The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee facing an Aug. 25 deadline, continued to search yesterday for a compromise on legislation to preserve the Alaskan wilderness, with the state's two senators at odds over how to proceed.
The legislation, which has set conservationists against mining and forestry interests, would place nearly a third of Alaska's 375 million acres in national parks, wildlife refuges, scenic river systems and wilderness areas, nearly doubling the U.S. parks system.
Both of Alaska's senators, Democrat Mike Gravel and Republican Ted Stevens, oppose the version that easily passed the House last May, but can't agree on how to fight the issue in the Senate.
Gravel, who stalled the committee with delaying tactics for several days last month, said he will "definitely" filibuster the measure if it gets to the Senate floor. But Stevens is working with committee members to reach agreement before the Aug. 25, deadline Majority Leader obert C. Byrd (D-W-Va.) has set for any bill going to the floor in this session.
"I have the strong feeling that our state will be better off in the long run if we can get the issue settled," Stevens said, referring to stalled development in the state while conservation areas remained undetermined. Stevens wants about 80 million acres in conservation areas, compared to the 104 million preserved under the House bill.
Gravel said he is not opposed to preserving large parts of Alaska, but sees the creation of scattered national parks as an obrogation of the state's power to set its own land uses and therefore a virtual repeal of statehood.
But the Carter administration has given the Alaska lands bill top priority among its conservation efforts, and Senate Energy Committee Chairman Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) has promised to complete committee action this year. He has set frequent day and evening sessions for the next two weeks.
Department of Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus has said that if Congress fails to act on the bill this year he will consider using existing federal authority to preserve the areas in question.
After reaching agreement on several general matters concerning all of the conservation areas, the Senate committee this week took up the difficult task of setting boundaries and classifications of the 37 separate areas across the state.
Five of those areas had been completed yesterday when the committee came to what one one Park Service spokesman called the "symbol of all Alaska conservation efforts," the 8-million-acre Gates of the Arctic national park in north central Alaska.
Although the matter was left undecided yesterday, it was apparent the park is unlikely to survive in the size and classification set by the House bill. Of particular concern was the designation of a southern boot-shaped area where Stevens argued for a roadway that would give raining interests access to their claims.
Changing the park to a recreation area would give Alaskan natives more flexibility in using the land for subsistence fishing and hunting as well as permitting the mining access, Stevens said. Sen. John Melcher (D-Mont) appeared to agree.
"You're talking about an area the size of Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia and parts of Virginia, and you want to make it a park?" Stevens remarked.
An Interior Department spokesman called the Gates of the Artic "the most pristine" land in all Alaska. A mining company official said it is "one of the most valuable mineral deposits" in the state. The committee postponed action on it until next [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]