It must have been a lean year for the bears around here. A dismal blueberry harvest makes for hungry bears in the Interior. For more than a week grizzlies and black bears have been roaming through our little hamlet, searching for any food scraps or things that look like it. Outdoor BBQs were overturned, so were potted herbs. Even bear-proof trash cans were attacked. I have seen bears on my front porch in the middle of night. Not a comforting sound to hear scratching claws…. They could easily break into the cabin. The bears have become increasingly destructive. Not a good sign. One more month before they go into hibernation. If they keep roaming through the village, destroying property, ignoring human presence, they will get destroyed.
There are lots of different approaches to conservation, but I don’t think any of them will work unless there’s a personal connection between the individual and the natural world.”
When I was offered to go on a back country patrol with the Park Service into the Gates of the Arctic I did not hesitate a second to say yes. Little did I know what to expect. I was told we would float the Kobuk for about a week through the Preserve. At the time I did not know exactly where the Kobuk was, and which part of the Brooks Range was covered by the Preserve. Over time I learned that Kobuk flows along the Southern slopes of the Brooks Range, home to grizzlies, moose, salmon, and sheefish. Access to the Preserve is mostly by bush plane, boat, or snow machines. There is no road access to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. Therefore visitation and human impact to this area is rather limited. This is about to change.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) proposes to construct a new 211-mile-long gravel access road in the southern Brooks Range foothills to provide industrial access to the Ambler Mining District. The road would originate at the Dalton Highway near Prospect Creek and end at the Ambler Mining District, and would have no public access. The proposed project crosses state lands (61%) and Native corporation lands (15%), but also crosses public lands (24%) managed by the BLM and the National Park Service.
What is the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority?
AIDEA is a public corporation of the State of Alaska, created in 1967 by the Alaska Legislature “in the interests of promoting the health, security, and general welfare of all the people of the state, and a public purpose, to increase job opportunities and otherwise to encourage the economic growth of the state, including the development of its natural resources, through the establishment and expansion of manufacturing, industrial, energy, export, small business, and business enterprises…”
In other words, the state of Alaska proposes the construction of a road through a largely undisturbed wilderness to enable exploratory mining operations. No mining companies have signed on to this project. The state proposes a private road, that will cost upwards of 1 billion dollars (public money) to support mining operations for 50 years. After that…
The impact of the road and its use on caribou migration, salmon and sheefish spawning, permafrost and subsistence living are unclear. Given the history of mining operations it is to be expected that there will be detrimental effects. Show me one mine that has been good for the environment.
The question is, do we really need this road? Is this about the general welfare of the people, or is it about politics and economy growth, which is not sustainable? Do we value wilderness, or does the mighty dollar trump everything?
The Pebble Mine near Katmai National Park and Preserve and the Constantine-Palmer Mine near the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve are other projects that face similar issues. They are located in the vicinity of protected public lands and conservationist are more than concerned that these projects threaten the surrounding natural areas. None of these places see the numbers of visitors of say Yosemite or Yellowstone.
Imagine a 221 mile long industrial road through Yosemite Valley…
Goes back to the initial question: Do we really care only for things that we have seen first hand?
How do you answer that question? Is it the place you grew up in? Maybe you call home the place where you currently reside. Either way, in most cases that place comes with a street address and a zip code. A valid mailing address.
Without that, you are almost … nothing.
“Living in the present moment with quiet joy and happiness”
I am looking forward to reading Sam Wright’s book “Koviashuvik – Making a home in the Brooks Range”. Sam was a biologist, priest, and teacher who lived with his wife decades north of the Arctic Circle in a one-room log cabin, reflecting on life, mankind, and wilderness. He called his home Koviashuvik, which means a time and place of joy and happiness. According to Inuit tradition one must live in harmony with nature to experience koviashuvik,
I have not found a street address for Sam’s home, but living in a place with such a beautiful name, I imagine you don’t care that you can’t have a residential phone line, a cable subscription, or even utilities…
Maybe it was just the lack of modern day amenities (and obligations) and the presence of a relatively undisturbed wilderness that made his home a happy place…
I am grateful for a handful of friends that reach out to me and stay in touch, including readers of this blog, who give me a sense of belonging and purpose. I am grateful to have spent time in beautiful places and the ability to share moments of solitude, serenity, and happiness.
A year indoors is a journey
along a paper calendar.
A year in outer nature is the
accomplishment of a tremendous ritual.
Almost 100 years ago Henry Beston spent a whole year in a remote Cape Cod cabin and wrote the The Outermost House. He simply observed and described the change of seasons to an audience that could not afford or endure the hardship and solitude of such an endeavour.
“The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot.”
“Our mastery over the forces of nature has led to a rapid growth of population, and a vast accumulation of wealth; but these have brought with them such an amount of poverty and crime, and have fostered the growth of so much sordid feeling and so many fierce passions, that it may well be questioned, whether the mental and moral status of our population has not on the average been lowered, and whether the evil has not overbalanced the good.”
Alfred Russel Wallace
That was more than 150 years ago. Alfred Russel Wallace was born 194 years ago and became a leading scientist, who independently proposed a theory of natural selection, which prompted Charles Darwin to publish his own theory.
I wonder what instilled his negative view on the evolution of human society. It is also remarkable to read his historic assessment of our proliferation and its effect on our ethics. What would he think if he were around today? Did his voice go unheard?
On another note, it is also Elvis Presley’s birthday today.
“Hidden in the glorious wildness
like unmined gold.”
Is it time for another John Muir, or an Edward Abbey and a president with an open ear for the environment and its conservation?
I think so. All this talk about jobs, growth, and profits is so wrong. Maybe it will support this generation and a few more to come, but we cannot keep growing forever. That’s just not possible on a planet with limited resources. What do we do? Do we care?
That is maybe the key question we should ask ourselves. Do we really care about future generations and this planet? Or do we only care about us? Our family, our genes?
I am wondering what Darwin would say about our current state of affairs. Maybe our species is currently the fittest in this world that we have changed. Maybe not.