Alaska Officials Criticize Shutdown, Governor Calls for Reopening of Federal Land


Legislators in the nation’s largest state are in an uproar over the effects of current federal government’s partial shutdown, and they plan on doing something about it. Alaska has been hard hit by the shutdown on two fronts given that it sports a large number of federal employees and economically vital public lands.

According to a study by WalletHub, Alaska is expected to be the second-most affected state after Virginia during the shutdown. Alaska has the third highest proportion of federal employees per capita after Washington, D.C. and Maryland, which according to a 2011 census amounted to over 17,000 jobs. The Anchorage Daily News reported that the office of Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) estimated 13,000 Alaska-based federal employees would be furloughed during the shutdown.

A large number of these workers are the US Fish and Wildlife Service employees vital to maintaining Alaska’s federal lands. With their absence, all of the state’s wildlife refuges and other USFWS-regulated properties have closed to the public. According to the Washington Times, Alaskan lawmakers are calling the closing of public lands across the state a violation of federal law. In 1980, Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which added millions of acres to national park lands and refuges. Lawmakers say the Act also requires the federal government to give full notice before putting up the barricades.

“It seems that agencies are working harder to keep people off federal lands than they have ever worked before to get them to visit federal lands,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Hunting is still open on some Park Service and Bureau of Land Management Areas, but the wildlife refuges have been closed. It is one facet of the shutdown that Alaska Governor Sean Parnell intends to change. The Anchorage Daily News reports that Parnell has called Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to ask that she allow access to Alaska’s refuges.

“The Secretary was gracious and promised to have a person review my concerns, particularly my assertion that ANILCA entitles Alaskans to access to federal lands,” Parnell said in a statement last week. “Because of that law, Alaskans have greater access rights to federal lands in our state than in other states.”

In the wake of massive furloughs, these refuges are now run by only a skeleton crew responsible for security and maintence. Some refuges are still open to subsistence hunters and anglers.

Read our article on what the shutdown means to hunters nationally here.

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