''Isn't it time you discovered Alaska?'' ask the ads of that state's Division of Tourism. ''And don't forget your hunting gear when you come,'' those who are backing a bill just introduced in Congress might add.
S49, written by Sen. Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska and co-sponsored by the state's junior senator, Republican Frank Murkowski, would reclassify 11,878,000 acres in eight national parks as ''national preserves,'' opening those areas for sport hunting. Congressman Don Young (R), Alaska's only representative in the US House, has introduced a companion bill, HR1493.
Battle lines on the legislation are forming, and most of the adversaries are familiar. Environmental groups, like the Sierra Club and the Audubon and Wilderness Societies, are condemning the proposal as an attack on the integrity of the national park system. Interior Secretary James G. Watt has said he supports the legislation ''in concept.'' Others backing the proposal include the National Rifle Association, the Wildlife Legislative Fund (a pro-hunting organization), and commercial hunting guides. Alaska Gov. Bill Sheffield (D) also backs the bill ''in general,'' his press secretary says.
Jack Hession, Sierra Club director in Alaska, says most of the land affected by the proposal is in parks established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). If S49 were approved, he says, ''it would be the first time since 1916, when sport hunting was banned in the national parks, that Congress opened up a park to hunting.''
Noting that comprehensive planning for management of the new parks is barely under way, Mr. Hession says that ''down the line a few years, we may want to make some adjustments'' - but not the ones in the Stevens bill.
The Alaska Coalition, a combination of several national and state groups, charges that the bill may be aimed at opening the parkland to more than sport hunting. In the only two such preserves in the ''lower 48 states,'' a coalition statement says, ''not only hunting and trapping are allowed, but oil and gas leasing as well. . . . This bill is an incremental approach to dismantling the protection afforded by ANILCA to the national parks.''
Beneficiaries of S49, foes say, would be ''commercial hunting guides, who stand to profit by flying wealthy hunters into remote park areas. . . .''
The Alaska Coalition says it is not ''anti-hunting,'' and that ''this bill would not be of much benefit to the average sport hunter, since the big game sought by most sport hunters is in plentiful supply in areas of the state which are much more accessible.''
ANILCA gave hunting rights to Alaskans ''subsisting'' on the land, even in the national parks. Hession says that these people, not all of them natives, are not eager to compete with sport hunters for game. Conservationists say only 8.5 percent of the state's 375 million acres is closed to sport hunting.
At this writing, Senator Stevens's office had not responded to calls seeking comment on the issue.
Proposed national park acreage reclassifications in Alaska Acreage provided Acres reclassified Park in ANILCA in S 49 Gates of the Artic 7,052,000 5,099,000 Lake Clark 2,439,000 1,025,000 Wrangell-St. Elias 8,147,000 2,322,000 Kenai Fjords 567,000 567,000 Aniakchak 138,000 88,000 (national monument) Denali *2,426,000 1,526,000 (formerly Mt. McKinley) Glacier Bay *523,000 214,000 Katmai *1,037,000 1,037,000
* Added to parks existing in 1980