I am pleased and gratified with the approval yesterday by the House of Representatives of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Both Houses of Congress have now endorsed the greatest land conservation legislation of the century, thus assuring that the "crown jewels" of the Alaskan natural wonders are afforded protection. It is a victory in the long struggle to resolve this issue and is truly an historic event in our Nation's history. The passage of a balanced Alaska lands bill has been my highest environmental priority since the beginning of my administration, and the bill approved yesterday closely resembles the proposals I sent to the Congress more than 3 years ago.
At stake in this debate over Alaskan lands has been the fate of millions of acres of irreplaceable natural wonders, unique wildlife populations, continuation of native cultures, and the opportunity to ensure that future generations of Americans will be able to experience and benefit from these nationally significant resources. And, beyond the protection of Alaskan lands, has been the need to provide for the development of the economic and energy potential that is available in Alaska and that is important to this Nation's future.
Today's action designates more than 43 million acres of national park system lands, 54 million acres of national wildlife refuges, and classifies a total of 56 million acres of Federal lands as wilderness. At the same time, the bill provides for development of Alaska's oil, gas, mineral, and timber resources while conveying to the State and native communities lands of interest to them. The bill produces a balance between protection and development that will help keep our Nation both energy strong and environmentally rich.
I want to commend the Congress, particularly Senator Paul Tsongas and Congressman Mo Udall, and all those associated with the Alaska lands question, for their hard work and tireless devotion over the last 2 years to the passage of this bill. All Americans can be proud of this achievement.