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Vol. 18, No. 13 Week of March 31, 2013
Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry

Mining News: BLM manufactures another Alaska crisis

The bureau’s draft Eastern Interior Management Plan is an unnecessary disaster for the state and the nation; it should be scrapped

J. P. Tangen

For Mining News

As a recent editorial in The Economist (March 16, 2013) notes, “[America’s] debt is rising, its population is ageing …, its schools are mediocre …, its infrastructure is rickety, its regulations dense, its tax code byzantine, its immigration system harebrained - and it has fallen from first position in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings to seventh in just four years.” Nowhere do the realities of this national misdirection hit closer to home than in Alaska. Although we do not share as much of the national sense of despair as our more densely populated sister states do, we, in Alaska, are closer to our government than most Americans, and we suffer more from the proximity.

Alaska was founded on the strength of its natural resources; the bounty of the lands and rivers and forests were key prerequisites to statehood. The economic potential these resources implied were, and to this day remain, ginormous. Two-thirds of the state, however, is still under the yoke of federal management, even after 50 years of theoretical emancipation.

We have sustained numerous blows from our absentee masters, but still we rise to challenge them again and again. Clearly, the most injurious of these attacks has been on the state’s once-proud timber industry, which continues to be kicked around by the courts of far off Washington, D.C. Nonetheless, it is the resident agents of the overlord who do us the greatest harm because they are here; they can see and touch the deficiencies of their so-called “planning” exercises, yet, like the overseers of old, there is no limit to the pernicious burdens they choose to demand Alaskans bear.

An illustration of this destructive behavior is the now-pending Eastern Interior Management Plan dealing with more than one million acres (404,694 hectares) of federal land between Fairbanks and the Canadian border bounded on the north by Fort Yukon and on the south by Northway. Historically speaking, this has long been one of the most prospective areas in the state, dating back to 1881, when the gold rush was still in Alaska’s future.

This land is, theoretically public domain managed by the Bureau of Land Management “in a manner which recognizes the nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals, food, timber, and fiber from the public lands, including implementation of the Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970 … as it pertains to public lands.” Nonetheless, even as we speak, the Eastern Interior Field Office of the Bureau is circulating a draft resource management plan that will heavy-handedly impose barriers and restrictions on this vast area, not only for resource development, including locatable minerals and hydrocarbons, but also on access – the sine qua non of resource development.

Not too many years ago, the U.S. Department of the Interior was home to the Bureau of Mines, which made its life-work identifying and studying prospective mineral terranes with the reasonable expectation that exploration would follow, and if warranted, mining would occur. Similarly, the U.S. Geological Survey engaged in mapping and describing the American landmass. Today, the Bureau of Mines is little more than a distant memory for most people, and the mission of the USGS has been diluted with the obligation to survey the biota.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the planners of the BLM who are charged with discussing and accommodating the resources on the public lands find themselves not only ill-informed, but also ill-disposed to make inquiries of the agencies and resources within their department when promulgating their planning proposals.

The current draft of the Eastern Interior Resource Management Plan virtually ignores the extensive mineral potential of the bulk of the studied area. It implies that deposits do not exist because they have not been discovered. It suggests that mining activities, if they did take place would be reckless and operate in ways that could never be permitted under existing law. It pretends that there have been no advances in geological methodologies since statehood or before. It disregards logic and reason by advancing irrational and impossible regulatory requirements.

For many Alaskans who are happy to enjoy the benefits of a productive mining industry but are willing to stand by while the overlord takes its toll, the developments in the Eastern Interior will cause little pause. However, every snap of the whip diminishes us all. It is said that we get the government we deserve. Perhaps, in a cynical sense, we deserve to watch the rights or our rights erode until there is nothing left. On the other hand, every voice in America counts. If you are among those who feel that this ill-conceived mismanagement of our public lands justifies an objection, speak up. The comment deadline is April 11.

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