The Alaska Lands Act which finally cleared the US Congress is justifiably being hailed as one of the most important conservation bills ever enacted in the United States. It is also a classic political compromise -- with environmentalist-oriented House lawmakers finally accepting a weaker Senate measure at the last minute after holding out against it for over two months.
While there are aspects of the Senate bill that have caused us concern -- such as allowing logging on 20,000 acres of virgin timber on Admiralty Island, despite the objections of native residents -- the overall measure must still be reckoned as a monumental step in preserving America's greatest wilderness area. As such, the Alaska Lands Act, which sets aside a whopping 104 million acres of federal land as national parks, wildlife refuges, and conservation areas, is a legislative achievement that will be lightly praised by future generations as by citizens of this place and time.
In finally accepting the Senate version, Rep. Morris Udall, chairman of the House Interior Committee, noted that the new bill accomplished "85 to 90 percent of the things the House wanted." Mr. Udall and the House Democratic leadership were clearly aware of the new political realities stemming from the Reagan victory. To have held out for a "better" bill would have likely meant no bill -- or at least a bill unacceptable to conservationists. By sending the Alaska Lands Act along to President Carter for his signature, Congress, and in particular the House leadership, deserves the thanks of all Americans. The remaining weaknesses in the act, meantime, can always be addressed by a new Congress.