Our Nation has been uniquely blessed with a vast land of great natural beauty and abundant resources. Once these gifts seemed limitless. As our people have spread across the continent and the needs for development reach once distant frontiers, we realize how urgent it is to preserve our heritage for future generations.
Today I have taken several actions to protect Alaska's extraordinary Federal lands. Because of the risks of immediate damage to these magnificent areas, I felt it was imperative to protect all of these lands and preserve for the Congress an unhampered opportunity to act next year.
Passing legislation to designate National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Wilderness Areas, and Wild and Scenic Rivers in Alaska is the highest environmental priority of my administration. There is strong support for such legislation in the Congress. In the 95th Congress, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an Alaska bill. A bill was reported out of the Senate committee, but time ran out and the Senate was unable to finally pass a bill. Because existing "d2" land withdrawals under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act expire on December 17, much of the land to be protected by legislation would be unprotected and perhaps irrevocably lost if I did not act now.
Accordingly, along with Secretaries Andrus and Bergland, I have taken the following actions:
—I have signed proclamations under the Antiquities Act of 1906, designating as National Monuments 17 of the most critical areas proposed for legislative designation-13 proposed National Parks, two proposed Wildlife Refuges, and two proposed National Forest Wilderness areas.
These areas, totaling approximately 56 million acres, contain resources of unequalled scientific, historic, and cultural value, and include some of the most spectacular scenery and wildlife in the world. The Antiquities Act has been. used in the past to preserve such treasures, for example by President Teddy Roosevelt, who designated the Grand Canyon in this way. The Monuments I have created in Alaska are worthy of the special, permanent protections provided by the Antiquities Act. They will remain permanent Monuments until the Congress makes other provisions for the land.
—I have directed Secretary Andrus to proceed with necessary steps to designate National Wildlife Refuges for the remaining 12 proposed refuge areas, an additional 40 million acres.
—Secretaries Andrus and Bergland have already taken steps under Section 204 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to withdraw or segregate all of the areas covered by either congressional or administration proposals from mineral entry and selection by the State of Alaska. I have directed that these withdrawals remain in place.
Each of the areas protected by these actions is exceptional and valuable. Among the treasures to be preserved are the Nation's largest pristine river valley, the place where man may first have come into the New World, a glacier as large as the State of Rhode Island, and the largest group of peaks over 15,000 feet in North America. Breeding areas of the Great Alaska brown bear, caribou, and Dall sheep, and of ducks, geese, and swans that migrate through the other 49 States each year will also be protected.
In addition to preserving these natural wonders, historical sites, and wildlife habitats, our actions will ensure that Alaskan Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts can continue their traditional way of life, including hunting and fishing.
In Alaska we have a unique opportunity to balance the development of our vital resources required for continued economic growth with protection of our natural environment. We have the imagination and the will as a people to both develop our last great natural frontier and also preserve its priceless beauty for our children and grandchildren.
The actions I have taken today provide for urgently needed permanent protections. However, they are taken in the hope that the 96th Congress will act promptly to pass Alaska lands legislation.