Murkowski Questions Need for Federal Government to Acquire More Land

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today questioned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on why the Interior Department (DOI) was asking for a substantial increase in taxpayer funding to buy land now in private hands when it was cutting money, for the second year in a row, for long-overdue land conveyances in Alaska.

“In order to fund these large increases for land acquisition DOI has cut other programs,” Murkowski said. “The Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska conveyance program was slashed by over 50 percent. The state’s 50th anniversary was two years ago and the state, native corporations and others have yet to receive the patents to lands they were entitled to under the Statehood Act.

“Instead of accelerating the transfer of lands, BLM is slamming on the brakes In fact, at this rate, all the lands selected in Alaska won’t be transferred until after 2075,” Murkowski added.

Murkowski made her comments during Wednesday’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on DOI’s 2012 budget proposal.

The DOI budget request includes a 100-percent increase – to $675 million – to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with more than half, $360 million, dedicated to buying more land for the federal government.

In order to avoid increasing DOI’s budget for 2012 but still fund new land acquisitions, Salazar made a number of cuts to existing programs. 

“Other cuts are also troubling. Every one of the department’s construction accounts has been cut significantly at a time when there is a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog at the Park Service, BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service,” Murkowski said. “It begs the question of how you can place such a high priority on acquiring more land when you have to cut the very funds you need to take care of your current infrastructure in order to do it.”