(Anchorage, AK) – Wednesday, on the 63rd anniversary of the signing of the Alaska Statehood Act, Governor Mike Dunleavy announced that the State of Alaska is suing the U.S. Department of the Interior for illegally and unjustifiably extending decades-long restrictions on nearly 28 million acres of federal land in Alaska. The action by Secretary Haaland blocks State land selections and Alaska Native Vietnam Veteran allotments.
“This is a methodical effort by the Biden administration – more than just bureaucratic foot dragging – to frustrate ANILCA and the Statehood land entitlement and leave these lands locked up as de facto parks,” said Governor Dunleavy. “They are consciously ignoring and going around appropriate processes to hold things in perpetual limbo. It has needed to be challenged for a long time and it needs to be challenged now more than ever due to these new delays – and I am challenging it. The intent of ANILCA matters, these unnecessary withdrawals need to be lifted, and we need to finally move this process forward. This is another federal attempt to deny Alaska the full realization as a State promised under our Statehood Compact, and it should not stand.”
These withdrawals have prevented the State from exercising its Statehood right to claim valuable lands or assess the natural resources on these lands, and blocked Alaska Native Vietnam War veterans from selecting land allotments.
Under a 1971 federal law, the Secretary was allowed to issue temporary land withdrawals to restrict the use of federal land in Alaska to allow the Department of Interior time to determine how federal lands should be used in the state. These withdrawals also effectively prevented the transfer of temporarily withdrawn lands to the State under the Alaska Statehood Act. Many of these 1970s-era orders have never been lifted even though the reasons for the withdrawals have been satisfied for decades. Under 16 such orders, about 28 million acres of land have sat under outdated restrictions, all the while with the federal government proposing that the withdrawals be lifted but never doing so.
In fact, in 2006, the Bureau of Land Management reported to Congress that these temporary withdrawals could be lifted on over nearly all these areas without affecting the public interest. Following that report, BLM has completed numerous, multi-year reviews and land-use plans, each recommending that the withdrawals be lifted. In January of this year, then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt issued orders based on these extensive analyses to finally lift these 16 land withdrawals from about 28 million acres.
Shortly after assuming office, however, President Biden’s new Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, announced she was unilaterally repealing Secretary Bernhardt’s actions from taking affect for at least two years, claiming that the Department needed to conduct even more analyses of environmental, endangered species, historical preservation, and military land use laws – analyses that the BLM, itself, said it had already completed or were unnecessary.
“This announcement follows the Biden administration’s already well-established pattern of assuming excessive administrative authority, rehashing completed actions, and even defying settled law to advance the policy goals of anti-development activists and political donors in the lower 48 rather than the everyday Alaskans that benefit from multiple use of public lands,” said Corri Feige, Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.
“Any reasonable grounds for withdrawing this land expired long ago, and this renewed delay is entirely unjustified. Interior’s final decision in January to end those withdrawals was both appropriate and long overdue,” said Attorney General Treg Taylor. “The decision by the Biden administration to further delay the effective date of actions lifting these restrictions is a punch in the gut to Alaskans, an affront to common sense, and a violation of law.”
The state’s lawsuit asks the federal district court in Alaska to prevent the Department of the Interior from continuing to delay the January 2021 orders and to direct the Department to lift these 16 obsolete withdrawals immediately.