In the frantic lobbying over the Alaska lands bill, gun control has emerged as a principal issue. The issue, which has been building in recent weeks, prompted a bitter exchange yesterday between two long-time adversaries on Alaska, Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus and Minority Leader Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Stevens called the administration-supported bill "a serious gun-control threat to Americans."
Accusing Stevens of "inflammatory and erroneous rhetoric designed to mislead the public," Andrus said, "I am surprised that such a distinguished member of Congress would stoop to using distortions about such an important issue."
"I am torn between describing his statements as either a desperate last minute smear campaign or simply ludicrous misinterpretation," Andrus said, in a prepared statement, adding that he, as governor of Idaho and secretary of Interior, has opposed gun control.
Stevens, responded by asking, "Why is [the secretary] surrounded down there by antigun people? If he doesn't like it, he should get rid of his company. I'm tired of Secretary Andrus saying the Marquis of Queensbury rules apply to me, but complaining I have been unfair when I tell the truth.
"He is the one who called me one of the "rape-ruin-and-run boys' when I have been a major cosponsor of and supporter of environmental legislation such as the National Environmental Policy Act."
The confrontation was sparked by a Stevens press release last week which criticized the administration-supported "antihunting, antigun bill" and urged "all those who believe in the rights of gun ownership to let their congressmen know immediately that those rights are threatened. . ."
Environmentalists say the gun control issue is a cover for oil, timer and mining companies who want to develop millions of acres of Alaska that administration has proposed for parks and wildlife refuges.
Two competing bills, which may come before the House early next week, hardly differ on the amount of land closed to sport hunting.
The administration-backed bill, sponsored by Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.) and Rep. John Anderson (R-III.), would ban sport hungting on 7 percent of the state's 375 million acres. A bill sponsored by Rep. John Breaux (D-La.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), which is backed by the state of Alaska, industry and the National Rifle Association, would close 5.5 percent to hunters.
The issue has set off a controversy in the National Wildlife Federation, one of the nation's largest sports hunting groups.A dozen state affiliates are supporting the Breaux-Dingell bill, but the vast majority back Udall.
Stevens says the Udall Bill "would eliminate the best Dall sheep hunting in the world, much of the moose and bear hunting as well as caribou hunting in a good poriton of the state. The country is facing a new king of gun control threat-gun control by land control and administrative decree."
Udall supporters, in response cite figures showing that land left open for hungting under their bill accounts for 92 percent of recent moose harvests, 86 percent of brown bear harvests and 78 percent of Dall sheep harvests.
"The issue is not gun control or hunting," Andrus said. "Rather it is whether Congress will protect a significant portion of the breeding grounds of Alaska's magnificent big game and trophy fisheries . . . Sen. Stevens and the development interests opposing the Udall-Anderson bill would dig, drill and disturb many of the most sensitive wildlife nurseries remaining in America."
Stevens praised the Breaux-Dingell bill for giving the state control over fish and game management. He added that "more than 1,200 guides, assistant guides and trappers are adversely impacted by the Udall bill."
Andrus replied, "The senator knows that the existing guides and trappers would be allowed to continue hungting and trapping in the national parks for 10 years. This is an unprecendented concession permitted in no other national park in the United States, which he deliberately chooses to ignore."