ANCHORAGE - The head of Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation says more than enough acres are being managed for conservation, and land set-asides aren't necessary for environmental protection.
Ernesta Ballard also lambasted the media for being "eager apostles" of environmental activists. She made her comments during a speech Wednesday to the Alaska Miners Association, which is holding its annual convention in Anchorage.
Ballard was critical of the federal government's approach to tackling resource issues. She said the proliferation of wilderness areas and monuments "demonstrates that we have lost our national resolve to develop our resources."
Miners and other industry representatives welcomed Ballard's remarks.
Carl Portman, deputy director of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, said he appreciated Ballard's ability to "think outside the box."
"It's refreshing to hear somebody whose knowledge about permitting and environmental issues is so broad talk so frankly and straightforward about some of the problems that exist," said Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association.
Environmentalists found the speech disturbing.
"How anyone with a straight face can complain about setting aside some of Alaska's incredible lands for everyone to enjoy, it's hard for me to fathom, especially when they're supposed to be the head of the Department of Environmental Conservation," said Tim Bristol, executive director of the Alaska Coalition, an environmental group. "Maybe it's just the first step in changing the name to the department of environmental development."
He characterized Ballard's statements as "completely irresponsible."
Ballard, who has a master's in business administration from Harvard University, is the former chief executive of Cape Fox Corp., the Native village corporation for Ketchikan. Under her watch, Cape Fox extensively clear-cut its old-growth forest.
Ballard, who has a long and accomplished resume, was also the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional administrator for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest during the Reagan administration.
When she was tapped by Gov. Frank Murkowski to be his environmental chief, Ballard had been running her own consulting firm in Ketchikan.
In the speech, Ballard criticized the direction public-land management agencies have moved in since the 1960s and 1970s, when laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Forest Management Act were passed.
She said those laws gave the Interior Department unprecedented powers, and unleashed new requirements for scientific research and public involvement that have bogged down agencies' ability to manage lands.
"The planning process has consumed the agencies. By their account, staff spend almost half their time in planning at the expense of the important work of managing the land," she said. "The result is a pervasive distrust of the agencies and a widespread reluctance to engage in the process."
Public hearings required under laws like the National Environmental Policy Act have resulted in uncivilized meetings where opponents level attacks on one another, she said.
There's also unending environmental litigation, what Ballard refers to as "the new conflict industry." And she said journalists are much more interested in doing stories about bad environmental news than good.
Ballard also blasted environmental advocacy groups that she said keep painting an erroneous picture of the state of the environment.
Buck Lindekugel, a longtime lawyer for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Coalition, said, "She needs a reality check, I'm afraid."