U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chaired an oversight hearing to examine the U.S. Department of the Interior’s budget request for fiscal year 2021. The $12.8 billion budget request would help address the maintenance needs of the Denali Road in Denali National Park and Preserve, hire more wildfire crews, implement important provisions from the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (Dingell Act) and advance oil and gas development in Alaska’s 1002 Area.
“The Denali Road is the definition of critical infrastructure. It is the only real way in and out of the park and the visitor experience is directly tied to it,” Murkowski said. “A longer term solution to keep the Denali Road open and safe is long overdue.”
Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt responded that the Department would release a plan this spring detailing long-term repairs for Denali Road, adding “I understand the need for a solution and I’m there.”
Murkowski expressed concerns about proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Geological Survey’s earthquake, landslides and volcano monitoring program. “Alaska is the most seismically active state in the nation, so this work is critical,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski also called on the administration to do more to reduce the threat of wildfires on public lands, including by hiring more Alaska Native village fire crews and directing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to partner with state, local, and tribal governments to conduct wildfire prevention projects on federal land using Good Neighbor Agreements. Bernhardt agreed to explore Murkowski’s recommendation, and said “I think that’s a no-brainer.”
During the hearing, Bernhardt told Murkowski that the report identifying which lands will be available for selection by Alaska Natives who served in the Vietnam War will soon be published in the Federal Register. He also reassured her that the Chugach Lands Study is well underway. Both initiatives are components of the Dingell Act, the committee’s seminal public lands package that became law nearly one year ago.
Murkowski is the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. An archived video of the hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here, here, and here to view Murkowski’s questions for Bernhardt.