Carter signs Alaska lands bill


WASHINGTON -- President Carter today signed into law the Alaska lands bill, saying it strikes a balance between preserving the nation's scenic 'crown jewels' and the development of the state's valuable resources.

The compromise measure sets aside more than 100 million acres -- an area larger than California -- for national parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness.


Although the bill falls short of what many conservationists wanted, Carter said in a ceremony at the White House that it was 'without a doubt one of the most important pieces of conservation legislation in the history of our country.'

'With this bill we are acknowledging that Alaska's wilderness areas are truly this country's crown jewels, and that Alaska's resources are treasures of another sort.'

'This act,' he said, 'strikes a balance between protecting areas of great beauty and value, and allowing development of Alaska's vital oil, gas, mineral and timber resources.'

Carter said the bill makes 100 percent of the offshore areas and 95 percent of the other potentially productive oil and mineral areas available for exploraton or drilling.

The new law also:

--Designates more than 97 million acres for new parks and refuges, doubling the size of the National Park and Wildlife Refuge System.


--Protects 25 free-flowing Alaskan rivers in their natural state, doubling the size of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

--Classifies 56 million acres of 'magnificent land' as wilderness, tripling the size of the wilderness system.

--Ensures the Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts can continue their traditional way of life.

Carter also emphasized the importance of protecting the environment.

'We cannot let our eagerness for progress in energy and technology outstrip our care for our land, water, and air, and for the plants and animals that share them with us,' he said.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, called the bill 'a milestone' in conservation legislation, but also noted that many Alaskans feel it denies access to many needed resources.

'We're not finished, Mr. President,' Stevens said. 'We're just started.'

Conservationists have argued the bill did not go far enough in protecting Alaska's scenic wilderness areas. Those who hunt and fish, drill for oil and gas, mine valuable minerals, and cut down timber for homes and paper maintained it went too far in locking up natural resources.

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