Few Alaskans seem to have noticed a bold move by Congress to turn over huge portions of our state to "operational control" by the Department of Homeland Security.
The "National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act," also known as H.R. 1505, would put all federal lands within 100 miles of the Canadian border or any American coastline under the unregulated control of Homeland Security -- specifically the Border Patrol.
This includes huge portions of the Tongass National Forest, Glacier Bay National Park, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, not to mention wildlife refuges and national parks in western and southwestern Alaska and other federal lands such as those currently under the umbrella of the Bureau of Land Management.
Think about that for a moment: all federal lands within 100 miles of a coast or our border with Canada. That's an astoundingly large portion of Alaska in which public access restrictions could be placed on prized hunting, fishing, recreation and subsistence areas. If this act becomes law, Homeland Security would be exempt from compliance with dozens of religious-freedom, land management and environmental statutes.
Oddly enough, even Homeland Security doesn't want to be saddled with this burden. The agency and the Obama administration have opposed H.R. 1505 on the grounds that federal agencies already work together to ensure that the U.S. Border Patrol has appropriate access to public lands to maintain security.
This bill tries to solve a problem that doesn't exist by destroying decades worth of environmental protection and public health laws in the name of "national security," and places cultural and subsistence practices at risk all around the state.
It's part of an assault on wilderness and public lands that the 112th Congress is waging with a flurry of bills that would dismantle the laws that protect those lands, with the ultimate aim of handing over many of them to developers.
Nearly 50 years after passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and 32 years since the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, our elected officials are attempting a major giveaway of our great outdoors. A new report issued by The Wilderness Society shows that, nationwide, nearly half a billion acres are at risk.
Alaskans don't always see eye to eye on issues involving federal lands, but whether you're a hunter or a vegetarian, whether you favor development or conservation, whether you're urban or rural, every Alaskan should be wary of turning over so much of our state to an agency whose sole job is national security -- an agency that would have no obligation to address the needs of Alaskans or our traditional uses of federal lands.
To protect these lands and our access to them, we all need to send a loud and clear message to Congress that we will not watch Alaska be sacrificed to short-sighted thinking and unnecessary laws disguised as "national security."
Tim Woody is Alaska communications manager for The Wilderness Society, which recently published the report "Giving Away Our Great Outdoors: Wilderness Under Siege." The report can be downloaded at wilderness.org.
By TIM WOODY