Former President Carter honored for Alaska lands conservation work

Former President Jimmy Carter was honored Nov. 1 by the Alaska Wilderness League for his conservation work in the state.

The Mardie Murie Lifetime Achievement Award recognized Carter’s role in creating and passing the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

“Alaska is a special place for many Americans, and President Carter was ahead of his time in understanding how protecting wild Alaska would outlive his White House tenure,” Kristen Miller, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement. “We honor and celebrate President Carter’s legacy in Alaska — protecting some of our greatest shared resources for generations to come, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

The Nov. 1 award ceremony was part of the Alaska Wilderness League’s 30th anniversary celebration, held at the Burke Museum of History & Culture in Seattle. The former president, who recently turned 99 and is in hospice care, was not at the event. His grandson, Josh Carter, accepted the award on his behalf.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, put more than 100 million acres of federal territory in Alaska into conservation units, such as national parks, wildlife refuges and designated wilderness areas. Among the designations were expansion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Denali National Park and Preserve and creation of the almost half-million-acre Stikine-LeConte Wilderness on the mainland between Wrangell and Petersburg.

Carter has referred to ANILCA as one of his major life achievements.

Carter, who has served for decades as an honorary chair of the Alaska Wilderness League, continued to advocate for conservation of the land units designated by the 1980 act. He has campaigned against oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, worked in favor of protections in the Tongass National Forest and against the plan to build a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in the southwestern part of the state, intervening in 2022 in a court case over that matter.

At the time of its passage, however, ANILCA was deeply unpopular in Alaska, reviled as a land “lockup.”

Carter, too, was deeply unpopular in Alaska. When he ran for re-election in 1980, he got only 26.4% of the Alaska vote, the lowest percentage ever in the state for any major party presidential candidate.

But Alaskans’ attitudes about the act have changed over time, said Andy Moderow, senior director of policy for the Alaska Wilderness League.

“Public lands are Alaska’s future. They’re the places where we go to hunt and recreate. They’re the places where subsistence protections are in place today,” he said, referring to the law’s guarantee of a rural priority for harvests of fish, game and wild plants for noncommercial and traditional uses.

There are still criticisms of ANILCA.

Alaska Native organizations have argued for several years that the ANILCA subsistence protections are not strong enough for Indigenous residents, particularly since the state lacks its own rural priority after the Alaska Supreme Court found that it violated the state constitution.

Those arguments have now intensified as the federal and state governments clash over subsistence salmon fishing in the Kuskokwim River, where salmon runs have dwindled. Many Native leaders argue that the rural priority is under attack by the state and possibly should be replaced with a more specific Native priority.

At its annual convention last month, the Alaska Federation of Natives passed a resolution calling on Congress to amend ANILCA to strengthen Native subsistence rights.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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