Friday, 10 January 2014


Alaska, northernmost and westernmost state of the United States, and the largest state of the Union. It occupies the extreme northwestern region of the North American continent and is separated from Asia by the 82-km- (51-mi-) wide Bering Strait. Alaska has belonged to the United States since 1867, when it was bought from Russia by Secretary of State William H. Seward. The United States paid Russia $7.2 million for the rights of the Russian American Company in Alaska.
By 1900 Alaska had become a land of golden opportunity as one gold discovery followed another and prospectors arrived by the tens of thousands. Although the gold rush was over within a few years, many people settled in Alaska, and fishing developed as an important industry. Alaska’s strategic importance became apparent during World War II (1939-1945) with the Japanese attack on Dutch Harbor and occupation of Atta and Kiska and with the American desire to send military aid, particularly aircraft, through Alaska to Russia. During the 1940s and 1950s, the large influx of immigrants helped to give renewed impetus to its movement for statehood. On January 3, 1959, Alaska was admitted to the Union as the 49th state.
Alaska is a rugged, wild, beautiful land of majestic mountains and deep, high-walled fjords; of slow-moving glaciers and still-active volcanoes; of dense, coniferous forests and desolate, treeless islands; of hot springs and icy streams. It is a land of contrasts, with extremes of wind and sun, snow and rain, heat and cold.
Alaska is a land that has undergone tremendous change. Since becoming a United States territory in 1912, it has significantly developed its mineral, fishery, forest, and petroleum resources. The state now has a stable and self-sufficient economy based on its rich and varied natural resources—above all, oil and natural gas. Today’s Alaska is a composite of old and new, with fur trappers, traditional sea mammal hunters, and dog teams living in a state with modern cities connected to the world by all the modern means of communication.
The name Alaska is probably derived from an Aleut word meaning “great land,” which originally referred to the Alaska Peninsula. Alaska is called the Last Frontier, because of its opportunities and many lightly settled regions, and the Land of the Midnight Sun, because the sun shines nearly around the clock during Alaskan summers. Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city, and Juneau is the state capital.
Alaska occupies the northwestern portion of North America. It includes the Aleutian Islands, a chain of about 150 islands that arcs westward across the Pacific Ocean for 1,800 km (1,100 mi).
Alaska has a total area of 1,717,854 sq km (663,267 sq mi), including 44,659 sq km (17,243 sq mi) of inland water and 70,057 sq km (27,049 sq mi) of coastal water over which the state has jurisdiction. Alaska has more area of lakes and rivers than any other state, equaling more than the entire land area of Massachusetts and Vermont combined. The state’s extreme dimensions are about 2,240 km (about 1,390 mi) from north to south and about 3,550 km (about 2,210 mi) from east to west. The mean elevation is about 580 m (1,900 ft). A large area, north of an imaginary line from the Seward Peninsula through Fort Yukon to the Canadian border, lies within the Arctic Circle. Alaska’s Little Diomede Island in the Bering Strait is 4 km (2.5 mi) east of Big Diomede Island, or Ratmanov Island, which belongs to Russia (see Diomede Islands). Fairbanks, in the center of the state, is 5,280 km (3,280 mi) by air from New York City, 5,670 km (3,520 mi) from Tokyo, and 6,810 km (4,230 mi) from London. This key position, at the northern end of the Pacific Ocean and close to Asia, is a major factor in Alaska’s continued economic importance.
A Natural Regions
Alaska can be divided into three major natural regions: the Coast Ranges region, the Interior region, and the Arctic region.
The Coast Ranges region is an area of high mountains, great valleys, and many islands. It extends about 1,900 km (about 1,200 mi) along Alaska’s Pacific coast and is generally narrower than about 300 km (about 200 mi). It can be divided, in turn, into the subregions of southeastern Alaska, south central Alaska, and southwestern Alaska.
Southeastern Alaska, often called the Alaska Panhandle, or Panhandle, is a narrow, mountainous strip of the mainland between British Columbia and the Pacific Ocean. It is fringed by the Alexander Archipelago, a group of 1,100 islands. Between the islands and the mainland is part of the Inside Passage, a deep natural waterway used by vessels traveling along the coast. The islands of the archipelago are the tops of submerged mountains, whose peaks rise steeply about 900 to 1,500 m (about 3,000 to 5,000 ft) above the water. On the mainland the Boundary Range rises abruptly from the water’s edge, and varies in elevation from 1,500 to more than 3,000 m (5,000 to more than 10,000 ft).
In the northern section of the Alaska Panhandle and in adjoining areas of Canada are the Saint Elias Mountains, which reach 5,489 m (18,008 ft) above sea level at Mount Saint Elias, one of the highest peaks in North America.
The fjords along the coast are deep, narrow inlets that have been gouged out by glaciers and then partly submerged by the sea. Glaciers in Alaska number more than 100,000. Vast glaciers occur in the mountains northwest of Juneau. At Glacier Bay the huge Muir Glacier towers 60 m (200 ft) above the water. At the foot of Mount Saint Elias is the Malaspina Glacier, which covers an area larger than Rhode Island. The Malaspina Glacier is the largest piedmont glacier in North America. A piedmont glacier occurs at the foot of a mountain range and consists of a large number of valley glaciers that coalesce. Just north of the Saint Elias Mountains are the volcanic Wrangell Mountains, which include Mount Wrangell, Mount Sanford, and Mount Drum.
South central Alaska extends around the Gulf of Alaska from the Malaspina Glacier to the Alaska Peninsula. It is bounded on the north and west by the Alaska Range, a belt of mountains 80 to 100 km (50 to 60 mi) wide that is connected with the Saint Elias Mountains on the east. The Alaska Range includes Mount McKinley, whose south peak is the highest point in North America at 6,194 m (20,320 ft). The coastal section of south central Alaska resembles that of the Panhandle. North of Cook Inlet, broad river flats lead inland to the Susitna and the Matanuska river valleys, which comprise the only extensive lowland area in the Pacific Mountains region.
Southwestern Alaska is composed of the narrow Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands, and Kodiak Island. The backbone of the peninsula is the volcanic, heavily glaciated Aleutian Range, which continues through the Aleutian Islands to the Kamchatka Peninsula. With more than 50 active volcanoes, the Aleutians are the site of frequent eruptions, including in recent years Mount Veniaminov and Mount Augustine in lower Cook Inlet. From time to time major eruptions shake the area. Novarupta Volcano and Katmai Volcano, at the base of the Alaska Peninsula, erupted in 1912 and created the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The Aleutian Islands, or Aleutians, are an extension of the Aleutian Range and divide the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean. Cape Wrangell, in the Aleutians, is the westernmost point in the United States. Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States. The Pribilof Islands, also part of Alaska, lie in the Bering Sea northeast of the Aleutian Islands.
The Alaskan Interior is bounded by the Alaska Range on the south, the Brooks Range on the north, the border with the Yukon Territory on the east, and the Bering Sea on the west. It contains the Tanana Yukon Upland, with maximum elevations in the east of about 1,200 m (about 4,000 ft) and separating the lowlands or flats of the Yukon and Tanana rivers, and ends at the vast lowland between the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. The Yukon Flats, northeast of Fairbanks, form a large depression surrounded by highlands and have the coldest winter and hottest summer temperatures in Alaska. Once the Kuskokwim River passes through the Kuskokwim Mountains, it forms the southern edge of a vast lake-studded alluvial plain bounded on the north by the Yukon River. This water-logged lowland is a major summer nesting area for birds. Fairbanks is the major city in this region, while Fort Yukon is the major community in the Yukon Flats and Bethel the largest settlement on the Lower Kuskokwim River.
The glaciated Brooks Range separates Interior from Arctic Alaska. Its highest elevations are in the east near the border with the Yukon Territory, and it extends almost to the Chukchi Sea in the west. The western Brooks Range consist of two ranges, the Baird and DeLong Mountains, and is drained by the Noatak River. The Dalton Highway, connecting Fairbanks with Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean, crosses the Brooks Range at Atigun Pass.
The Arctic Region is bounded by the Beaufort Sea to the north, the Chukchi Sea to the west, and the crest of the Brooks Range to the south. It is crossed by numerous northward-flowing rivers, the largest of which is the Colville. The region has never been subject to glaciation; contains continuous permafrost; enormous deposits of coal, petroleum, and natural gas; and is the summer calving grounds for hundreds of thousands of caribou and nesting grounds for migratory birds. It consists of the northern slopes and low foothills of the Brooks Range and a large Arctic coastal plain, popularly called the Arctic Slope or simply the Slope (see North Slope). The eastern portion of the plain is narrow, extending only 19 km (12 mi) from the mountains to the sea at Demarcation Point, marking the boundary with the Yukon Territory, but reaches a width nearly ten times as great at Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the United States. The region’s principal settlement, Barrow, is near the point. The region contains at Prudhoe Bay the largest single source of petroleum in the United States. The area east of the Colville River is encompassed by the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the area to the west by the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Small deposits of petroleum and natural gas, as well as huge deposits of coal, are known to be in the National Petroleum Reserve, but the largest petroleum deposits are believed to exist in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
B Rivers and Lakes
The principal river is the Yukon River, which rises in the nearby Yukon Territory. About two-thirds of its 3,190 km (1,980 mi) course lies in Alaska. The Yukon is one of the longest navigable rivers in the world, and it flows westward in a gently curving arc across the Interior region to the Bering Sea just south of Norton Sound. Shallow-draft riverboats and barges can navigate its whole length during the ice-free summer weeks. Its main tributaries include the Porcupine, the Tanana, the Koyukuk, and the Innoko rivers. The silt laden, glacially fed Yukon forms a large delta with numerous shallow channels, or distributaries.
The second great river of Alaska is the Kuskokwim, 1,165 km (724 mi) long. Its four headstreams rise in the Alaska Range. The river winds southwestward to the Bering Sea. Near the end of its course the river approaches the Yukon, and shallow channels link the two river systems.
The Colville River flows into the Beaufort Sea; the Noatak, Kobuk, and Selawik rivers reach the sea near Kotzebue. The main route connecting Anchorage to Fairbanks, over Broad Pass, follows the Susitna and Chulitna rivers. The Copper River forms a huge delta, and provides access to the Interior from Glenallen. Cordova was at one time the port for the Copper and Chitina rivers. Wrangell remains the port for the Stikine River. The Alsek River is unusual in that it does not form an easily visible mouth or delta.
Alaska’s largest lake is Iliamna Lake at the foot of the Alaska Peninsula, covering 2,647 sq km (1,022 sq mi).
C Coastline
Measured roughly along its perimeter, Alaska’s coastline is 10,690 km (6,640 mi) long. However, if all the inlets and islands are taken into account, the total length is 54,563 km (33,904 mi). Along the Pacific coast, the shoreline is deeply indented. The Inside Passage, sheltered from the open ocean, is a calm body of water, but it is difficult to navigate in foggy weather. The coast of the Gulf of Alaska has tides that reach as high as 6 m (20 ft). It is buffeted by major storms, and occasionally by tsunamis caused by earthquakes under the ocean. At Cook Inlet high tide and low tide sometimes differ as much as 9 m (30 ft).
The current through the Gulf of Alaska is known as the Alaska Current. It flows westward and then, in the eastern Aleutians, turns northward to bring warm water along the western coast of Alaska all the way to Point Barrow. The coastline of the Bering Sea, except for part of the southern Seward Peninsula, is mostly shallow, with offshore bars and lagoons. Most of the coast of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas is similar. The Bering Sea contains ice during the winter, and the marginal region of the ice is one of the world’s major fisheries. In summer the ice slowly retreats northward into the Arctic Ocean, allowing navigation along the Arctic Coast by late summer.
D Climate
Alaska has four different climatic zones: maritime, continental, transitional, and Arctic. Kodiak, the Aleutians, and southeastern and south central Alaska have a climate primarily influenced by the sea, so that temperatures do not vary greatly throughout the year, but rainfall is quite high and frequent. Western Alaska, a transitional climate, has much lower temperatures and less rainfall, but, like the Aleutians, frequent periods of extremely high winds and blowing snow. Arctic Alaska has very little snowfall, cool summer temperatures, and frequent high winds, particularly from the east. The interior has a continental climate characterized by extremely great temperature variations, but only moderate rain and snow.
The average January temperatures in southeastern Alaska are close to freezing, but snowfall in many areas can be high. Rainfall, particularly along the coasts, can exceed 2,500 mm (100 in) a year. South central Alaska has a maritime climate, ranging northward into a transitional climate. The climates of Homer and Kodiak are more similar to southeastern Alaska’s climate than to that of Anchorage. Because of the oceans and the mountains, and the storms coming from the Gulf of Alaska, this region shows considerable variation from place to place in rainfall and snowfall. For example, Thompson Pass, north of Valdez, has recorded more than 6 m (20 ft) of snowfall in one winter, whereas Anchorage often has little snow all winter long. Under proper conditions, however, cold air from the interior can cross the mountains and bring temperatures in the upper -20°s C (lower -20°s F) to this region.
The Aleutians, dominated by perpetual low pressure systems and contrasting ocean currents, have frequent fogs, high winds or “williwaws,” and rainstorms, making the region extremely difficult for both vessel and aircraft transportation. The interior has a continental (also called sub-Arctic or taiga) climate caused by being in the rain shadow of the coast ranges and inland. Winter cold spells can last several weeks, with temperatures recorded in the -50°s C (-60°s F), while summer temperatures, particularly in the Yukon Flats, can reach into the upper 30°s C (upper 90°s F). Summers are characterized by frequent thunderstorms, which often cause forest fires. Mean annual precipitation is about 380 to 510 mm (about 15 to 20 in), with winter snowfalls varying significantly from year to year but averaging in lowland areas at about 1,300 mm (about 50 in).
Western Alaska, from the Alaska Peninsula northward to the southern Seward Peninsula, has a transitional climate, one influenced by frequent low pressure systems from the Bering Sea, but also by cold air from the interior and winter sea ice conditions. The result is summer temperatures that seldom rise much above 10°C (50°F), and winter conditions characterized by high winds and snow storms. Arctic Alaska, stretching from the northern Seward Peninsula (Kotzebue Sound) northward to Barrow and eastward to Demarcation Point, has an Arctic climate characterized by low winter and summer temperatures and frequent high winds. While snowfall is low, generally less than 300 mm (12 in), blowing snow frequently creates a condition known as whiteout, in which people cannot differentiate between land and sky, making it extremely easy to become disoriented and lost. Summers are cool, with temperatures generally less than 10°C (50°F) and rainfall tends to concentrate in late summer. The high winds along the coast of the Beaufort Sea blow away insects and make the area favorable to caribou in the summer months.
Because of Alaska’s high northern latitude, the length of day varies much more between summer and winter than it does in other parts of the United States. At Fort Yukon, on the Arctic Circle, the sun barely rises above the southern horizon on the shortest day of the year, December 21. At Barrow, on the Arctic Coast, the sun is not seen from late November until late January. In summer the days are much longer and Alaska is as much “the land of the midnight sun” as are Norway and Sweden. At Barrow there is continuous daylight from early May to early August.
E Soils
Most Alaska soils are immature, cold, and acidic. Except for the lowlands of southeastern and south central Alaska, and portions of the lowlands in the Interior, most Alaska soils are permanently frozen, a condition called permafrost. At a certain depth in the ground, the soil remains perpetually frozen. This level is known as the permafrost table and the ground beneath is known as the inactive layer because it never thaws. The soil above, however, freezes and thaws every year, and in the process the soil is constantly churned. The permafrost table is impervious to water. Therefore the surface in much of the Interior, western, and Arctic Alaska is waterlogged and contains numerous but usually shallow lakes often called thaw lakes, in spite of the region’s low precipitation. Thaw lakes form when large blocks of ground ice contained in the inactive layer thaw and leave a hole in the surface, which fills with water. On the Arctic coastal plain these lakes are generally rectangular in shape, whereas in the Interior and western Alaska they are usually oval in form. Such lakes fill in with vegetation over time, and in the Interior eventually with trees. Thus the lakes are not permanent, but are constantly changing, with new lakes forming and others being filled in with vegetation. About 80 percent of Alaska contains permanently frozen ground. Of this, over half is called continuous permafrost, that is, has an active layer of only a few inches to a foot or so in depth. The remainder is called discontinuous permafrost, where the active layer may be many feet in depth.
F Plant Life
Forests cover 34 percent of Alaska’s land area. The most important commercial species of trees are birch, Sitka spruce (the state tree), western hemlock, black spruce, and white spruce.
The Alaska Panhandle is a land of forests. The mild climate and heavy rainfall promote dense tree growth. The huge Tongass National Forest is an area where young saplings compete for space with trees that are centuries old. Trees found there include the western hemlock, Sitka spruce, canoe cedar, and yellow cedar (also called Alaska cedar), which are all conifers. The forest floor is carpeted with berry-producing plants and moss.
South central Alaska south of the Alaska Range is also heavily forested, but the trees are usually smaller and there is a transition from Sitka spruce to white and black spruce. The largest stand of timber is in the Chugach National Forest.
Southwestern Alaska is almost entirely treeless, except for Sitka spruce and some cottonwood on Kodiak Island and a few stunted birches and willows found in the Aleutian Islands. However, grasses grow luxuriantly in the cool wet climate. Flowers bloom in great variety and include the forget-me-not (the state flower), anemone, lupine, paintbrush, and marsh marigold in boggy areas, and the dwarf rhododendron on the hillsides.
In the Interior region, vegetation must adapt itself to short, warm summers and long, cold winters. Trees grow slowly, and their root systems must be shallow because they cannot penetrate the permafrost. Toward the west the trees become sparse and are replaced by wet tundra. Similarly, the mountain slopes contain tundra in the Interior. Cleared areas are often brilliant with fireweed in the summer months. Principal trees found in this region are black and white spruce, paper birch, tamarack, aspen, Alaskan larch, and balsam poplar. There are expanses of bogs called muskeg, and grasslands, where many species of wild flowers, berries, and shrubs occur.
Arctic Alaska contains primarily tundra vegetation with tall brush and some forests in stream valleys. Tundra consists of mosses, lichens, and grasses 3 to 5 cm (1 to 2 in) high, sedges and heather up to 20 cm (8 in) high, and willows taller than an average adult person. Tundra is characteristic of the northlands around the Arctic Ocean and of other areas in Alaska above the timberline. Colorful flowers carpet the tundra during the brief summer weeks when the sun never sets, and plants grow well although the soil thaws less than 30 cm (1 ft) before the long winter returns. Here and there, dwarf willows are found.
G Animal Life
In southeastern Alaska are found the black bear, grizzly bear, black-tailed deer, moose, mountain goat, marten, red fox, mink, wolf, coyote, otter, and beaver. The sea lion, harbor seal, sea otter, porpoise, and several species of whale are common along the coast. Halibut, herring, cod, crab, and shrimp are also found in abundance in coastal waters. Several species of anadromous (living in both salt and freshwater) fish occur in Alaska, including chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon, Dolly Varden, sheefish, and rainbow and cutthroat trout. Brook and lake trout, Arctic grayling, northern pike, whitefish, and burbot occur in the state’s lakes and streams. Wildlife in south-central Alaska is similar to that of the Panhandle, with the addition of Dall sheep and caribou. In southwestern Alaska is rugged Kodiak Island, the home of the Kodiak brown bear, which is believed to be the largest omnivorous land animal in the world.
The Dall sheep, grizzly bear, moose, wolf, and caribou are found in Denali National Park and Preserve. Gulls, kittiwakes, cormorants, murres, puffins, and other seabirds are found throughout the Aleutian Islands. On the Pribilof Islands are extensive fur seal rookeries and also small colonies of sea otter.
The Interior region is the home of caribou, moose, Dall sheep, mountain goat, bison, wolf, black bear, grizzly bear, and many fur-bearing animals. Thousands of migratory waterfowl arrive at the end of April at their nesting grounds along the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim river valleys and leave in August and September for warmer lands farther south. The Bristol Bay area of the Bering Sea coast is noted for its salmon.
In the Arctic region the sea ice is the habitat of the polar bear, hair seal, and walrus. Marine life is abundant and ranges from tiny crustaceans to giant whales. Caribou graze on the tundra, migrating in herds and returning for the winter to range south of the Brook Range. The Arctic is a major nesting area for waterfowl, shorebirds, and many raptors, including peregrine falcons.
H Conservation
Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation is responsible for the conservation, protection, and improvement of the state’s natural resources and environment and for the control of water, land, and air pollution.
H1 Air Quality
While air quality in Alaska is generally good, the state has a few air pollution problems. A leading problem is high levels of carbon monoxide in urban areas during winter. During temperature inversions in winter, which trap pollutants near the ground, air quality in Fairbanks and Anchorage occasionally fails to meet federal standards. Automobiles, and in Fairbanks coal-fired power plants and home heating, contribute to air pollution. Toxic air emissions, especially ammonia and benzene, are largely confined to areas near oil refineries.
H2 Waste Management
Landfills designed with modern environmental safeguards have been opened in Alaska, although much of the state’s solid waste is disposed of in older facilities. Open dumps are the primary disposal facilities in rural Alaska. In 2006 the state had 6 hazardous waste sites on a federal priority list for cleanup because of their severity or proximity to people. Progress was being made in efforts to reduce pollution; in the period 1995–2000 the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into the environment was reduced by 71 percent.
H3 Water Quality
Virtually all of the state’s waters are unpolluted. Nevertheless, many in Alaska drink water from systems that violate federal safe drinking water standards. Most of the drinking water problems stem from inadequate public sewerage, especially in rural areas. Water quality has also suffered because of oil spills and poor petroleum waste disposal practices. In March 1989 the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound and discharged about 260,000 barrels, one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. The environmental and ecological damage caused by the spill may take decades to undo.
Fur seal, sea otter, and beaver pelts were the basis of economic activity in Alaska for more than 150 years after 1741. The first Americans arriving in Alaska after 1867 entered into the fur trade, established a small steamboat trading system along the Yukon River from its mouth to Fort Reliance, near present-day Dawson, and began exploration for gold. By the late 1870s Alaska was recognized as a significant source of canned salmon, and in the 1880s and 1890s major gold deposits were discovered along the south bank of the Yukon and in what became the city of Juneau.
The major gold rushes began in the late 1890s after the 1896 discovery of gold in the Klondike in the Yukon Territory, and continued through the next two decades. To produce food to support mining operations, farming began in the Fairbanks area, Glenallen, and elsewhere in the early part of the 20th century, while fish canneries became very significant in the years from 1900 to 1920. Other minerals, particularly copper, tin, mercury, and silver, were also mined in very large quantities.
During the 1940s and 1950s large military bases were built throughout Alaska. The construction industry developed rapidly during and after World War II and manufacturing began to develop in the 1960s.
Beginning in the late 1970s, the economy of Alaska underwent a fundamental, and rapid, change as the state’s enormous oil deposits, discovered in the 1960s, were exploited. Crude oil was first shipped from Valdez in 1977. By 1980 state government revenue from the oil industry had grown to the point where the state government abolished its personal income tax.
Alaska had a work force of 347,000 people in 2006, of which 36 percent worked in the diverse service sector, including jobs such as working in restaurants or data processing. Federal, state, or local government, including the military, employed another 26 percent of the work force; 17 percent worked in wholesale or retail trade; 20 percent in transportation or public utilities; 12 percent in finance, insurance, or real estate; 5 percent) in construction; 4 percent in manufacturing; 1 percent in farming (including agricultural services), forestry, or fishing; and 4 percent in mining. In 2005, 23 percent of the workers in Alaska were unionized.
A Agriculture
Livestock has been raised in Alaska since the 1850s, when the Russians introduced cows to provide fresh milk at their missions on Kodiak Island and on the Pribilof Islands. Gardens were cultivated and greenhouse vegetables were raised in gold rush days at Fort Yukon, Eagle, and Unalakleet and at points far north of the Arctic Circle. Cattle were driven inland from the coast to the goldfields, to be fattened on summer grasses before slaughtering. Commercial agriculture became quite significant in the Fairbanks area in the early part of the 20th century with the development of dairy and potato farms. The United States government sponsored the development of agriculture, particularly dairying and potato and vegetable farming, in the Matanuska Valley in the 1930s. Commercial agriculture today plays a significant role in the Matanuska Valley, Alaska’s leading agricultural area, and in the Delta region. The Delta is a significant producer of milk and milk products as well as potatoes, grass seeds for lawns and animal fodder, and barley. Cattle are raised on Kodiak Island, and a facility in Palmer processes pigs and some cattle from the Delta and Matanuska Valley.
In 2005 there were just 640 farms in Alaska. Some 48 percent of them had annual sales of more than $10,000; many of the rest were sidelines for operators who also held other jobs. Farmland occupies 364,217 hectares (900,000 acres), of which 11 percent is cropland.
Most of Alaska’s arable land is in the inland river valleys, where the rainfall is light and the winters are long and cold. The grazing season for cattle is only about 100 days, and eight to nine months of indoor feeding are necessary. Similarly, the growing season for crops lasts only about 90 to 100 days throughout much of the Interior region, although this is offset by the long hours of continuous sunlight. During this growing season, cabbage, cauliflower, and many root vegetables grow to mammoth sizes. Hardy strains of barley, potatoes, and other crops have been developed, and the seeds of these grains have been tried with much success in other parts of the United States with long, rigorous winters.
A1 Patterns of Farming
Farming in Alaska is generally confined to the Matanuska and Tanana river valleys, to part of the Kenai Peninsula, and to the area around Fairbanks. Greenhouse and nursery products are Alaska’s chief farm commodity, by value. Other commodities include milk and cream, potatoes, crops used for silage, hay, cattle and calves, barley, eggs, vegetables, and hogs.
The Matanuska Valley is an extensive, well-drained area of moderately fertile soils, lying at the head of Cook Inlet, near Palmer. The Alaska Railroad commenced agricultural development in the Matanuska in 1928, and in 1935 the federal government established a colony there of about 200 farm families from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. A number of these farmers gave up and returned south, but those who remained made the experiment a success. The valley now supplies Anchorage with dairy products, grain, fruit, potatoes, and other vegetables.
A2 Reindeer
In the 19th century Alaska Natives obtained their food from hunting, fishing, and gathering. Between 1891 and 1902 reindeer were imported into the Seward Peninsula, first from Siberia and later from Scandinavia. Saami were brought from northern Scandinavia to teach the indigenous peoples how to raise reindeer. In the 1920s descendants of Saami developed an industry exporting reindeer meat. But as a consequence of the Great Depression and other factors, the federal government mandated in the mid-1930s that only Alaska Natives could raise reindeer. It is believed that large numbers of the reindeer joined caribou herds, were killed by wolves and hunters, or died from lack of forage. The reindeer industry, however, continued to provide meat for Alaska’s indigenous peoples, and reindeer are today raised on the Seward Peninsula and in the Kotzebue area. A significant export of reindeer antlers to Asia has developed.
B Fur Industry
The most significant fur-bearing animal during the Russian period was the fur seal, which was hunted the length of the Pacific coast as far south as San Francisco Bay. The main hunt, however, occurred on the Pribilof Islands. Due to decades of indiscriminate hunting at sea and a variety of other causes, the fur seal population was in a serious decline when in 1984 commercial hunting was prohibited and only a much smaller subsistence harvest by Aleuts living on the Pribilof Islands was allowed to continue (see Seal (mammal): Fur Seal).
Fur farming has periodically been attempted in Alaska, but generally has proven to be an economic failure. Fur trapping, however, continues to provide a significant source of income for many rural people, particularly Alaska Natives. Market conditions for furs, however, vary significantly from year to year, and so the industry is not always a profitable one.
C Fisheries
Commercial fishing began in the 1870s. However, because fishing activities were not regulated, overfishing occurred, resulting in a serious depletion of stock. The use of giant fish traps, with which enormous catches were made, was not abolished until Alaska became a state in 1959.
Alaska is the leading fishing state, ranking first in both quantity and value of the annual catch. In the 1990s Alaska experienced record harvests of salmon and other fish. Most of the salmon are taken in the waters of southern Alaska. In addition, herring and halibut are caught in the Alaska Panhandle. Shellfish are also an important fishery product in Alaska. Most of the shellfish caught are shrimp and Dungeness crab. In 2004 the total catch in the state was valued at $1,172 million. A large part of the catch is landed at Kodiak, where the most important species caught include salmon and halibut.
D Forestry
Although 34 percent of the total land area of Alaska is classified as forest, much of that is sparse, open woodland, semimuskeg, and scrubland. In addition, most of the potentially productive forestland is inaccessible. Nevertheless, about 1.6 million hectares (about 4 million acres) of forests along the coast and another similarly sized tract in the Interior region are accessible and may have commercial value. The most valuable timber, consisting of dense stands of hemlock and spruce, is in the Tongass National Forest and in the Chugach National Forest along the coast. Nearly all of this timber lies within a few miles of available water transportation. Much of the state’s lumber exports go to Japan.
E Mining
Alaska accounts for one quarter of all the petroleum produced in the United States and ranks second in production among the states after Texas. However, oil production declined steadily, falling from a peak of 2 million barrels a day to 1.3 million by 1997 as the Prudhoe Bay fields neared depletion. The Kenai Peninsula and Upper Cook Inlet have been producing modest amounts of petroleum and natural gas since the late 1950s. The natural gas is used for heating and electricity generation in Kenai and Anchorage, while some is processed into fertilizer and exported. Alaska also produces significant quantities of gold, zinc, silver, and lead, and modest amounts of antimony, platinum, mercury, tin, and other metals.
In the years before Alaska was purchased by the United States there was very little interest in mining in Alaska itself, although gold prospectors were active in what is now the Yukon Territory, Canada. Later, in the 1880s, Juneau and Treadwell, in the Alaska Panhandle, were founded as gold-mining centers. The big bonanza, however, came in 1896, when gold deposits were discovered in the Klondike, in the Yukon Territory. Unsuccessful prospectors in the Yukon then considered the possibilities in Alaska. They found gold at Nome, Rampart, and Hot Springs, and the overflow from these camps rushed to the Fairbanks area. By the 1910s production had begun at copper mines in the Copper River and Prince William Sound areas. A railroad was built to carry the ore to Cordova.
After World War I (1914-1918) the output of copper and gold declined. In 1938 the last great copper mine closed. Gold continues to be produced, mainly in the Fairbanks area and the Yukon and Kuskokwim river valleys. Gold production declined in the 1960s, but in the mid-1970s, with the rise in world gold prices, interest in mining was revived, and a number of previously closed camps were reopened. During the late 1980s and 1990s gold mines of globally significant size have opened near Fairbanks and Juneau, and a zinc mine has opened north of Kotzebue. A molybdenum deposit has been defined near Ketchikan but not yet developed. New seismic surveys suggest that significantly large gold deposits exist in the Fairbanks area.
Coal is found in a number of areas. In the mid-1990s the only worked bed was in the Healy River valley, about 230 km (about 140 mi) south of Fairbanks. Most of the coal is exported to South Korea through the port in Seward, although a significant portion fuels electricity-generating plants or is burned for heat. Coal has also been mined on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Matanuska Valley. All of the coal produced is from strip mines.
Natural gas was discovered in 1949 near Point Barrow on the Arctic (North) Slope. The Prudhoe Bay region contains one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas, most of which is injected back into the ground to add pressure to the oil deposits, thereby aiding in its extraction. While numerous proposals have been made to export this gas, the cost of transportation so far has made exports prohibitively expensive. In 2006 Alaska produced 12.6 billion cu m (445 billion cu ft) of natural gas.
Oil was first discovered on a commercial scale in the Swanson River area of the Kenai Peninsula in 1957. Other major discoveries followed as exploration was undertaken throughout Alaska as well as in the offshore waters in Cook Inlet and along the northern coasts. In 1968 one of the largest deposits of oil in North America was discovered in the Prudhoe Bay area of the Arctic Slope. In 1977 shipment of oil began through a 1,300-km (800-mile) pipeline designed to carry 2 million barrels of crude oil per day to the ice-free port of Valdez on the southern coast. In the late 1980s, an important new oil field was discovered at Point McIntyre, just north of the Prudhoe Bay field. Alaska produced 270 million barrels of crude oil in 2006.
F Manufacturing
Manufacturing in Alaska is generally limited to the processing of local raw materials, and the state still has to import most of the manufactured goods it needs. However, manufacturing does play an important role in the economic life of the state, providing goods for shipment to other states and foreign countries. Alaska’s chief manufactures are foodstuffs; gasoline and petrochemicals; and some consumer goods. Canned and frozen fish products account for most of Alaska’s output of foodstuffs. Fish processing is carried on at numerous centers, including Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Cordova, and especially Kodiak, Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, Dillingham, and numerous other places on the Alaska Peninsula and Bristol Bay. The first oil refinery in Alaska opened near Kenai in 1963. In 1969 a major petrochemical complex was established in the same area.
G Electricity
Southeastern and much of south central Alaska obtain electricity from small hydroelectric facilities, particularly near Juneau, Sitka, Kodiak, Valdez, and Homer (Bradley Lakes). Anchorage obtains some electricity from a dam at Eklutna, but most of its power and heat is generated from natural gas. The Interior relies on coal-fired plants, including a new environmentally sound plant at Healy. Most of the remainder of Alaska relies on oil or diesel power generation, except for a massive installation at Prudhoe Bay, which uses natural gas to power the oil extraction complex. Thermal power plants burning fossil fuels supply 78 percent of Alaska’s electricity, with the rest generated at hydroelectric dams.
H Tourist Industry
Early in the 1950s Alaskans recognized tourism as a major source of income and tourists discovered Alaska as a vacationland. Each year visitors spend $1.3 billion while in Alaska. The development and advertising of national parks has contributed to a dramatic increase in Alaskan tourism during the past decade. Tourists come in organized groups on tour ships, buses, or airplanes; as motor home caravans; and as individuals enjoying a wilderness experience. International tourism has also shown a dramatic increase in the 1990s.
I Transportation
The traditional means of transportation in Alaska were for many decades the boat and dogsled. Boats are still more useful than automobiles in some communities, especially in the Alaska Panhandle. Air transportation, whether by commercial jet or small prop-driven airplanes, connects most cities and villages.
I1 Highways
The only road into the state is the Alaska Highway, built as a military supply route in 1942 and extending from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Delta Junction south of Fairbanks, a distance of 2,288 km (1,422 mi). Another major land route, entirely within Alaska, is the Richardson Highway, about 590 km (about 370 mi), which connects Valdez with Fairbanks. In 2005 the state had 23,121 km (14,367 mi) of highways, including 1,740 km (1,081 mi) of the federal highway system. Even though Alaska has vast distances they are generally not connected by roads. All but three of the states–Rhode Island, Delaware, and Hawaii–have longer road systems than does Alaska.
I2 Railroads
Mining encouraged some railroad development in Alaska, including a line from Skagway to the Canadian Yukon goldfields and a line from the copper mines to Cordova. The Alaska Railroad, the only major line, was begun in 1914 and completed in 1923. It extends 814 km (506 mi), from Seward via Anchorage to Fairbanks. Nonmetallic minerals account for 38 of the tonnage of goods hauled by rail, while petroleum products constitute 30 percent and coal 24 percent. The state of Alaska purchased the Alaska Railroad from the federal government and now operates it as a state-owned corporation. The White Pass and Yukon Railroad, from Skagway to Whitehorse, has been redeveloped as a popular summer tourist attraction.
I3 Airports
There are more airplanes per person in Alaska than in any other state. The airplane is the cheapest means of long-distance travel and well suited to serve a small population scattered over a large area. The use of small, light aircraft typifies local air travel, but Alaska also has jet service to its principal communities. The state had 28 airports in 2007, nearly all of them small airstrips. The airport in Anchorage is the state’s busiest.
I4 Shipping
Ships carry cargo and passengers between Alaska and the Pacific coast states and Asia. The principal ports along Alaska’s Pacific coast are Anchorage, Ketchikan, Skagway, Wrangell, Sitka, Whittier, Valdez, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, which are ice-free throughout the year. Nome is the principal port on the Bering Sea, but is open for only a short period during the ice-free summer weeks. In summer large cargoes are often towed on barges to Prudhoe Bay. A state-operated ferry system connects ports in Alaska with those in Washington State and British Columbia, Canada.
J Trade
Most of Alaska’s food supply, with the exception of some dairy products, fish, poultry, and vegetables, has to be shipped in from other states. Manufactured foods must also be imported. Alaska has become a major foreign-exporting state primarily because of its fisheries and mining. Alaska’s exports of fish, minerals, and some forest products have an annual value of as much as $3 billion a year. Most goods go to Japan, South Korea, and other Asian markets, and in recent years exports to the Russian Far East have been increasing. Alaska imports most of its consumer goods, primarily through the port of Anchorage, and the Alaskan trade has long been important to the economies of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma in Washington state.
According to the 2000 national census, Alaska had a population of 626,932, an increase of 14 percent over the 1990 population of 550,043. In 2000 Alaska ranked 48th among the states in population, ahead of Vermont and Wyoming.
Alaska is still the most sparsely populated state, and had just 0.5 person per sq km (1.2 per sq mi) of land in 2006. Most of the people live along the coasts and the river valleys. Some sections of the Interior and Arctic Slope regions remain uninhabited. In 2000 some 66 percent of all Alaskans lived in areas classified as urban, where the population is increasing much faster than in the rural areas. Since the early days of settlement, the cities and towns of Alaska have attracted comparatively more immigrants than the rural areas.
Whites make up 69.3 percent of the population of Alaska. The largest other group is composed of descendants of the state’s original inhabitants–the Eskimo (also known as the Inuit), the Aleut, and other indigenous peoples–who account for 15.6 percent of the total. The state’s population also includes Asians, who are 4 percent of the total; blacks, with 3.5 percent of the total; Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, with 0.5 percent; and those of mixed heritage or not reporting race, at 7 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 4.1 percent of the people.
The population of Alaska is relatively young. At the time of the census in 2000, 30 percent of the population was less than 18 years old.
A Population Patterns
Since 1867 the populations of the main communities in Alaska have fluctuated considerably. In 1890, settlement was almost entirely along the coast, and the only sizable community was Juneau. By 1900, when the gold rush was under way, Nome had become the largest population center. Ten years later, it had shrunk to one-tenth its former size, and many other gold-mining centers had disappeared altogether. However, the Panhandle communities of Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Wrangell had maintained their size, and Fairbanks, Kodiak, and the community of Kenai had begun to develop.
By the 1930s, Anchorage had grown to become one of the largest communities in the territory. Most of Alaska’s population increase after World War II has been concentrated in the Anchorage area and in other parts of south central Alaska. Between 1940 and 1960 the total population of south central Alaska, the focus of military activity in the state, tripled in size to about 155,000. Southeastern Alaska grew steadily, but not spectacularly. Fairbanks developed as the hub of the Interior and occupies a central position in highway and air transportation. The remaining sections of the state still have by far the smallest population.
B Principal Cities
Most of the principal cities in Alaska lie along the coast in the southern part of the state. All of them are small by comparison with the chief cities of nearly all other states.
Anchorage, with a population (2005 estimate) of 275,043, is by far the largest city in Alaska. It serves as the chief commercial center of southern Alaska and as the principal transportation center of the entire state.
Fairbanks has a population of 31,142. As the terminus for the Alaska Railroad and the Parks Highway to Anchorage, it is also the jumping-off point for cargoes destined for Prudhoe Bay. The statewide offices of the University of Alaska are located in Fairbanks.
Juneau, with a population of 30,987, is the state capital and the largest city in the Alaska Panhandle. It is also a port and commercial center. Sitka was the capital of Russian America and the first capital of the territory of Alaska. The port city is now a government and education center, a significant tourist destination, and a center for fisheries, with a population of 8,986. Ketchikan, with a population of 7,446, ranks as one of the leading salmon-fishing ports in the world.
Other communities of note in Alaska include Kodiak, which was established as a Russian fur-trading center late in the 18th century and is now one of the oldest communities in Alaska. Dutch Harbor-Unalaska is a globally significant fishing port and the main city for the Aleutian Island, while Petersburg is a major fishing port in southeastern Alaska. Nome, which was once the largest city in Alaska, is now the state’s principal port on the Bering Sea and a trade center. Seward serves as the southern terminus of the Alaska Railroad and another of the state’s chief ports. Barrow, located near Point Barrow, is the northernmost community in the United States.
C Religion
The first Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska was built at Sitka in 1816 to serve the Russian colony there and as a base for missionary work among the indigenous peoples. It was replaced in 1848 by the Cathedral of Saint Michael, which, after a fire in 1966, has been completely rebuilt and is now a major tourist destination in addition to being a functioning parish of the Russian Orthodox Church. There are other churches and chapels of the diocese along the coast and in the Aleutians. The church has a seminary for priests in Kodiak.
Several Protestant denominations, including the Lutherans and the Presbyterians, were already active in Alaska in the 19th century. Presbyterians originally founded Sheldon Jackson College at Sitka as a mission and an industrial school for Native Americans. The Episcopal Church sent missionaries to the Yukon River valley in the 1880s, and Fairbanks is the seat of an Episcopal missionary bishopric.
Other Protestant denominations in Alaska include the United Methodists, whose churches are part of a larger regional conference with headquarters at Portland, Oregon, and the Southern Baptists, who form the largest of the Baptist congregations.
In the 1880s the Society of Jesus became the second Roman Catholic religious order to enter Alaska, replacing the Catholic Oblate fathers, and working particularly in the Yukon River region. In 1951 the Roman Catholic diocese of Juneau was created.
A Education
Until 1912, the only federally supported schools in Alaska were run through various missionary groups exclusively for Alaska Natives. The immigrant American population built their own schools based on private donations. The territorial government, established in 1912, built an educational system for nonindigenous peoples, while the federal government continued to run Native schools until the 1970s. Today the state of Alaska provides the primary financial support for all public schools in the state. Private schools, primarily associated with religious groups, are self-supporting. School attendance in Alaska is compulsory for all children from age 7 to 16. Some 5 percent of the state’s children attend private schools.
In the 2002–2003 school year Alaska spent $11,896 on each student’s education, compared to a national average of $9,299. There were 17.2 students for every teacher (the national norm was 15.9 students). Of those older than 25 years of age in the state, 89.7 percent had a high school diploma in 2006, the highest level of educational attainment of any state except Washington.
A1 Higher Education
The University of Alaska, established in 1917 as the Alaska Agricultural and School of Mines, became a university in 1935. It currently is divided into three major units based in Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau, and has community colleges and extension centers in almost every large Alaskan community. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is a world leader in research concerning the Arctic, Antarctic, fisheries, volcanology, and numerous other fields.
Sheldon Jackson College in Sitka is private and retains an identification with the Presbyterian Church. Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, founded by the Methodist Church, is also private. There is also a religious college in Glenallen and an Orthodox seminary in Kodiak.
A2 Cultural Institutions
Art shows, theater, and musical and dance groups are widespread in Alaskan communities, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Haines, Kodiak, and elsewhere. The Alaska State Museum in Juneau, the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, the Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, and the museum of the University of Alaska Fairbanks have notable collections of Native artifacts and relics. In the museum in Juneau are relics of the Russian occupation, one of the pens used to sign the Alaska Statehood Act, and a facsimile of the canceled check for $7.2 million used to purchase Alaska. Anchorage and Fairbanks have symphony orchestras.
Much of the culture of Alaska’s Natives disappeared with the great epidemics prior to the 1950s. The educational system also discouraged Native arts and culture, while Alaska Natives for the most part sought to join in the economic, social, and political life of Alaska. In recent decades, however, there has been a significant revival of interest in Native culture as well as Native arts and crafts. Native languages, except in some regions, have significantly declined, but language training programs now exist. Even with the many cultural and economic impediments that have existed over the past century, very significant elements of Native life remain in Alaska, and Native cultures, although modified, remain strong and vibrant.
B Communications
The first newspaper printed in Alaska, the Alaska Times, was founded at Sitka in 1869. In 2002 there were 7 daily newspapers in addition to many weekly newspapers in the state. The leading dailies include the Anchorage Daily News, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and the Juneau Empire.
The state’s first radio station, KFQD, began operation in Anchorage in 1924. In 2002 Alaska had 33 AM and 40 FM radio stations, and 13 television stations.
Alaska is a state where the visitor can watch a mass migration of caribou herds across the arctic plains, see the tundra blossom overnight into a riot of color, and observe polar bears and walruses in their native habitat. It is the land of the midnight sun and the noontide moon. Few states offer such contrasts as the frozen ice fields and steaming volcanoes, the vast Interior and its towering peaks, the fjords of the Panhandle and the seemingly endless flatlands of the river deltas.
A National Parks
The 15 national parks in Alaska are home to the United States’ tallest mountains and biggest glaciers and some of its most exotic wildlife. Alaska contains the country’s six largest national parks: Wrangell-Saint Elias, Gates of the Arctic, Denali, Lake Clark, Katmai, and Glacier Bay.
Of the 20 highest mountains in the United States, 17 are in Alaska. Mount McKinley, North America’s largest mountain at 6,194 m (20,320 ft), is a defining highlight in Denali National Park and Preserve. The second tallest mountain, Mount Saint Elias (5,489 m/18,008 ft), is located in Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve, a park characterized by remote mountains, valleys, and wild rivers, all rich with wildlife.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is just one of the areas in which visitors can find examples of geological phenomena. Since it was first seen by British explorer George Vancouver in the 1790s, the wall of ice that shadows Glacier Bay has retreated about 100 km (about 60 mi). Harding Icefield and forested coastal fjords are the highlights of Kenai Fjords National Park. Spectacular scenery stretches across the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve from the Cook Inlet to the Chigmit Mountains, which include two active volcanoes, Mount Redoubt and Mount Iliamna. More evidence of Alaska’s natural history can be found at Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, where steam rises from a few active volcanic vents at Katmai National Park and Preserve. In the Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, the Aniakchak River cascades through a gash 500 m (1,600 ft) long at the rim of a volcano crater.
Alaska’s national parks also preserve the state’s rich cultural history. The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve is a remnant of the land bridge that once connected Asia with North America, the route the earliest residents took to the continent. Cape Krusenstern National Monument contains archaeological sites that illustrate Eskimo communities dating back some 4,000 years. Sitka National Historical Park commemorates the Battle of Sitka, the only armed conflict between Alaska Nativesand Europeans. Relics of the 1898 gold rush are preserved at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
Several parks embody the state’s nickname The Last Frontier because of their remote locations. They are generally accessible only by chartered planes and recommended only to those adventurers who are confident in their outdoor survival skills. Lying entirely north of the Arctic Circle, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains, is the second largest national park in the United States. The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are located in the Kobuk Valley National Park. A rich array of Arctic wildlife can be found in this park and the neighboring Noatak National Preserve, including caribou, grizzly and black bear, wolf, and fox.
B National Forests
Alaska’s Tongass and Chugach National Forests are America’s first and second largest national forests, respectively. While both parks share public services such as easy access, camping, trails, interpretive centers, and hunting and fishing, each has a unique flavor determined by its landscape and wildlife.
The Tongass National Forest, covering Alaska’s Panhandle region, has nearly quadrupled in size since it was established in 1902, today encompassing 7 million hectares (17 million acres). Because of its size, the Tongass is divided into three areas: the Ketchikan area, from Prince of Wales and the outer islands to Misty Fjord and north to the Cleveland Peninsula; the Stikine area, from the islands north of Prince of Wales and south of Admiralty Island and the mainland north to Cape Fanshaw; and the Chatham area, which covers the northern portion of the panhandle.
Some 19 designated wilderness areas—undeveloped lands set aside to protect their ecological diversity—are scattered throughout the Tongass National Forest. The Kootznoowoo Wilderness area, or “fortress of the bears” as it is called by local Tlingit, covers nearly all of Admiralty Island National Monument. Misty Fjords National Monument, in the southern part of southeast Alaska, is known for its narrow, steep-walled canyons.
Prince of Wales Island, part of the Alexander Archipelago in the southernmost portion of the Alaska Panhandle, is the third largest island in the United States. The island is dominated by steep, forested mountains and deep U-shaped valleys, streams, lakes, saltwater straits, and bays that were carved by glacial ice.
On the eastern boundary of the 2.3 million-hectare (5.6 million-acre) Chugach National Forest is Kayak Island where more than 250 years ago George Wilhelm Steller, a naturalist traveling with Danish navigator Vitus Bering, became the first European to set foot in what is now Alaska. One-third of the Chugach National Forest is rock and moving ice. The rest is a diverse tapestry of land, water, plants, and animals. This national forest boasts numerous trails to the wooded mountains and crystal waters of the Kenai Peninsula, the islands and glaciers of Prince William Sound, and the wetlands and birds of the Copper River Delta. The delta is a unique wetlands ecosystem where tens of millions of birds spend all or part of their lives.
C State Parks
Development of Alaska’s state park system began in the 1960s. Alaska’s state parks include trail systems, recreation areas, camping, boating, and highway waysides. Many more include historic sites relating to Native, Russian, and American phases in Alaska’s history.
Parks in the interior portion of the state have average summer temperatures in the mid-20°s C (70°s F), but can fall below -20°C (below 0°F) during the winter. Summer activities include boating, fishing, climbing, and hiking. Wintertime activities include dog mushing, snowmobiling, trapping, and cross-country skiing. Denali State Park, adjacent to Denali National Park and Preserve, has interpretive centers and a view of Mount McKinley. The lowland spruce forests of the Chena River State Recreation Area are east of Fairbanks. Quartz Lake State Recreation Area is known for its excellent sport fishing. Fielding Lake State Recreation Area, also known for sport fishing, is nestled among tundra-covered hills within the Alaska Range.
Surrounding the southern and eastern sides of the Anchorage bowl, a region of milder temperatures, is Chugach State Park, the third largest state park in the country. Lakes, glaciers, and mountains make this 200,000-hectare (495,000-acre) park a popular destination all year long. Lakes, streams, and swamps make up just over half of Nancy Lake State Recreation Area’s 9,180 hectares (22,685 acres). Parks in the southwest region, such as Kachemak Bay State Park and Caines Head State Recreation Area, are host to king and pink salmon, seals, porpoise, puffins and other waterfowl, and eagles. At nearby Halibut Cove Lagoon visitors enjoy berry picking, clam digging, and fishing for Dungeness crab and shrimp. Shuyak Island State Park is at the northern tip of the Kodiak Archipelago and is subject to the severe and unpredictable weather common along the North Pacific Ocean. Afognak Island State Park is just south of Shuyak Island.
There is access from Point Bridget State Park (near Juneau) to several recreation sites popular for their beachcombing, wildlife viewing, fishing, and boating opportunities. The Grindall Island State Marine Park, located near Ketchikan, is forested with hemlock, cedar, and spruce. Seymour Canal, at Oliver Inlet State Marine Park, has the greatest known concentration of nesting bald eagles in the world. Seals, sea lions, and whales use the canal throughout the year.
D Other Places of Interest
Visitors can see many marine animals and birds at the Alaska SeaLife Center, which opened in May 1998 on Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska. This new marine wildlife facility allows close observation of wildlife in several realistically simulated ocean environments and offers a number of hands-on learning programs about marine habitats and environmental protection. The center was financed jointly by public subscription from the citizens of Seward and funds from the Exxon Valdez oil spill settlement. It houses significant research laboratories for marine scientists under the direction of the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Facilities also exist for the rehabilitation of sick and injured wildlife.
Visitors can also discover more about the importance of the natural environment to Alaska’s indigenous peoples and particularly their artistic traditions at locations throughout the state. In southeastern Alaska, totem poles, house posts, and other totemic art carved from the region’s large cedar trees by Native artists can be viewed in many places including Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan, Saxman Totem Park, and Totem Bight State Historical Park as well as Hydaburg and Chief Shakes Island. Two of the oldest totem parks are the Kiksadi at Wrangell and Totem Pole Park at Sitka. Original Native art can be viewed at the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka and the University of Alaska Fairbanks museum, while Native artists display their talents at the Sitka National Historical Park and elsewhere. Other places displaying Native art and original housing types include Kotzebue and Fairbanks, while much Native art can be purchased in Anchorage stores run by Natives.
Much art and architecture from the Russian period in Alaska’s history can be seen in Sitka, Unalaska, Kenai, Eklutna (near Wasilla), Kodiak, Fairbanks and elsewhere. The Russian American Diocese of the Orthodox Church of America has preserved this art.
E Annual Events
Many of the state and local events that were originally established by Alaskans for their own entertainment have begun to attract tourists. The Anchorage Fur Rendezvous is a week-long celebration in February featuring fur auctions, sled-dog races, fireworks, and outdoor games. Ice carvers from around the world compete in the Fairbanks Ice Art Competition in March. People come from many parts of the world to participate in Alaskan dog mushing competitions, including the extremely difficult Yukon Quest and Iditarod races. In May, while some enjoy the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival celebrating the migrating shorebirds, the hardiest souls are braving the frigid waters of the Bering Sea during the Polar Bear Swim in Nome.
Alaska summers are filled with fairs, rodeos, and midnight sun fun. Fairbanks, Nome, and Anchorage each hold festivities during the summer solstice in June. Gold Rush Days in Juneau, held in late June, and Golden Days in Fairbanks, in July, commemorate the gold rush days with logging and mining skill events. Marathons are run in Seward in July and Fairbanks in September. Valdez, Seward, and other coastal communities have salmon and halibut derbies all summer long. Many communities hold fairs in the month of August, including Alaska state fairs in Palmer, Haines, and Fairbanks.
Autumn months bring festivals such as Sitka’s Alaska Day, commemorating the day the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival, held in Haines near where thousands of bald eagles gather in the peak of winter, and the Bachelor Society Ball/Wilderness Women’s Contests, in Talkeetna.
Alaska’s constitution was adopted in 1956 and became effective when Alaska entered the Union in 1959. The constitution provides for the initiative, referendum, and recall. State constitutional amendments may be proposed by the legislature or by a constitutional convention. In order to become effective they must be approved by voters in a general election. The state’s constitution requires voters to decide every ten years whether to call a constitutional convention. So far none have been called.
A Executive
The governor and the lieutenant governor are the only elective executive officials. Both serve four-year terms. Heads of executive departments are appointed by the governor but must be confirmed by a majority vote in a joint session of the legislature. The governor has the power to veto legislation and to veto or reduce items in appropriations bills.
B Legislative
The state legislature consists of a 20-member Senate and a 40-member House of Representatives. The legislature meets in Juneau each January. Legislative sessions last for 120 days, although the governor may call a special session to consider specific items. Members of the senate serve for four years, and members of the house serve for two years. The state is divided into election districts, based on the distribution of population.
C Judicial
The state judicial system consists of a supreme court of five justices, a court of appeals, superior courts, and district magistrate courts. The chief justice of the supreme court has responsibility for the administration of all courts. The governor appoints each justice, who must be confirmed in office by voters in the first general election held after the justice has served for three years on the court. Thereafter, the justice must be reconfirmed by voters every ten years.
D Local Government
Alaska is not divided into counties; the chief units of local government in the mid-1990s were 12 boroughs, 3 unified home-rule municipalities (combining the functions of boroughs and cities), 149 other incorporated communities, and 132 unincorporated communities. Most of the boroughs and incorporated communities had elected mayors and councils.
E National Representation
Alaska is represented in the Congress of the United States by two senators and one representative. The state casts three electoral votes in presidential elections.
A Earliest Inhabitants
Experts agree that America was discovered by Siberian hunters, ancestors of most of the present-day Native Americans, who were following Ice Age mammals into Alaska. These migrants came over the Bering Land Bridge, about 1,600 km (1,000 mi) wide, when ice sheets locked up much of the earth’s water supply and lowered the sea level. Genetic evidence suggests that several waves of migrants came across the land bridge. When the ice receded, the sea level rose until Alaska and Siberia were again separated by the Bering Sea. The earliest artifacts yet found in Alaska date from about 12,000 years ago, toward the end of the Ice Age. The forerunners of the Eskimo culture apparently came about 6,000 years ago.
A1 Northwest Coast Peoples
Southeastern, also called the Panhandle, is in the Northwest Coast cultural zone, which reaches from Prince William Sound to northern California. The indigenous peoples of this zone developed a culture based on the area’s great natural resources. Seafood was abundant in the form of salmon, halibut, cod, herring, smelt, candlefish, edible mollusks, and marine mammals. Land game abounded, and vegetable foods were easily obtained. This food surplus allowed these people much leisure time to devote to cultural activities.
Three peoples, the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, occupied the Alaskan coast south of Prince William Sound. The Tlingit, the most numerous, were scattered in many permanent villages. They spoke a language believed to be related to the Athapaskan language group of the Interior. They had about 14 tribal divisions and were expanding westward when they made contact with the Russians in 1741.
The Haida lived in British Columbia’s Queen Charlotte Islands and the southern part of Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island. Tradition has it that they moved north in the 1700s, displacing some of the Tlingit tribes.
The Tsimshian lived in Southeastern and the nearby islands. Those living along Metlakatla Pass shifted to Fort Simpson, British Columbia, after Britain’s Hudson’s Bay Company built the fort in 1834. In 1887 a large group of Tsimshian, primarily from Fort Simpson and led by Anglican missionary William Duncan, moved to Annette Island in Alaska.
The three groups fished with fish traps, nets, hook and line, and dip nets. They used harpoons with detachable heads connected to the shaft with a line. They built fine canoes of various sizes. For land hunting, they used the bow and arrow, snares, and deadfalls. Wood was a primary material for most of their products, which were distinguished by fine workmanship and carved and painted decorations. Their tool blades were made of stone and shell, and they used nephrite stone for adze blades. They built large, rectangular, gable-roofed houses occupied by several families.
The social framework was matrilineal: descent was traced through the mother’s line. The Tlingit and Haida each had two major moieties, or subdivisions, and marriage within one’s own moiety was forbidden. The Tlingit also had clans, which were smaller social divisions traced from a legendary common ancestor. These societies had social classes, such as chiefs, nobles, commoners, and slaves, but there was much mobility among classes.
Each clan or lineage was usually politically independent, claimed fishing, hunting, and berrying grounds, had its own houses and chiefs, and operated socially and ceremonially as an independent unit. It had its own crest, personal names, and songs and dances for ceremonial occasions. Warfare was well established, its aim to drive out or even exterminate another lineage or family and acquire its lands and possessions.
Religious belief centered around a disinterested supreme being or beings, the immortality of economically important animals, and lifelong assistance from a personal guardian spirit.
An important feature of Northwest Coast social life was the potlatch, a party where the host gave away goods to the guests. A potlatch was given after someone died. It was also given to mark an unusual accomplishment or to celebrate an important family event. Feasting, dancing, and speechmaking preceded the gift giving. The larger the potlatch, the more ceremonial it was and the more wealth was distributed.
Potlatching was a way to achieve prestige. If a man aspired to leadership, he had to celebrate whenever an opportunity arose. The potlatch giver had to have a sufficient supply of food, calico, blankets, furs, and other goods to give away on these occasions.
A2 The Athapaskans
Unlike the coastal Natives with their plentiful resources, the speakers of the Athapaskan languages lived in the demanding arctic and subarctic lands at the northern edge of the continent. This huge area was not rich in resources, and people had to search diligently for them. Long, cold winters and short, warm summers characterized the region. The wildlife included moose, caribou, black and grizzly bears, sheep, and various small game and fish.
The Athapaskans were nomadic or seminomadic hunters and gatherers, relying on fish and caribou as staples. They fished for salmon with dip nets and basket-shaped traps. They also caught trout, whitefish, and pike, using various fishing methods. They hunted some mammals with bows and arrows and snares. Bears, wolverines, and smaller fur-bearing animals were caught in deadfalls, shot with bows and arrows, or captured in rawhide nets. Snares were used for hares and ptarmigans. Spruce hens, ducks, geese, and roots and berries supplemented their diets, but periods of starvation were not unusual.
The type of shelter varied by climate and time of year. All Athapaskans built log or pole houses of various sizes covered with animal hides. The more mobile groups lived in simple dwellings. The more sedentary groups, such as the Ingalik in the Yukon and Kuskokwim basins, occupied permanent winter villages and summer fishing camps. They built winter houses that resembled the semisubterranean, earth-covered Eskimo houses.
The Athapaskans had a simple society. They spent most of the year in small bands of a few nuclear families. Kinship was matrilineal, and kin groups were held together by reciprocal social obligations. A member generally had to find a spouse outside the kin group. If resources allowed, small groups came together and combined into a regional band, to hunt caribou, for example. Although men made decisions together, leaders often emerged who attained prestige through their superior abilities, particularly as hunters. The Athapaskans engaged in both offensive and defensive warfare, and often produced a war leader who demonstrated great physical strength. Generally, leadership was not hereditary but acquired; once a leader lost his special abilities he no longer exerted any influence.
The Athapaskans had ceremonial feasts where the host gave goods to the guests. Such a feast was given after someone died. After the Athapaskans began to acquire wealth through trade with the whites, ceremonial feasts were given more often and modeled after the potlatches of the Northwest Coast. Feasts were given to mark the killing of the first game of each kind by a child; to mark a deed or an unusual accomplishment; to celebrate the return, recovery, or rescue of a relative or friend; and to pay for an offense or transgression. A man was expected to potlatch at least once and preferably three times before he married. The potlatch giver had to give away all the property he owned and could not accept aid from anyone else for a year after the ceremony.
The Athapaskans lived in a world of many spirits, which they believed influenced every aspect of their lives. They believed that human souls were reincarnated in animal form and that they had to placate animal spirits to use the natural environment. Shamans were the only religious practitioners and possessed the greatest personal power in the culture. They used magical-religious rites to control the spirit world, prevent and cure disease, bring game to hunters, predict the weather, and foretell the future.
A3 The Eskimo
Eskimo culture developed in western Alaska, and it was also there that the Eskimo and Aleut languages diverged from each other. In time the Eskimo developed techniques to exploit the arctic seas. The Arctic Small Tool tradition, starting in Siberia, was the technological base. It developed further in Alaska and spread across the Arctic to Greenland about 4,000 years ago.
From Alaska’s northern coast to Greenland the Eskimo hunted large sea mammals such as whales, walruses, and seals. Some groups, however, depended on caribou hunting as their mainstay. These groups included the Caribou Eskimo in Canada’s Barren Grounds west of Hudson Bay, and smaller groups along the Colville and Noatak rivers and in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Despite these differences, the Eskimo were fairly uniform culturally. This happened because about 1,000 years ago the whaling-oriented Thule culture, with its innovations of dog teams and kayaks, spread from Alaska, eventually reaching all the way to Greenland.
Eskimo social life centered around the nuclear family. However, there were also men’s organizations related to hunting. The Yupik Eskimo, for instance, had ceremonial houses for men, where men taught traditional skills to the boys, while mothers taught their daughters in the homes. Most marriages took place within the community.
Survival depended on the ability to take game and fish. These animals, therefore, were important in religion, and the Eskimo placed great importance on charms to aid in hunting. There were also many taboos, such as a prohibition against combining land and sea products. The Bering Sea Eskimo had elaborate rituals that centered around the animals they hunted; the so-called bladder feast was the most complex of the various ceremonies and focused primarily on seals. The northern coast hunters and fishers, on the other hand, did not develop such complex rituals.
A4 The Aleut
The Aleut adapted superbly to life in the difficult environment of the Aleutian Islands. They developed a rich culture and obtained a well-balanced livelihood from the sea. But neither their culture nor their livelihood survived for long after their first contact with the Russians in the 1740s.
The typical Aleut house, built underground, housed several related nuclear families. Villages consisted of related individuals, and large villages might have as many as four such dwellings occupied at one time. These were the permanent settlements, usually situated on the northern (Bering Sea) side of the island because of the more abundant marine resources and driftwood supplies. The Aleut also built seasonal houses.
Aleut society was divided into three classes: honorables, common people, and slaves. The Aleut shared with the Tlingit their regard for wealth and status. There may also have been cultural links with Siberian groups. Descent was probably matrilineal. Households usually included a man and his wife or wives, older married sons and their families, and sometimes a younger brother and his family. The adolescent sons of the household head were sent to their mother’s village to be reared by her older brothers. Women owned their houses.
Living where the sea is free of ice, the Aleut developed sophisticated open-sea hunting techniques to harvest the sea otter, hair seal, sea lion, and migrating fur seals and whales. They shared many tools with the southern Eskimo, such as the two-hole kayak and bone and antler implements. The Aleut used a multibarbed harpoon head for large sea mammals and also fished for cod and halibut with hook and line. They caught salmon in nets or traps as the fish ascended the streams to spawn. They collected clams and other mollusks and ate large quantities of green spiny sea urchins. They also gathered kelp and other seaweed, salmonberries, blueberries, crowberries, and roots to eat.
Birds and their eggs provided much food. More than 140 species are found in the islands, and not surprisingly the Aleut not only used the birds for meat and eggs, but also used their skins for parkas and for decorations. Hunters captured birds on the ground in nets or with snares and caught them in flight with bolas. A bola consisted of four to six strings about 1 m (3 ft) long, tied together at one end. To the free end were attached small stones for weight. As birds flew overhead, the hunter twirled the bola and threw it into the flock, each string swinging out like a spoke on a wheel. The strings wrapped around the bird and brought it down.
The Aleut also used the throwing stick, or atlatl, a long, narrow board with one end carved to fit the hand and with a small peg inserted at the other end to hold the butt of the spear shaft. The spear was laid on the board and then thrown. The device gave more power and distance to the cast.
B Early European Exploration
B1 Russian Expeditions
In 1654 Russian merchant Fedot Alekseyev sailed east from the Kolyma Peninsula of Siberia in search of the Pogicha River, believed to be rich in walrus tusks, sable furs, and gold. Semyon Ivanovich Dezhnyov went along to collect the yasak, or tax on the fur trade. The yasak amounted to one-tenth of the furs obtained by merchants and a somewhat smaller percentage of furs traded by indigenous peoples. On this voyage, Dezhnyov was the first person to sail from the Arctic into the Pacific via what is now called Bering Strait. However, his report of the discovery was apparently never forwarded to the central government. Thus Tsar Peter the Great did not know whether Siberia was joined to North America. Shortly before his death in 1725, Peter the Great posed the question to Captain-Commander Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator in the service of Russia. Bering sailed to find out, rediscovering Bering Strait in 1728, but because of heavy fog, he failed to sight North America.
In 1733 the Russian government appointed Bering to head a great expedition to inventory Siberia’s resources and establish trade with Japan. He was also to explore the American coast. Bering set out for America from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski, on Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, on June 8, 1741, in two ships: the Sviatoi Petr (Saint Peter), which he commanded, and the Sviatoi Pavel (Saint Paul), commanded by Aleksey Chirikov. Each ship had several scientists aboard. On June 20 the vessels became separated. On July 15 Chirikov sighted land, probably Prince of Wales Island. Bering, who was farther north, came upon Kayak Island the next day. He could see a great mountain in the distance, which he named Saint Elias because July 16 was St. Elias’s Day. Georg Wilhelm Steller, the ship’s surgeon and a noted German scientist, went ashore on Kayak Island to gather plants to help crew members suffering from scurvy. While ashore, Steller gathered artifacts, plant specimens, and a few birds and concluded that the ship had reached North America.
Chirikov returned to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatski on October 8, but Bering’s ship was wrecked in the Komandorskiye Islands east of Kamchatka. The explorers spent the winter on what is now Bering Island, and Bering died there. In the spring they built a crude boat out of the wreckage of the Sviatoi Petr and got back to Kamchatka in September. Bering’s voyage established Russia’s claim to northwestern North America.
The Russian ruler, Empress Elizabeth, was not interested in North America. She issued an order that the Natives should pay the yasak and be well treated, but otherwise ignored Alaska. Russia showed little interest for the next 50 years, although individuals were lured to the Aleutians by the prospect of profits in furs. Bering’s party had brought back animal pelts, notably those of the sea otter, one of the finest fur-bearing animals. A ready market developed in China, where Russian merchants made tidy profits.
From 1743 on, Russian fur merchants sent hunters who quickly subjected the Aleut. At least four-fifths of the Aleut are estimated to have been wiped out in the first two generations after Russian contact. European diseases such as smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, venereal disease, and pneumonia, as well as Russian guns, reduced the Aleut from an estimated pre-contact population between 15,000 and 20,000 to 2,247 in 1834, and 1,400 in 1848. By 1864, following intermarriage with Russians, the population was up to 2,005, but by 1890 it declined to 1,702.
The hunters moved eastward along the island chain as the supply of animals thinned out. As they moved farther from Kamchatka, costs went up and smaller companies dropped out. By 1770 three enterprises, those of Grigory Ivanovich Shelikhov, Pavel Sergeyevich Lebedev-Lastochkin, and Grigorii and Petr Panov, dominated the Alaskan fur trade. After Catherine the Great became ruler of Russia in 1762, the government was more aware of the Aleutians. She terminated the yasak on the Aleut in 1769 and demanded better care and treatment of them, but provided no means to enforce her decrees.
B2 Competition from Other Powers
Spain was also interested in the North Pacific. The fear of Russian expansion persuaded the Spanish to occupy Alta California (now the state of California) and build forts at San Diego, Monterey, and other California settlements. Expeditions were sent to Alaska in 1774, 1777, 1778, and 1790 to explore and perhaps take possession of territory. However, when the Spanish confronted ships of Britain at Nootka Sound (now in British Columbia, Canada), they gave up all claims to territory north of there.
Britain, France, and the United States explored Alaska but did not attempt to acquire territory. In 1778 British Captain James Cook mapped the Alaskan coast and visited the Aleutians. Cook sailed from Alaska with sea otter pelts, which his men sold in China at high prices. Subsequent British interest in Alaska centered on trade. The French sent one expedition to Alaska under the ill-fated Jean François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse, who was lost at sea on his way home in 1788. The French Revolution in 1789 cut short France’s interest in the region.
B3 Colonization
The Russian fur companies were annoyed by the foreign competition, especially from the British, who offered the indigenous peoples better and cheaper goods than the Russians did. The Russians felt it was necessary to establish a colony. In 1784 Shelikhov built several ships and sailed to Kodiak Island. After defeating some Eskimo in a skirmish, he established the first permanent Russian settlement there on Three Saints Bay.
By 1786 Shelikhov was the leading fur merchant in the Aleutians but needed an able manager for his enterprises. He found one in Aleksandr Andreyevich Baranov, a Siberian fur merchant, who arrived on Kodiak in 1791. He soon moved the settlement from Three Saints Bay to Pavlovsk, on the northern side of the island, which had a better harbor and abundant forests to provide wood for construction. Pavlovsk is now the town of Kodiak.
Baranov faced many problems. Much of the food and almost all finished goods had to be imported, and Russian supply ships were few. Labor was a key problem throughout the Russian period. There never were enough workers for defense, shipbuilding, or the day-to-day tasks of the colony. Therefore, Natives made up much of the workforce and did most of the fur hunting, while the Russian colonists trapped, cured skins, and stood guard duty.
Baranov also built settlements in the Aleutians and southeastern Alaska. The most important of these, Novo-Arkhangel’sk (New Archangel), was built in the Alexander Archipelago in 1799. In 1802 the Tlingit attacked and destroyed the fort. Baranov returned in 1804 and, aided by a Russian warship, defeated the Tlingit. He then rebuilt Novo-Arkhangel’sk 4.8 km (3 mi) to the south, where it grew to become the city of Sitka.
B4 The Russian-American Company
Shelikhov died in 1795. His son-in-law and successor, Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov, obtained in 1799 a charter from the Russian ruler, Tsar Paul I, that granted his company, the Russian-American Company, a monopoly of the American fur trade. It empowered the company to take possession of all territories already occupied by Russians north of 55° north latitude and to establish new settlements not only in that area but also to the south, provided this did not cause conflict with other powers.
Baranov established a southern settlement in 1812, near Bodega Bay in California, calling it Selenie Ross (now known as Fort Ross). The Russians remained there nearly 30 years, but Fort Ross never fulfilled their expectation of supplying Alaska with food. In 1841 the company sold Fort Ross to John Sutter, a German entrepreneur who became important in California history: it was at his mill in Coloma that gold was found in 1848, starting the California Gold Rush.
The directors of the company retired Baranov in 1818. He sailed for Russia, but died at sea on the way. His retirement came in the last years of the company’s charter and ushered in a new phase in the development of Russian America. Russian naval officers succeeded him. When the charter was renewed in 1821, it stipulated that the chief managers, or governors as they came to be called, had to be naval officers.
The navy improved the colony’s administration, considerably enlarging the bureaucracy. But unlike Baranov, the naval officers had little interest in business. Also, the Russian navy was unable to stem the intrusion of British and Americans into Alaska. An attempt by the tsar to forbid all foreign vessels within 160 km (100 mi) of Russian-claimed lands was met with protests from the British and United States governments.
The dispute with the United States was settled by a convention of 1824 setting 54°40’ north latitude as the southern boundary of Russian territory. Russia agreed with Britain in 1825 that Russian claims would extend eastward to the 141st meridian, southward to the 56th parallel, and southward from there along a narrow strip of land (the Panhandle) on the Pacific coast. Russia gave both powers the right to trade along the Alaska coast for ten years. That ended Russian expansion in America.
After skirmishes in Southeastern between Russians and the Hudson’s Bay Company, Russia in 1839 leased to Hudson’s Bay the Southeastern mainland south of Cape Spencer for ten years for a nominal rent. In return, Hudson’s Bay promised to supply Alaska and Kamchatka with food and manufactured goods. The lease was renewed in 1849.
C U.S. Purchase of Alaska
In 1843 U.S. Secretary of State William Marcy and Senator William M. Gwin, both ardent expansionists, asked Baron Eduard Stoeckl, the Russian ambassador to the United States, if rumors that the colony was for sale were true. Stoeckl said no, but the question had been raised.
The charter of the Russian-American Company was renewed for 20 years in 1844. The company attempted to diversify the economy by mining coal, catching whales, and exporting ice to San Francisco, but these ventures amounted to little. By the late 1850s, after Russia lost the Crimean War against the British and French, the government became convinced that it could ill afford the luxury of an American colony. Russia decided to sell its American colony and instructed Stoeckl to negotiate with the United States. Stoeckl began discussions with U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward on March 11, 1867, and at the end of March they drew up the Treaty of Cession and sent it to their governments for ratification. The agreed price was $7.2 million.
Seward had some difficulty getting the Senate of the United States to ratify the treaty, but he carried on a vigorous campaign to gain support, and the Senate agreed by a vote of 37 to 2. A few newspapers denounced what they called “Seward’s Folly” or “Walrussia,” but the vast majority of the nation’s press supported the purchase. Proponents argued that purchasing Alaska would strengthen fishing and fur trading enterprises in the North Pacific, allow the United States to build important naval outposts in the region, prevent European countries from developing a stronghold in North America, and enhance existing ties of friendship between the United States and Russia.
In 1868 the merits of the Alaskan purchase were fully debated in the U.S. House of Representatives, which had to appropriate the money to pay for the purchase. The House eventually voted on July 18, 1868, to pay Russia for the land. Meanwhile, the United States had taken possession of Alaska on October 18, 1867.
The Russian phase of Alaskan history had lasted 126 years. Russian activities had been mainly limited to the Aleutians, Kodiak, and the Alexander Archipelago. There was some exploration of the Interior, but little settlement. At its peak the Russian population numbered no more than 700. The greatest impact of this period was the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and its priests among the Aleut and Tlingit, which continues today.
The United States was not much better prepared than the Russians to administer Alaska. The new possession was remote, and most Americans knew little about it. The American Civil War had just ended, and the country’s leaders were intent on dealing with the problems left by that conflict. However, many Americans had been coming to Alaska for more than 75 years to trade, sell supplies, and later hunt whales. Furthermore, in 1864 the Western Union Company, through its subsidiary the Collins Overland Line, had embarked on building a telegraph line through Alaska to connect North America with eastern Asia and Europe. This enterprise collapsed when a transatlantic cable was completed in 1866. Western Union’s effort, however, stimulated American interest in Alaska, and a scientific expedition from the Smithsonian Institution brought back extensive data about the region’s resources and climate. In addition, the Russians had accumulated much information about Alaska, which became available to the United States after the purchase.
C1 The Era of Neglect
General Jefferson C. Davis, the U.S. Army commander in Alaska, became the virtual ruler of the new acquisition. Congress extended the laws governing commerce and navigation to Alaska and prohibited the importation, manufacture, and sale of liquor. Nothing was done to establish a civil government, and for 17 years, until 1884, Alaska remained under military rule.
Sitka experienced a short land boom as American adventurers and entrepreneurs arrived, looking for the opportunities to be found in a new land. The town’s residents drew up a charter, elected a governing council, and named a mayor. Thomas Murphy started a newspaper, the Alaska Times, and the council hired a schoolteacher at $75 per month. But Sitka’s prosperity soon ended. The port’s commerce declined, residents moved away, and in the summer of 1873 the Sitka city council held its last meeting. Many of those who left blamed the federal government for Sitka’s decline and Alaska’s misfortunes. Congress had failed to provide needed services such as mail delivery, construction of lighthouses, and surveying of land. People left, in part, because without a survey they could not get title to land.
The army was not fond of its Alaskan assignment. Both enlisted men and officers disliked their northern tour of duty, suffering from boredom. Army officials, in their annual reports, invariably recommended withdrawal of the troops since the army had neither the authority nor the training to administer a civil government. Most of the duties of the troops consisted of controlling the importation and manufacture of liquor. Finally, in 1877, the War Department recalled its troops from Alaska. After they left, U.S. Collector of Customs Mottrom D. Ball was the only government official in Alaska.
When fighting occurred between Natives and whites in February 1879, some Sitka residents feared an impending massacre and called on the U.S. Navy to send a vessel for their protection. When they did not get a timely reply, they appealed to the British, who in March sent the warship H.M.S. Osprey from Victoria, British Columbia. With the arrival of the U.S.S. Jamestown in June 1879, the U.S. Navy began to rule Alaska.
In the meantime, the Alaska Commercial Company acquired much influence in Alaskan affairs. It had been organized in San Francisco by the recipients of an 1870 government grant of a 20-year lease of exclusive rights to harvest fur seals in the Pribilof Islands. Before long the company extended its commercial empire to the Aleutians, Kodiak Island, and the Yukon River valley. It took over the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Fort Yukon after the United States ordered the British to leave. As the company’s economic power grew, so did its role in political and social affairs. It provided schools and medical services in some communities, and even maintained law and order. In 1880 the company paid a 100 percent dividend to its stockholders, demonstrating that the fur trade was still profitable. But the Alaska economy was beginning to change: salmon fishing entered its commercial era when the first canneries were built at Klawock and Sitka in 1878.
C2 Growth of Mining
However, it was mining, not fishing, that brought Alaska’s first population boom. Some gold mining had been done in Southeastern, and the 1880 census listed 82 Sitka residents as miners. In 1880 George Pilz of Sitka, a German-born mining school graduate, grubstaked (supplied food and other necessities to) two men, Joseph Juneau and Richard Harris, to search for gold. Near Gastineau Channel Juneau and Harris found placer, or flake, gold in a stream they called Gold Creek and also at Silver Bow Basin at the head of the creek. Miners rushed to the area, which they named the Harrisburg Mining District. A town quickly grew up, which was named Juneau City, later shortened to Juneau.
The miners would have left after the placer deposits were worked out, but the town of Juneau survived because of the discovery of lode, or hard-rock deposits, which required expensive machinery to extract the gold. California promoter John Treadwell purchased a claim, the Paris Lode, on Douglas Island across from Juneau and developed it into the profitable Treadwell Mine. It provided year-round employment and gave Juneau its economic base. By 1890 Juneau had 1,251 people and was a typical American town with a variety of privately owned stores, schools, a hospital, nine saloons, and two breweries.
Napoleon LeRoy “Jack” McQuesten, Arthur Harper, and Al Mayo, agents of the Alaska Commercial Company, opened the Yukon Valley to mining. Although primarily interested in the fur trade, they did some prospecting and, most importantly, furnished supplies and grubstakes to other prospectors. Mining on the Yukon was confined almost solely to the Canadian side until 1886. In that year, gold discoveries near the Fortymile River on the Alaskan side triggered a new rush. Prospectors made discoveries in the Birch Creek area, which became the gold mining center of the Yukon Valley and the most important camp there until the Klondike discovery of 1896. By 1896 the value of mining from the Alaska side of the Yukon Valley had risen from about $30,000 to $800,000. The white population of Alaska had grown from fewer than 500 in 1880 to 8,000, most of whom were miners. About 1,000 of these lived in the Yukon Valley.
D Organization of Civil Government
Not having a formal government, the miners of Juneau and the Interior, like their counterparts in the American West, drafted their own form of frontier democracy known as miners’ codes. These codes regulated mining practices and community conduct.
In the meantime, Congress passed a measure in 1884 to provide Alaska with a simple civil government. Alaska was designated a judicial district, and the law code of Oregon was applied. The president, with Senate approval, was to appoint a governor, a district court judge, four lesser-court commissioners, a district attorney, a U.S. marshal and four deputies, and a clerk of court. The act expressly forbade a legislature and a delegate to Congress. Natives were not to be disturbed in their occupancy or use of the land, and prohibition of liquor was retained. The sum of $25,000 was provided for the education of children.
D1 The Gold Rush
With the gold discovery in the Klondike in Canada’s Yukon Territory in 1896, people soon flocked north from all parts of the world. As the gateway to the Klondike, Alaska prospered, and new communities and businesses developed to meet the gold seekers’ needs. Many of those disappointed in the Klondike drifted to Alaska. In 1898 four miners discovered gold at Anvil Creek on the Seward Peninsula, and the Nome Mining District was organized there. By the summer of 1900, Nome was a tent city with more than 20,000 miners working the claims and the beaches, which also contained gold.
The next great strike after Nome occurred in the Tanana Valley and led to the founding of Fairbanks in 1902. Other discoveries in the valley helped make Fairbanks the center of interior Alaska. District Court Judge James Wickersham moved the headquarters of the Third Judicial District to Fairbanks, which attracted other government functions and gave the town economic stability. It acquired schools, churches, and a hospital, and by 1905 its population had grown to 5,000.
Gold was mined and new towns founded throughout Alaska. North of the Arctic Circle gold was found near the Chandalar and Koyukuk rivers, where two settlements, Coldfoot and Wiseman, came into existence. In the area of the Kuskokwim and Innoko rivers, Iditarod, McGrath, Bethel, Flat, and Ophir were communities of some size that developed from mining camps.
D2 Federal Attention
The gold rush focused national attention on Alaska. Congress started to deal more seriously with Alaskan problems. It appropriated funds for the U.S. Geological Survey to begin a survey and exploration of Alaska, and it extended federal coal mining laws to the district. The U.S. Army built posts at Eagle, Nome, Haines, and Tanana.
Congress also enacted three pieces of legislation dealing with the economy and the political system. The first, passed in 1898, enabled railroad builders to obtain a right-of-way and extended the homestead laws to Alaska so that settlers could now get title to land. In 1899 Congress enacted changes to make the Oregon Code more responsive to Alaskan conditions. At the same time it levied taxes on businesses. The revenues collected went into the U.S. Treasury to pay for the cost of governing Alaska. And in 1900 Congress added two new judicial districts, moved the capital from Sitka to Juneau, and provided for incorporation of towns.
D3 Boundary Settlement
The gold rush era brought to a head a long-standing boundary dispute with Canada. The portion of the Russo-British treaty of 1825 that was intended to define the limits of British and Russian possessions south of 60° north latitude was ambiguous. Several times since the 1867 purchase, disputes had arisen and suggestions were made, mainly by the Canadians, to settle the controversy. But neither side was willing to pay for a survey.
By 1898 Canada claimed ownership of Skagway and Dyea, which would have given Canadians in the Yukon Territory direct access to the Pacific Ocean without having to pass through American territory. President Theodore Roosevelt condemned Canada’s claims as lacking any merit. Eventually, a tribunal of six jurists, three from each side, examined the controversy. By a vote of four to two, with Richard Alverstone, Lord Chief Justice of Britain, siding with the United States, the Canadian claims were rejected except for two small islands in Portland Canal. The decision, in 1903, soured relations with Canada for a time, but the boundary was now clearly defined.
E The 20th Century
E1 Economic Developments
As Alaska’s population grew to 63,592 in 1900, the federal government sought to encourage agriculture. As early as 1897, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had sent three agents to various regions in Alaska to examine their suitability for agriculture. Acting on the agents’ recommendations, the department established several agricultural experiment stations, first at Sitka in 1898, then at Kenai, Kodiak, Rampart, Copper Center, Fairbanks, and finally Matanuska in 1917.
Alaska also needed a transportation system, but road building did not begin until passage of the Nelson Act and the creation of the Board of Road Commissioners in 1905. The Nelson Act created the Alaska Fund, decreeing that 70 percent of all money collected from license fees outside of incorporated towns was to be used for road building. Another 25 percent went for education, and the remaining 5 percent for care of the insane. Since the Nelson Fund did not accumulate enough money, Congress annually appropriated additional road construction funds. By 1920 the Alaska Road Commission, as the board came to be called, had built 7,870 km (4,890 mi) of roads and trails.
The United States elected Democrat Woodrow Wilson as president in 1912. He promised to give Alaska’s problems the utmost consideration. Among other items, he recommended that Congress aid in unlocking Alaska’s resources by constructing a railroad. Congress authorized the construction of the Alaska Railroad in 1914 and appropriated $35 million; construction began in 1915. The line was to run from Seward to Fairbanks. The project was finished in 1923 at a cost of about $65 million.
Anchorage, now Alaska’s largest city, owes its origin to the railroad. It began as construction headquarters for the Alaska Engineering Commission in charge of railroad construction. The commission built Anchorage, installing water, electrical, sewage, and telephone facilities. It put in streets and provided firefighting services as well as a hospital and a school for children of its employees. The railroad construction brought an economic boom, employing more than 2,000 workers in 1914 and rising to a high of 4,500.
E2 Political Developments
In 1906, in response to repeated Alaskan demands, Congress granted residents the right to elect a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives. Frank H. Waskey was elected for the rest of the current congressional session, while Thomas Cale won the first full term, to start in 1907.
In 1908 Judge James Wickersham won the election, succeeding Cale. He backed a limited form of territorial government, and in 1912 Congress passed his legislative assembly bill, also called Alaska’s Second Organic Act. It created a new government for Alaska, including a bicameral legislature with limited powers, which was to meet biannually. Earlier, in the case of Rasmussen v. United States, 1905, the Supreme Court of the United States had decided that Alaska was “incorporated territory” and therefore bound for eventual statehood.
E3 World War I and After
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, many Alaskan men left to join the armed services or to work in war industries. After the war, Alaska’s economy was still centered around its natural resources. Mining and fishing were far more important than the fur trade. But the fisheries gave little employment to territorial residents since the salmon packers brought their own crews north each summer. The prospectors’ primitive mining methods had given way to the use of machinery; large dredges now recovered the gold. Copper mining had come to rival gold, but provided jobs for only several hundred. Agriculture had not flourished. Alaska was still very much a colony: it had limited home rule, Congress controlled its natural resources, and it supplied raw materials in exchange for finished goods and investment capital.
The beginning of the air age in the 1920s had a great impact on Alaska. It was difficult to build roads and railroads in the territory because of its rugged terrain, severe climate, and vast distances. However, the airplane made previously remote locations accessible. Alaska played a large role in the early years of aviation and was the scene of important flights. For example, the U.S. Army fliers who made the first round-the-world flight used Alaskan landing fields.
Alaska experienced an economic slump after the war, residents left, and economic growth slowed well into the 1930s. The 1920 census showed a population of 55,036, a drop of 9,320 from 1910. Employment in the mines declined; in 1938 the Kennecott mine, Alaska’s last great copper mine, closed. Salmon prices also declined. Although Alaska suffered less from the Great Depression of the 1930s than the rest of the United States, its economy was affected. For example, federal appropriations for Alaska, never very high, were cut. Because of its perennial deficits, Congress became increasingly critical of the Alaska Railroad.
Americans looked to Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt to solve the misery of the Great Depression. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, a composite of relief and reform programs. Some actions of the Roosevelt Administration benefited the territory. The devaluation of the dollar that resulted from raising the price of gold stimulated the mining industry: the value of mined gold rose from $10,209,000 in 1932 to $26,178,000 in 1940.
Most notable of all New Deal activities in Alaska was the Matanuska Valley agricultural colony. One of many resettlement projects designed to take people from rural districts mired in poverty and move them where they might lead more productive lives, the Matanuska experiment excited national interest. The cost amounted to $5 million. About 31 percent of the original settlers and 43 percent of the replacements still lived in the colony in 1948.
E4 Native Reorganization
Alaska’s Natives also participated in the New Deal. In 1934 Congress, on the administration’s recommendation, passed the Wheeler-Howard Act, also called the Indian Reorganization Act. Two years later it was extended to Alaska. The act rejected forced assimilation to white culture and instead fostered preservation of the Natives’ cultural heritage. The act also allowed Native communities to incorporate and draft constitutions for self-government. Business loans extended to villages allowed them to set up canneries. Individual fishermen borrowed money to buy boats and gear.
The most controversial aspect of the act contemplated the creation of reservations. Alaskans protested that applying this policy to Alaska would turn two-thirds of the state, and virtually all of Southeastern, into reservations. In the 1940s, in the face of adamant opposition, the federal government withdrew the reservation plan.
The Natives, for the most part, wanted full political, economic, and social equality rather than separation on reservations. In the 1940s Tlingit and then Eskimo began to be elected to the state legislature. The 1945 session of the legislature passed an act outlawing what racial discrimination there had been—such as “white only” restaurants and segregation in theaters. Natives were appointed to serve on major territorial boards. Native schools closed and the children were transferred to the general public schools. The question of Native land rights remained open, however, and would eventually have to be resolved.
E5 World War II (1939-1945)
World War II profoundly changed Alaska. On the eve of the war, Alaska’s only military establishment was Chilkoot Barracks in Haines. The post had been established during the gold rush days and was situated where it could observe traffic bound inland over the Dalton Trail and over Chilkoot, Chilkat, and White passes. Eleven officers and 300 enlisted men manned the post.
Early in 1935 Congress had named six strategic areas for location of U.S. Army Air Corps bases. Alaska was one of these. The shortest distance between the United States and Asia was the great circle route, 3,200 km (2,000 mi) north of fortified Hawaii but only 444 km (276 mi) south of the Aleutians. Brigadier General Billy Mitchell, an advocate of air power, testified before Congress in 1935 that Japan was America’s most dangerous enemy in the Pacific: “They will come right here to Alaska. Alaska is the most central place in the world for aircraft, and that is true either of Europe, Asia, or North America. I believe in the future he who holds Alaska will hold the world, and I think it is the most important strategic place in the world.” It took Congress several more years to respond; in 1940 it appropriated $4 million to construct a cold-weather testing station for airplanes near Fairbanks. The Navy built air stations at Sitka and Kodiak. The Army’s budget for fiscal year 1941 included a base near Anchorage to cost $12,734,000, but Congress eliminated the item on April 4, 1940. A few days later, on April 9, Germany’s armies invaded and occupied Norway and Denmark. For the first time many members of Congress realized that Norway and Denmark were just over the North Pole from Alaska and that the Germans might soon have bombers that could fly that far. Congress restored the money. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, devastating the Pacific fleet. Alaska was ill prepared. On June 3, 1942, the Japanese attacked Dutch Harbor and soon occupied the islands of Kiska and Attu in the Aleutians.
In the meantime, the Army and private contractors built the Alaska-Canada Military Highway in little more than nine months. It opened November 20, 1942, a major engineering achievement. The Alaska Highway, as it is now called, connected the landing fields on the air route to Alaska. It started at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and ran 2,288 km (1,422 mi) to Delta Junction, Alaska. The highway was later extended to Fairbanks.
Armed forces personnel in Alaska increased to 150,000. On May 11, 1943, U.S. troops landed on Attu and after a bitter battle retook the island on May 29. On August 14 a large invasion of Kiska was launched, but, unknown to the Americans, the Japanese had evacuated on July 23. The forces soon discovered that the enemy had left and the war in Alaska had ended.
The war had a profound and lasting impact on the territory. It altered the pace of Alaskan life. Between 1941 and 1945 the federal government spent close to $2 billion in the north. The modernization of the Alaska railroad and the expansion of airfields and construction of roads benefited the war effort as well as the civilian population. Many of the docks, wharves, and breakwaters built along the coast for the use of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Army Transport Service were turned over to the territory after the war. Most importantly, thousands of soldiers and construction workers had come north, and many decided to make Alaska their home. Between 1940 and 1950 the civilian population increased from 74,000 to 112,000.
E6 The Drive for Statehood
With the population influx, residents pushed for statehood. James Wickersham had introduced the first statehood bill in 1916, but it did not receive a hearing. In 1943 Senator William Langer of North Dakota and Congressman Anthony J. Dimond of Alaska both introduced Alaska enabling bills. Congress did not consider either measure, but Dimond’s successor, E.L. “Bob” Bartlett, continued introducing statehood bills. In 1946 Alaskans voted on statehood in a referendum, with 9,630 votes in favor and 6,822 against. Congress held the first hearing on an Alaska statehood bill in 1947, and the House passed a statehood measure in 1950. The Korean War (1950-1953) intervened, however, and the measure was set aside. In 1955, impatient with congressional delays, the territorial legislature authorized a convention to draft a state constitution. Alaskan voters ratified the document in 1956.
Alaskan voters elected as U.S. senators Ernest Gruening, who had been territorial governor from 1939 to 1953, and William A. Egan, who had presided over the constitutional convention. For U.S. congressman they elected Ralph J. Rivers, a former territorial attorney general. Although Congress did not seat them, they lobbied hard for statehood. Finally, on May 26, 1958, the House passed the Alaska statehood bill by a vote of 210 to 166; the Senate followed on June 30. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the measure into law on July 7, 1958, and on January 3, 1959, he signed the proclamation admitting Alaska as the 49th state of the union. Under the statehood act, Alaska also received 41,824,000 hectares (103,350,000 acres), to be selected from vacant, unappropriated public lands within 25 years after admission.
In 1959 Egan was elected as Alaska’s first state governor, and Alaska’s first voting delegation was seated in Congress: Gruening, Rivers, and Senator E. L. “Bob” Bartlett. The Alaska delegation soon speeded passage of the Omnibus Bill for the new state, an afterthought to the statehood act. It not only put Alaska on an equal footing with the other states, but also granted $27.5 million in transitional grants over a five-year period.
E7 The New State’s Economy
After spending for World War II ceased about 1945, Alaska was rescued from economic depression and obscurity by the Cold War, a 40-year period of hostility between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (which incorporated Russia). Defense construction and military activities turned Alaska into a defensive bulwark and created a second, even larger boom.
However, in 1959 Alaska’s economy was rather dismal. Military spending had passed its peak in 1954, gold mining had not recovered from its virtual shutdown for the war effort in the early 1940s, and the salmon fisheries faced a crisis brought about by federal mismanagement, overfishing, and competition from Japanese fishing fleets. Farm production and income from furs were negligible. In addition, the state now had to assume all the functions formerly performed by the federal government. For example, it had to establish a judicial system and manage its fish and game resources.
The timber industry, however, was improving: in 1954, the first large pulp mill had opened in Ketchikan. Also, in 1957, Richfield Oil Corporation discovered the Swanson River field on the Kenai Peninsula, establishing Alaska’s first commercially viable oil production.
E8 The Great Earthquake
Alaska is geologically unstable. Residents were reminded of this at 5:36 pm on March 27, 1964, when one of the greatest earthquakes of all time struck south central Alaska. It measured 9.2 on the Richter scale and released twice as much energy as the 1906 earthquake that destroyed San Francisco. The total damage for the quake is estimated to have been between $350 million and $500 million, but that includes the damage due to a tsunami that hit the West Coast.
Fortunately, the loss of life was relatively low, with only 114 people killed. The town of Valdez was totally destroyed, most of the office buildings in the center of Anchorage were destroyed or severely damaged, and whole subdivisions slid into Cook Inlet. Kodiak’s crab and salmon processing facilities were shattered, and Seward’s shoreline looked as though it had been bombed. The federal government came to the aid of the stricken state, and on August 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law legislation that generously assisted Alaska reconstruction.
E9 Prudhoe Bay Oil and Native Claims
In early 1968 the Atlantic-Richfield Company struck the 10-billion-barrel Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska’s Arctic coastal plain. In the subsequent oil lease sale in 1969, the 23rd since statehood, oil companies bid more than $900 million. There was hope that Alaska’s economy would stabilize and diversify. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), a joint venture of Atlantic-Richfield, British Petroleum, and Humble Oil, applied to the U.S. Department of the Interior in June 1969 for a permit to construct a hot-oil pipeline across 1,280 km (800 mi) of public domain from Prudhoe Bay to the coast at Valdez on Prince William Sound.
It soon became apparent that no pipeline would be built without settling the long-standing Native claims. Some sections of the proposed right-of-way crossed lands that Natives claimed. For some time, Natives had filed protests to state land selections; between 1961 and 1968, such filings covered almost 136 million hectares (337 million acres). In 1966 Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall imposed a land freeze, stopping the transfer of any lands claimed by Natives. The Natives united in 1967 in a representative body, the Alaska Federation of Natives, which started to lobby for a settlement.
The land freeze and the necessity of getting the oil to market forced the state, the oil companies, Natives, conservationists, and developers to work together for a solution. After much work, Congress passed and President Richard M. Nixon signed into law the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) on December 18, 1971. Natives were to receive title to approximately 18 million hectares (44 million acres) of land and compensation of $962.5 million, of which about half was to come from the federal treasury and the rest from mineral revenue sharing. Twelve regional business corporations would administer the settlement. Every Native could hold 100 shares of stock in one of the corporations after registering and proving Native ancestry. In addition, the act created 220 village corporations, which could be either for-profit or nonprofit. To gain the support of environmentalists, the act authorized the secretary of the interior to withdraw up to 32.37 million hectares (80 million acres) of Alaskan land for study and possible inclusion in national parks or forests, wildlife refuges, wild or scenic river systems, wilderness areas, and national monuments. Congress would decide which areas to include.
E10 The New Oil-Based Economy
With the Native claims settled, the pipeline promoters faced the opposition of environmental groups that sued to halt pipeline construction. In the meantime, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut off oil supplies to the United States in 1973. An energy crisis resulted, and Congress passed legislation authorizing the construction of the pipeline. Construction by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company started in 1974, and the first oil arrived at the Valdez tanker terminal on July 28, 1977. This project, one of the largest privately financed projects ever built, cost approximately $9 billion. Thousands of construction workers streamed to Alaska to work on the pipeline at an average wage of $1,200 per week, about three or four times what they could make in the “lower 48.” Parts of Alaska near the pipeline boomed, but once it was built, Alyeska laid off most of the workers.
By the end of 1985 more than 4 billion barrels of crude oil had been pumped from the Prudhoe Bay field. By early 1986 approximately 6,000 tankers had berthed at Valdez. With the resulting oil wealth, the legislature abolished personal income taxes, and the state became largely dependent on oil revenues for its budgets. For comparison, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma—other states with large oil pumping operations—received 19.6, 29.2, and 15 percent, respectively, of their revenues directly from the oil industry in that year. More than 80 percent of Alaska’s revenues came from oil revenues in 1978. In 1980 it was 90 percent and in 1982, 87 percent. The state budget was affected later when the price of oil declined, tumbling to less than $10 a barrel in 1986, although the price has since recovered to between $14 and $20 per barrel.
In 1976 voters had approved a constitutional amendment creating the Alaska Permanent Fund. It required that at least 25 percent of all mineral lease bonuses, royalties, and rentals be deposited in a fund used only for income-producing investments. Various state leaders, including Republican Governor Jay S. Hammond (1974-1982), have worried about the integrity of the fund’s principal. At Hammond’s urging, the legislature enacted into law the innovative concept of permanent fund dividends to distribute part of the earnings directly to Alaska citizens. The purpose was to create a constituency with a vested interest in protecting the fund’s principal. After a court challenge, the legislature implemented the plan in early 1982: any adult who had lived in Alaska at least six months was to receive dividends of $1,000. For future years it promised smaller amounts based on distribution of half the earnings of the permanent fund in any given year. In 1995 the principal was approximately $15 billion, and each eligible Alaskan received a dividend check for $990.30 that year.
With low taxes and declining oil revenues, the state spent more than it took in for six out of nine years in the 1980s and 1990s. The deficit amounted to about $523 million in 1995.
E11 Public Land Disputes
In the 1970s the so-called d2 controversy erupted in Alaska, named after Section 17(d)(2) in the ANCSA, which directed the secretary of the interior to withdraw land for study and possible inclusion in federal conservation units. In 1972 the secretary withdrew 29 million hectares (72 million acres). In 1973 the Joint Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission, established in 1972 by the state and federal governments under the ANCSA, made its first recommendation for the withdrawn acreage. Reflecting its largely Alaskan composition, it stressed the multiple-use concept and urged that more than 24 million hectares (60 million acres) be opened for mineral development.
At the same time conservation groups lobbied vigorously for the creation of parks, wilderness areas, and refuges, and an Alaskan task force in the Department of the Interior formulated alternatives for the acreage. The task force was under conflicting pressures from industry, conservationists, and the state, all of which had different plans for the land. It also had to deal with federal agencies; the U.S. Forest Service intended to create vast new national forests, while the Bureau of Land Management desired to maintain its control over the land, and the National Park Service wanted to add new parks and expand existing ones.
A bitter fight ensued within Alaska and in Congress. Finally, Congress approved the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980. The measure put 42 million hectares (104 million acres) in new conservation units; of these, 23 million hectares (57 million acres) were designated as wilderness.
Alaska’s Natives had started to lobby Congress once they realized that the ANCSA did not protect the subsistence lifestyle—hunting and fishing for their own consumption—that many Natives still followed. Congress, therefore, included a provision in the ANILCA to ensure the continuation of the subsistence lifestyle. Federal land managers were to give the highest priority to subsistence use of resources by rural Alaskans, and the state was to continue management of fish and wildlife on federal lands as long as it adhered to that basic priority. However, the state could not do so because the state constitution grants all citizens equal access to the use of natural resources. Thus the federal government assumed fish and wildlife management responsibilities on the public lands. Subsistence has remained a volatile issue in Alaska, with no easy solution.
E12 The Exxon Valdez Disaster
For years after the pipeline opened, many residents warned that a major oil spill in northern waters was certain to occur, in part because the oil industry refused to employ double-hulled tankers in the Alaska trade. On the night of March 23, 1989, the Exxon Valdez left the Valdez pipeline terminal bound for Long Beach, California. The tanker’s captain, who had a history of alcohol abuse known to his employers, retired to his cabin after the pilot, who had guided the ship through the Valdez Narrows, had left the ship. The third mate, who lacked the U.S. Coast Guard certificate required for controlling vessels in these waters, was alone on the bridge. In the early hours of March 24, far outside the 16 km (10 mi) wide shipping lanes, the tanker struck Bligh Reef, a well-charted hazard, and ran aground. More than 38 million liters (10 million gallons) of crude oil was discharged into Prince William Sound, making this the worst spill in North American history.
Efforts to clean up the mess have proved extremely difficult. Exxon Corporation, the owner of the vessel, paid out several billion dollars in cleanup and litigation costs. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, made up of state and federal officials, was established to administer the disbursement of over $900 million in civil penalties paid by Exxon to restore the environment. The council has provided funds for the purchase of huge tracts of land in Alaska, often bought from Native Regional Corporations, to be used in expanding public parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges. A portion of the money paid in damages has also been allocated for scientific research and public education.
E13 Alaska at Century’s End
In the 1990s Alaska faced declining oil revenues; its agriculture remained negligible; despite huge coal reserves, only one coal mine operated in the state, and it exported a modest 881,000 metric tons of coal to South Korea annually. The state government had carefully nursed the wild salmon stocks so they again yielded bountiful harvests. The tourist industry had increased every year since statehood, but the state’s efforts to diversify its economy were not a great success. Democratic governor Tony Knowles, first elected in 1994, pledged to “add value to our resources” while at the same time enhancing the beauty and cleanliness of Alaska.
The twelve Native corporations (plus a 13th, established in 1976 for Natives living outside the state) paid out, from the 1971 cash settlement, an average of about $6,000 each to their shareholders between 1972 and 1981. Meanwhile, as early as 1974 they started to conduct business operations, often as joint ventures with established firms. The results have been mixed. Going into the 1990s, most of the corporations had lost money on direct business operations. All were hurt by the 1986 collapse of world oil prices. Offsetting the losses was income from mineral leases, financial portfolios, and sales of net operating losses. As a group, in their first 20 years of operation, the corporations were significantly less profitable than the average U.S. corporation. Six of them entered the 1990s with few assets and were recovering from heavy losses. In fact, the Natives might have realized a higher return if they had invested the cash settlement in a diversified mutual fund portfolio. Nevertheless, the regional corporations have given the Natives valuable business experience and political clout in the state.
F The 21st Century
F1 Oil and Budget Issues
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Alaskan economy continues to depend heavily on taxes and royalties from oil and natural gas. In 2005 crude oil accounted for 86 percent of the state's general revenues. Production of oil from the North Slope has declined by nearly half since a peak in 1988, but reductions in production have been offset by a rise in the price of oil in recent years, allowing the state to accumulate a budget surplus.
The Alaska legislature has identified other revenue sources that could be used to put state finances on a more stable long-term footing. However, attempts to introduce new taxes have repeatedly failed in recent years. In particular, reintroduction of the personal income tax that was abolished in 1980 has met resistance. Disagreements have also blocked the spending of some of the permanent fund income on pressing state needs such as education.
Sustaining the revenue from oil and gas has been among the reasons given by the advocates of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which borders the North Slope fields and which is currently protected from development. An estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil may lie untapped in ANWR. Opening ANWR to drilling had been strongly promoted by Republican governor Frank Murkowski and Republican U.S. Senator Ted Stevens. Federal legislation to allow drilling in ANWR has been repeatedly blocked in the U.S. Congress. Debate has focused in part on whether the amount of oil available would justify the expense of development and the potential environmental risks to an undisturbed wilderness area.
Increases in the price of oil were expected to improve state revenues in 2006, but the partial shutdown of a portion of the Prudhoe Bay complex in August and September meant a reduction in the amount of oil sold. BP, the company that operates part of the North Slope oil fields, discovered serious corrosion in part of the pipelines after a small leak, and closed a section at Prudhoe Bay for replacements and repairs. The partial shutdown came after a major leak in the pipeline in March 2006. Up to 267,000 gallons of oil may have spilled before the March leak was detected. The incidents raised questions about the condition of the aging pipeline and about the adequacy of the technologies and monitoring procedures used to test for corrosion and leaks. A Congressional committee investigated BP's maintenance of its portion of the Alaska pipeline and criticized the company's practices. Environmental groups cited the recent pipeline leaks and shutdown as evidence that drilling in ANWR could pose serious risks to the environment despite improved technology.
F2 New Governor
Alaskans elected a new governor in 2006. Dissatisfaction with Murkowski led to a challenge in the Republican primary from Sarah Palin, a social and fiscal conservative who first gained attention as a whistle-blower in a scandal involving state government. Palin emerged as the victor in the primary, and she went on to win the general election. She took office as the state’s first female governor in December 2006.
The history section of this article was contributed by Claus-M. Naske. The remainder of the article was contributed by Donald Francis Lynch.

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