Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Williams, for coming this morning. I am looking forward with great interest to your comments on the Fiscal Year 2004 budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
As you know, the activities of the Fish & Wildlife Service are important to all residents of Alaska, and often become highly controversial, as the Service struggles to balance the variety of interests it must serve.
Mr. Chairman, you may recall that my State of Alaska is one of those western States that is dominated by a pattern of Federal land ownership which makes doing business a very different experience than in States that are dominated by privately held lands. The Federal government owns 65% of the land mass of the State of Alaska – a figure equaled only by your own State of Idaho and exceeded only by Nevada.
Among other elements, Alaska has the sometimes dubious distinction of hosting fully 88% of the total acreage of the National Wildlife Refuge System. We have one refuge – the Yukon Delta – which is the size of the State of Maine. Although we have only 4% of the Refuge System’s more than 500 components, we have more than 88% of the total acreage. In fact, by the time all land conveyances under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act are complete, the Refuge system will own more than one-fifth of my State – more than 120,000 square miles of land – equal to the entire State of New Mexico.
The Service’s influence on Alaska does not stop with its management of Refuges, of course. It is intimately involved with the day to day lives of Alaskans as it manages subsistence fishing and hunting activities under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Its involvement in the land-use permitting process is one of the keys to whether Alaska will ever enjoy the benefits of efficient transportation, energy distribution, and communications systems. In short, it has a very significant effect on the ability of individual Alaskans to earn their livelihoods from one day to the next, and its impact can run the gamut from a soft pat to a harsh blow.
Finally, let me note that I understand you have recently named Mr. Rowan Gould to be the new director of the Alaska region. I look forward to meeting him in a few days, and to working with you both in the months ahead.