The Interior Department gained a 100,000-acre addition to the Gates of the Arctic National Park and opened about 92,000 acres on the North Slope for oil and gas exploration as part of an Alaskan land swap announced yesterday.
"The United States is acquiring one of the most spectacular lakes in the high Arctic," Watt said while signing the exchange papers in a ceremony with officials of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., a group of Alaska natives.
"We are attracting and claiming for the National Park system 100,000 acres of key land, and we're not giving up much," he said, adding that the new park land is worth between $5 million and $10 million.
In exchange, the corporation got immediate title to drilling rights on 92,160 acres underlying the village of Kaktavik on the Arctic North Slope in the Beaufort Sea.
Watt said that the agreement does not allow immediate exploration or drilling and that it preserves Congress' right to decide whether to open the land to commercial development of any oil and gas resources.
Meanwhile, closer to home, Watt has moved to set up a 5,175-acre national wildlife refuge on two islands near the North Carolina-Virginia border.
The new Currituck refuge was promoted by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, a state-federal advisory panel Watt chairs, because it is the winter home for 150,000 migratory birds.
During the Carter administration, Congress considered establishing a 15,000-acre refuge in the area, but the idea stalled because it would have cost $92 million to acquire the land, Interior officials said.
Watt will buy the 500-acre Monkey Island and secure a "conservation easement" from the Nature Conservancy for the 4,675-acre Swan Island.