. The activists recognized that if they were going to hold the line on Wilderness in Alaska they needed to organize and draw on the expertise of Wilderness Watch for help.
Our members are a diverse lot including: retired and current resource agency people, bush pilots, wilderness guides, professors, writers, and teachers. Our members have been busy on several fronts. The Alaska Chapter organizes grass roots comments on various proposals effecting Alaska Wilderness. Examples of some of our recent work are listed below:
- During 2011 to 2015, we organized the support of six other conservation groups for a recommendation of 12.28 million additional acres of Wilderness in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the large national conservation organizations supported only 1.5 million acres of additional Wilderness. On April 3,2015, President Obama conveyed his recommendation to the United States Congress, it was for 12.28 million acres of additional Wilderness for the Arctic Refuge.
- Wilderness Watch, along with seven other conservation groups are intervenor-defendants in a legal challenge of a decision by the Secretary of Interior to not allow a road to be built across the Izembek Wilderness. The Alaska Chapter has strongly opposed the road since 2007.
- In fall, 2014, members of the AK Chapter organized support for National Park Service regulations that would pre-empt State of Alaska hunting rules for National Preserves in Alaska. The State rules would among other things, allow baiting of brown bears, and taking of wolves during the denning season.
- In May, 2015, our chapter opposed a climate change research project in the Arctic Refuge Wilderness that would have allowed several actions that are prohibited by the Wilderness Act. Ultimately, the project was allowed but without helicopter support.
Photo: Tom Andrews, www.wildlandart.com