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History of Alaska/Statehood (1959-present)

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Statehood (1959-present)[edit | edit source]

When the question of statehood for Alaska was first raised, it was mostly Alaskan leaders trying to develop some political gain. They brought up the idea to blame different problems on non-Alaskan residents but never thought that the idea of statehood would ever be taken seriously. After the end of World War II, Alaska gained many new residents who were ready to develop their new homes. In this fight for statehood, some concerns were with the salmon industry over any hostile legislation of the state, Republicans were worried that Alaskans would send Democrats to Washington, and people questioned the small population and limited economic ability to support statehood. With the 1946 referendum, the vote for statehood was just three to two but after some intense lobbying in 1957-58, the Alaskan people's vote was five to one and the conditions of admission were accepted. In 1959, almost 100 years after the purchase of Alaska from Russia, it had finally become the 49th state of America when President Eisenhower signed the official declaration on January 3rd.

Once Alaska had gained its statehood, Congress gave it the right to develop over 100 million acres of federal land. The problem was that some of this land belonged to Native Alaskans which caused protest over this controversial issue. There was a land freeze until the claims had been settled which needed to advance quickly as the extraction and transportation of oil were important in the development of the infrastructure. Government officials, Alaskan Native groups, and businesses such as the representatives from the oil industry worked on the outcome of the land claims. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement was a major development that settled issues of Native Land claims, property rights, and social, economic, political, and cultural aspects of the Alaskan Natives. The ANCSA included 200 local villages, 12 Native-owned regional corporations, and a corporation made up of Alaska Natives who had left the state. Some benefits that Alaska Natives had received for renouncing their land over to the government were 45.5 million acres of land in other areas, payments totaling $962.5 million and the oil companies had to provide a guaranteed percentage of Alaskan Natives with jobs.

Exxon Valdez Disaster[edit | edit source]

Oil Clean up After Valdez Spill

On March 24, 1989, The Exxon Valdez struck the Bligh Reef spilling ten million gallons of crude oil at approximately 12:04 am. The ship was operating on autopilot and had received orders from the Coast Guard to travel through an inbound lane to avoid icebergs. The Commander of the ship was not at the wheel of the ship during this time and had left another crew member at the wheel. The Exxon Valdez disaster was the largest oil tanker spill in U.S. history which had turned the pure environment of Alaska’s Prince William Sound into a catastrophe.

Cleanup and Impact of the Exxon Valdez Disaster[edit | edit source]

The cleanup of this spill was extremely unorganized, as it was not started for more than ten hours after the collision. Booms and skimmers were predominantly used to clean the spill. Although, they ultimately were not effective in cleaning only an estimated 10% of the oil. The spill caused political turmoil resulting in another reason why oil development in the National Wildlife Community Refuge should be stopped. The fishing industry was greatly affected as the hydrocarbon was contaminated in the spawning area for fish like herring and salmon. Other wildlife animals that were affected by the spill were otters and birds as oil destroys the insulating qualities in their fur and only a limited amount of them was able to be rescued due to the inaccessibility of their habitats. Fourteen years after the spill, a study from the University of North Carolina was published that stated much of the oil from the spill remained in the waters, which was far longer than the government had expected. Although, a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2014 concluded that after 25 years since the spill, species are beginning to recover and stabilize their population to pre-spill numbers.

Oil Pollution Act of 1990[edit | edit source]

In response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, President George. HW. Bush enacted the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 on August 18. This ultimately redefined the roles of federal and state officials in spill emergencies. The President also strongly encouraged the oil industry to implement a Marine Spill Response Organization, due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Numerous years before the Exxon Valdez oil spill the United States Congress considered enacting legislation to deal with a catastrophic oil spill, however, there had not been one of the Exxon Valdez’s magnitude prompting immediacy for an agreement.

Prudhoe Oil Bay Discovery[edit | edit source]

Prudhoe Bay 1968 FWS

In 1963, the Richard Oil Corporation began running seismic survey crews through Northern Alaska and just a year later, the Prudhoe structure was discovered. Exploring Alaska for oil was much more complicated than in other parts of America due to the terrain, weather, and logistic problems. The Prudhoe Oil Bay was discovered on March 12, 1968, by the oil companies of Exxon, Atlantic Richfield who worked more with the Eastern territory, and British Petroleum who was a significant part operating in the West. At the time of this discovery, the Prudhoe Oil Bay was considered the largest in North America measuring 15 by 40 miles of land. The land freeze caused by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement delayed the building of the pipeline as the oil companies did not know what portions of the land they could build on and had to wait until the claim had agreed. Today the Prudhoe Oil Bay is part of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline which transports 11% of the nation’s domestic oil production across a vast 800 miles of tundra. The pipeline travels three mountain ranges, and more than 500 rivers, and has more than 550 crossing for Alaska’s wildlife.

The Impacts of the Prudhoe Bay Oil Discovery[edit | edit source]

The discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 had wide-ranging impacts on the new state of Alaska. Prudhoe Bay, located in Alaska’s Northern region, isolated from the southwest and south-central regions by the Yukon River and the Alaska Mountain Range, had, before the oil discovery, remained largely unexplored. Indeed, it was predominantly native Eskimos who lived on the North Slope. Despite the oil discovery at Cook Inlet in 1957, Prudhoe Bay, comprised, as Robert Anderson, the chairman of the Arctic Richfield Company announced, ‘the largest petroleum accumulations known to the world today’. It was estimated that the site contained 12 billion barrels of oil. It was this discovery that brought Alaska, for the first time, into the limelight around the world, raising the new state's profile. The immediate problem was transportation: with the Arctic Ocean being ice-bound for most of the year, the Atlantic Richfield Company and the British Petroleum Oil Corporation announced on the 10th of February 1969, that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) would be created- the largest and most ambitious construction plan covering 1285 kilometers.

The Political Impact of Transporting Oil from Prudhoe Bay[edit | edit source]

Alaska pipeline road construction 1969 FWS

As mentioned above, the initial impact of the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay was the problem of transportation. The consequent building of the TAPS caused huge controversy, delaying construction until 1975. As a pipeline worker, Ron Rau stated, "The pipeline was like an iceberg", revealing the ideological differences between ‘Boomers’, those who had moved to Alaska to participate in its anticipated wealth, and the traditionalists, who strove to preserve America’s last ‘wilderness’. As Lois Crisler stated, the wilderness relied on two principles: ‘remoteness’, and the ‘presence of wild animals’. It was feared that the prospect of an oil rush would destroy both principles. The division became evident when, in 1970, five native villages sued the state, claiming ownership of a section of the land in which pipeline construction was intended. Additionally, the Wilderness Society, Environmentalists Defense Fund, and Friends of the Earth, particularly concerned with the effects on the caribou, fishing, and the preservation of the wilderness, sued for violation of the 1920 Mineral Leasing Act, leading to the blocking of construction in 1970. Environmentalist opposition intensified in 1971 with the Alaska Coalition supporting a five-year delay in development to allow for a detailed environmental plan. The Boomer belief was oppositional, production should take place immediately, and was in ‘the national interest’ due to the oil shortage by 1973. As a result, following the resolution of native claims through the Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971, construction began in 1975.

The Economic Impact of Prudhoe Bay[edit | edit source]

Undeniably, the main impact of the discovery at Prudhoe Bay was the economic transformation of Alaska. Before this discovery, Alaska was considered to be, as Luther Carter states, a "pauper state", an economy that relied on renewable resources such as fish, timber, and the Cook Inlet oil development. It was the same economy that led the US government, during the statehood debate, to question whether Alaska would be able to support itself. From the outset, Prudhoe Bay brought economic success. The initial oil lease bonus bids amounted to $12 million for drilling rights to the area, followed by a further $900 million in 1969. This would provide enough to cover government expenditures for four and a half years. Furthermore, from 1965 to 1975, the gross domestic product of the state more than doubled. This had a huge effect on individual residents. In 1982 the government sent 1,000 dollars to every Alaska resident. These annual payments, initiated through the Dividend Program, were possible through the creation of the Permanent Fund, a savings account that required 25% of oil lease revenues to be placed. Since 1982, Alaskans have continued to receive dividend payments ranging between $331 to $900. Despite the fluctuation, these payments provided significant support for many Alaskans and helped to change the "pauper" state considerably. As well as the increased individual and state wealth brought the modernization of life for many. Later on, snowmobiles replaced snow dogs, modern houses replaced traditional lodges, and shops emerged, all financed through oil money. In the end, it was oil money that modernized the state of Alaska. Furthermore, Alaskans’ annual wage increased between 1965 and 1974 from 8,200 to 14,500.

However, this increase in wealth was not completely positive. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, prostitution rose significantly, with earnings being ‘almost as good as Vegas’. Many of those involved in prostitution were Eskimos, emphasizing that for many native women, the only way to prosper from wage increases was to turn to prostitution.

A Boom and Bust Economy[edit | edit source]

Despite the outward form of stable economics, Alaska’s economy is arguably the opposite, one plagued by boom and bust periods, based on a complete dependence on oil prices. The initial ‘boom’ period was coincidental to the Arab-Israeli War and the consequent Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo, which led to the value of oil, by the 1970s and the 1980s, to be ten to twelve times as much as before these events. Following the initial ‘boom’, 1968 to the early 1980s, the late 1980s saw a huge ‘bust’ due to the price of oil falling to $10.30 per barrel in 1986. Strikingly, a piece of the dollar in the drop in oil prices accounted, in 1986, for $547.5 million less for Alaska. The main drawback is that Alaska’s economy is over-reliant on oil revenues, which comprised 1986 85% of the government’s wealth. Despite those attempts to widen the basis of the economy, for example through barley farming, and the dairy industry, over-reliance has continued throughout the years, in part, due to the isolated location of Alaska and the climate- exports would be expensive depending on each location. The effects of this over-reliance are both hugely and severely impairing Alaska. Most importantly in 1986, with the state budget squat of money, many Alaskan's jobs were threatened with loss, 55 out of 900 workers had already been laid off and axed from the Atlantic Richfield Company, and 150 out of 16,000 in the state government and politics.

Of particular concern, is that oil, which is a non-renewable source that will eventually run out, continues to provide the basis of the Alaskan economy. Most importantly, unavoidable drops-in oil price becomes synonymous with the decline in production- the more oil drilled, the harder and more expensive it is to locate more. It is this, which has led many of these people to be concerned about the future of Alaska’s economy and assets, as C.V. Chatterton stated, ‘there’s not a chance that the present rate of production is going to continue beyond 1988’.

Good Friday Earthquake[edit | edit source]

Alaska Quake-Fourth Ave

Another disaster to hit the state of Alaska (unlike the Exxon Valdez disaster but still devastating) was the Good Friday Earthquake. On March 27, 1964, at 5:30 pm a destructive earthquake occurred in Anchorage Alaska. The damaging tremors that came with it lasted for about four minutes which was enough time to destroy many Southern Alaska towns including highways, bridges, and buildings as well as unfortunately injure and take the lives of many. Avalanches and landslides also occurred breaking up rivers and flooding the coastline creating tsunamis which happened to be the most devastating part. The earthquake covered around one million square miles of dry land in total and measured 9.2 on the Richter scale. These devastating effects saw a total of one hundred and nineteen million dollars in losses; this made it the costliest and second deadliest earthquake and tsunami in U.S. history, not to mention the largest U.S. earthquake ever recorded and the second-largest earthquake worldwide. For such a large earthquake, the loss of life was fortunately low totaling around 130 deaths. The area most affected by the quake was luckily not densely populated, as well as the nice weather outside may have helped people avoid collapsing buildings. Since the tremors were moderately weak at first before growing stronger citizens had time to be warned. Whilst geographically, the earthquake devastated areas, the economy of Alaska was largely kept intact. This earthquake had the potential to be a hugely destructive force, geographically, economically, and socially for Alaska and many predicted that the effects would be devastating.

In Prince William Sound, Port Valdez suffered a massive underwater landslide, resulting in the deaths of 32 people between the collapse of the Valdez city harbor and docks, and inside the ship that was docked there at the time. Nearby, a 27-foot (8.2 m) tsunami destroyed the village of Chenega, killing 23 of the 68 people who lived there; survivors out-ran the wave, climbing to high ground. Post-quake tsunamis severely affected Whittier, Seward, Kodiak, and other Alaskan communities, as well as people and property in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. Tsunamis also caused damage in Hawaii and Japan. Evidence of motion directly related to the earthquake was also reported from Florida and Texas.

The Earthquake can be profoundly linked to the effects it had or did not have on Alaska’s newfound statehood. When the earthquake hit, Alaska had just marked its 5th anniversary as a state, having achieved statehood in 1959, thus at this point, they were a very proud nation, however, the natural resource boom, such as the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 had not yet occurred for Alaska. Therefore America still saw Alaska as a weaker nation with something to prove. Thus the fact that the main business district and the most elite residential area were completely devastated by the quake meant that it had the potential to cause a huge economic disaster for Alaska. However, in reality, this was not the case, the earthquake seems to have boosted the Alaskan economy, sustaining it until the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay, which caused a boom in their economy. This was arguably due to the form and nature of the property damage and the large amount of external aid that Alaska received. The large majority of the damage that was inflicted on public property by the earthquake and subsequent natural disasters was federally owned. Therefore, mostly all of it was restored by federal funds, and reconstruction money was released rapidly. Similarly, damages to the private sector were funded by generous federal aid to private groups and businesses. Thus the economy did not seem to suffer nearly as badly as many people predicted it would, George W. Rogers suggests that ‘on the whole, there appears to have been an increase in employment and economic activity’ after the earthquake. Indeed, the effects of the earthquake in Seward meant a complete rebuilding of a small boat port; the new port was much larger which benefited the town hugely because before the smallness of the boat port had restricted the city’s economic development. For individuals and communities, the damage was, in some cases great, but on the whole, the economy was certainly boosted. The only issue that was caused by this federal funding and recovery aid was the fact that Alaska had only just gained statehood, something that was originally a way for the Alaskan economy to change from a federal government orientation to a ‘self-sustaining locally oriented economy’ as noted by George W. Rogers. This did then mean that Alaska was still relying on aid from the federal government. However, that did soon change with the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay and the federal aid meant that the recovery time for Alaska was rapid and efficient, thus not damaging the economy.

Scientifically and geographically, the Alaskan Good Friday Earthquake did have severe and far-reaching consequences, however. The earthquake caused significant damage to an area of around 50,000 square miles according to scholar George W. Rogers, he also suggests that the earthquake also caused massive aftershocks with 28 occurring within twenty-four hours and ten of them being above six on the Richter scale. The village of Seward was hit particularly badly in that it did not just receive one element of aftershock; it received all three, the earthquake itself, followed by seismic waves and landslides. The damage in the ports of Alaska was overwhelming, however, what is significant about this earthquake was that it did not take that many lives, plenty of smaller earthquakes than the Good Friday earthquake have wiped out a much more substantial number of people. The reasons for this were mainly due to the day that the earthquake occurred on; being a holiday inhabitants were at home rather than at school, by the docks, or working, thus the difference in damage to property compared to lives lost is huge. Not only did the damage spread in Alaska, but the aftershocks of the earthquake reached as far as Hawaii, Mexico, and Japan, the seismic waves that reached them were fairly small, with Japan only receiving a one-foot wave whilst Hawaii received a seven-foot wave. Therefore, fortunately, the damage was limited and inconsequential. However, in places such as Crescent City in California, twelve lives were lost due to the seismic waves that were rolling in. Thus, whilst the damage economically was fairly limited and in actuality helped to boost the economy, the geographical damage of the Good Friday earthquake was huge and extremely far-reaching.

Alaska had never experienced a major disaster in a highly populated area before and had very limited resources for dealing with the effects of such an event. In Anchorage, at the urging of geologist Lidia Selkregg, the City of Anchorage and the Alaska State Housing Authority appointed a team of 40 scientists, including geologists, soil scientists, and engineers, to assess the damage done by the earthquake to the city. The team called the Engineering and Geological Evaluation Group, was headed by Dr. Ruth A. M. Schmidt, a geology professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The team of scientists came into conflict with local developers and downtown business owners who wanted to immediately rebuild; the scientists wanted to identify future dangers to ensure that rebuilt infrastructure would be safe. The team produced a report on May 8, 1964, just a little more than a month after the earthquake.

COVID-19 pandemic[edit | edit source]

The COVID-19 pandemic was confirmed to have reached the U.S. state of Alaska on March 12, 2020.

On March 11, Governor Mike Dunleavy's office declared a state of emergency to ensure all entities had the necessary response resources. The next day, the first case, a foreign national in Anchorage, was announced to the public.

Ketchikan, one of the places affected by COVID-19 during the 2020 outbreak in Alaska

On March 21, 2020, Ketchikan, a small, coastal town of approximately 8,000 residents located in Southeast Alaska was determined to have a cluster of six COVID-19 cases. The town sheltered in place for the following 14 days. On March 24, 2020, three more cases of COVID-19 were found in Ketchikan, bringing the total to nine. The next day, the total number of cases there reached 11. On April 1, 2020, the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Ketchikan rose to 14.

Statehood and Alaskan Native Concerns[edit | edit source]

Alaska Statehood signing (Dwight D. Eisenhower (sitting) and Richard Nixon (left))

On January 3rd, 1959 Alaska finally became a state of the United States of America. It became the 49th state after President Eisenhower signed the declaration. This occurred after a long struggle and resistance from Washington due to a variety of reasons. Some of them being; the salmon industry concerned over unfavourable legislation by the new state Republicans worrying that Alaskans would send Democrats to Washington. Southern Democrats fearing two more senators favouring civil rights and the persistent question as to if Alaska’s small population and limited economic ability can support a government along with many other reasons. Alaska’s territorial status was desired to be adhered to due to the advantages it provided to military power during World War II. If kept a territory, access to the military base and further construction would be very accessible. However, after World War II Alaska gained many residents and increased their economic prosperity. The new citizens were eager to develop the land but their pursuits were halted until statehood could be achieved. Alaska’s detachment from the country was a definite barrier in the declaration of statehood. In 1946, a referendum for the support of statehood was only at three to two. After lobbying for support in 1958 the vote was five to one in favour of acceptance. Statehood was finally achieved after significant backing by prominent figures and its case being tied with Hawaii’s proposal. Citizens felt that they had transformed from second-tier citizens to full inclusion.

Celebrating Alaska statehood

There was a celebratory bonfire which marked the achievement of finally becoming a state. This bonfire was enormous and was able to be seen from space; it made it into the Guinness World Book of Records. Going from being a territory to a state marked a huge occasion for the citizens of Alaska.

However, not everyone was thrilled with this newly achieved statehood. The people were divided regionally and even into pro-state regions. Some concerns were, especially in Southeast Alaska, that statehood would institutionalize a form of economic colonialism over the fishing industry. Along with Alaska not being able to support itself which could have lead to issues of land and resource development. Largely, however, the main political division was between 'urban' and 'rural' Alaskans or the Non-natives and Alaskan natives.

Alaska Native Claims Settlement[edit | edit source]

Despite the profound effect statehood would impose on Alaskan natives, they were not included in the political process. As a result, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement (ANCSA) came about in 1971. The ANCSA was not taken seriously until the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay meant constructing a pipeline through Native lands would be necessary for the oil to be retrieved. This put pressure on the aboriginal claims to be settled so that work on the pipeline could begin. The settlement, which was intended to resolve disputes over land and to spur economic development, was the largest indigenous land claims settlement in the history of the United States. The deal would transfer settlement lands to for-profit corporations owned by Alaska natives.

While this act offered self-sustenance by providing Alaskan Natives with opportunities for economic advancement, which could contribute to greater political capital to be used to support cultural and social agendas, there were a number of detriments. The act failed to address Native sovereignty and subsidence rights, a topic of serious concern during Alaska’s transition into a state. The settlement, in essence, was a strategic technique to pit corporate interests against traditional uses of land for cultural and subsistence purposes. This in turn would corporatize native interests and assimilate them into white culture. The deal itself was the first of its kind in the United States; instead of a treaty, a congressional act was exercised. This lead to concerns over the stability of the deal, as unlike a treaty, laws can be altered and nulled. Nonetheless, Alaskan Natives agreed to the terms, largely because they believed this was the best settlement they were going to receive. Though there was a native delegation on the settlement committee and Native organizations were consulted, no native representatives were involved in the Congress vote. Even though all but one organization voted for the settlement this was due to the political hostility towards their decision. Millions of dollars were made due to this act which benefitted the native community. The question of whether Alaskan Natives had land claims continued to be a key issue.

Many legal issues and court cases arose as to if there were any Alaskan Native land rights. In order to address this issue, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) came about in 1980. This act had a greater impact which continues to have effects today. The act granted Alaskan Natives, in particular, residents of rural Alaska, subsistence rights on federal public lands and required the same protection from the state on state and private lands. These are the major acts which came about to resolve of Native complaints and issues.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline System[edit | edit source]

When oil was discovered in Prudhoe Bay in 1968, the United States government needed a way to get the precious oil from northern Alaska into the US for distribution. From there, The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System was created. The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System or TAPS for short is a system of pipelines that connect the oil sands in Prudhoe Bay in the north to Valdez in the south of Alaska, an 800-mile distance. Construction on the pipeline started in April 1975 and concluded in June 1977. The first drops of oil flowed through on the 20th day of the month. TAPS, as it is referred to is also known as the Alyeska Pipeline or Trans-Alaska Pipeline, is a 48” in diameter pipe that has 11 pumping stations situated through the length of the pipe to keep the oil flowing.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline a the Denali fault

Throughout the building of the pipeline, engineers had to work very hard to combat the arctic temperatures. They had to work with pipe makers overseas to build a 48” in diameter pipe that would be able to withstand freezing temperatures and warmer climates in Valdez. The pipe is layered to defeat the cold weathers. It has a steel outer jacket, a fiberglass insulating layer, then the 48” pipe and finally a rubber “scrapper pig”. The pipeline goes through many different regions of permafrost and cannot be above ground the entire way from Prudhoe to Valdez, therefore parts of the pipeline are situated underground. This allows for the pipeline to be protected from, and withstand permafrost. Plans to build the pipeline began in the late 60’s with a couple of options being drafted up. The first was the Trans-Alaskan pipeline we have today, which extends from northern to southern Alaska. The second was to be a Trans-Canada pipeline, which differed from the modern Trans-Canada Pipeline today that stretches from Alberta to New Brunswick Canada. This drafted pipeline would extend from Alaska through Canada and into the United States. This would eliminate the need for transporting the oil by water back to the US, but would also mean the United States would have to share ownership of the pipeline with Canada. In 1973, president Richard Nixon signed the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Authorization Act, kick-starting the building of the pipeline.

Between the time the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Authorization Act was signed and the beginning of the pipeline construction, there would be access roads created in order to easily transport the materials needed to build the pipeline across Alaska. These roads helped workers get to the job sites over the rough uninhabited terrain and in the future, would allow for expansion into those regions. During the construction of the pipeline, these roads began to create what was known as ‘Boomtowns’. These towns were small towns like Fairbanks that turned into huge communities filled with workers employed by the pipeline. People moved to these towns in the thousands which caused prices for land to skyrocket. This influx of people also created a boom in the economy. People jumped on the new finding of oil as it would mean new high paying jobs from the new wealth that had been discovered.

There were many obstacles that the Alaskan government, US government, and builders faced when proposing and building the pipeline. Dealing with environmentalists/conservationists and Native Alaskans was at the forefront of complications. In a 1971 document filed by the Alaska district, conservationists accused the Interior Department of underestimating the longterm environmental damages that building the pipeline could have. Conservationists were against the construction of the pipeline because they felt that it would cause irreparable damage to the environment, could slow down or stop the movement of animals that migrated to warmer or colder climates and that any potential oil leak would get into the water systems affecting the ecosystems of animal life and vegetation. During initial testing of the transportation of oil, the US ship the Manhattan ran aground proving that there could be issues when transporting oil from Valdez. Before building the pipeline, the US government would have to settle a land dispute between the Native people that had begun after the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Eventually, this was settled in 1971 with the ‘Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act’, which allowed the Natives to have their land back and the ownership of their name.

In 1997, the National Museum of American History created an exhibit for the twentieth anniversary of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline. The exhibit was held from October 1997 - April 1998. Alyeska (Trans-Alaskan Pipeline), donated old parts from previous repairs to the pipeline along with other pieces they had from construction, including oil cans, scrap metal, and a 21-foot cutaway section of the pipeline. This section of the pipeline was displayed to exhibit the different levels of protection, insulation, and engineering that went into creating the system. The exhibit was created to teach visitors about Alaska and its history since many Americans had no prior knowledge on Alaska beyond the fact that it was the 49th state.

Today, the pipeline is protected using different means of technology to prevent spills and accidents from happening. There is the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System Pipeline Oil Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan and the Valdez Marine Terminal Oil Discharge Prevention and Contingency Plan. Both plans outline specific responses to leaks and spills. On top of that, there are monitors and workers that inspect the pipeline regularly.

Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race[edit | edit source]

Origins[edit | edit source]

Dog Sled Racing, or 'Mushing' as its nicknamed, is very prevalent in Alaska. The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is widely considered the most popular and culturally significant dog sled competition in the world. The name 'Iditarod', meaning "clear water" originated from the Shegeluk Indians when naming the River of Iditarod.

The entirety of the race takes place in Alaska, spanning from Anchorage to Nome. Joe Redington was the creator of the 1100 mile dog sled race. After being raised in Oklahoma, Redington moved to Alaska in 1948 in hopes of fulfilling his dream of becoming a musher. In 1973, Redington and Dorothy Page organized a 50-mile sled race. In time, Redington would conceive the idea 'Iditarod Dog Sled Race' concept, which would then become a tradition in Alaska.

Rules and Stipulations[edit | edit source]

Teams may consist of 12 to 16 dogs, with Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes being the only breeds of dogs allowed to compete. This is because they are the only dog breeds that can handle the grueling conditions of the race. The dogs are required to wear booties to protect their paws, not from the cold but rather from the ice, snow, and rock. 

One team racing in the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race

The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race will only allow a maximum of one hundred teams in the competition. There is an entrance fee of $4,000 for each competing team. In 2017, the grand prize was $750,000, with the 2018 prize expected to drop down to $500,000. The winner does not receive the entirety of the prize. Instead, the full amount is divided among the top 30 competitors. From 2008 to the expected amount in 2018, the prize money has decreased by roughly 46%. Prize money being reduced is largely attributed to the expenses for the event exponentially growing year by year. 

The last place finisher of the race gets awarded the 'Red Lantern', considered to be a "traditional symbol of persistence."  The longest Red Lantern time, awarded to the last team to cross the finish line, was in 1973 when John Schultz finished in a little more than 32 days, more than 12 days after the winner. Much like the Olympic Games, a flame is lit until the competition is completed, a tradition which started in hopes of making traveling easier for the mushers. The light would later serve as a sign as to signify that all participants have crossed the finish line. Every first Sunday in March at 10 AM, the “Widow’s Lamp” is relit at the finish line in Nome.

Susan Butcher[edit | edit source]

One of the most recognizable mushers in the history of the competition; Susan Butcher was raised in Boston and would later move to Alaska to pursue her dream of being a musher. Butcher went on to win four consecutive races from 1986-1990 and had a dominant career spanning over a decade, placing in the top five in 12 out of the 16 Iditarod races she completed. Butcher passed away from leukaemia in 2005.

In 2008, Gov. Sarah Palin officially established the first Sunday of March each year, which coincides with the traditional starting date of the Iditarod, to be Susan Butcher Day. Susan Butcher was post-humously elected in 2007 as part of the inaugural class into the Alaskan Sports Hall of Fame.

Recent History[edit | edit source]

In recent years, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has been subject to controversy. Some of the event's largest sponsors such as Wells Fargo have recently dropped their sponsorship of the competition. Event organizers have blamed PETA for spreading false accusations about the mushers' treatment of dogs.

Dog Competitors in the Race

According to PETA, "151 dogs have died since the Iditarod began in 1973 and that the "death toll continues to climb." Furthermore, rumors swirl that Wells Fargo plans to convince another key sponsor, namely Coca-Cola, to drop their association with the race.

In September of 2017 a doping scandal emerged regarding famed Iditarod musher Dallas Seavey. Seavey had won four out of the last six races and became the youngest winner of the competition in 2005 at the age of eighteen. Four of Seavey's dogs tested positive for Tramadol, a form of painkiller. Seavey has since denied wrongdoing, and other top mushers in the competition have stated they did not believe Seavey to be guilty. 

A study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine following the 2010 race expressed that roughly three-quarters of the competitors were suffering from acute diseases (diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, etc.). At the same time, 56% of the reported injuries were recorded as "minor." According to the study, the illness of participants was linked to the frigid weather conditions. Weather records had been broken that year when temperatures were freezing. 

Since 1973 there have been 22 winners.  Rick Swenson is the winningest musher in the Iditarod's history, winning the race 5 times. Five other mushers have won it 4 times. Race times are now generally twice as fast compared to when they started in 1973. Dallas Seavey is credited with the quickest winning time with a time of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes, and 16 seconds in the 2016 race. The slowest winner was Carl Huntington in 1974 who won in 20 days, 15 hours, 2 minutes, and 7 seconds.     

Alaska’s History of Resource Exploitation and Development[edit | edit source]

Long before statehood, Alaska’s first peoples sustained themselves even in the most severe natural environments on the region’s abundance of fish and wildlife. However, from the Russian fur traders from 1743-1799 in Russia-Alaska to the Klondike gold rush of 1897 following America's purchase of the territory, resource exploitation has run rampant in Alaska and driven its economy.

As Congress debated granting statehood to Alaska throughout the 1950s one of the most pressing questions was whether the new state could ever be financially self-sufficient. It was clear that with a small population, yet vast amounts of land, responsible development of resources would be critical to producing enough revenue to run a state. Constitutional Convention of 1955

At the Alaskan Constitutional Convention in 1955, policy regarding natural resources played a central role in the proceedings. Alaska’s territorial delegate to Congress at the time; Edward Lewis Bartlett, addressed such policies and warned delegates of the possibilities of resource exploitation:

“The first, and most obvious, danger is that of exploitation under the thin disguise of development. Taking Alaska’s mineral resources without leaving some reasonable return for the support of Alaska governmental services and the use of all the people of Alaska will mean a betrayal in the administration of the people’s wealth. The second danger is that outside interests, determined to stifle any development in Alaska which might compete with their activities elsewhere, will attempt to acquire great areas of Alaska’s public lands in order not to develop them until, in their omnipotence and the pursuance of their interests, they see fit. If large areas of Alaska’s patrimony are turned over to such corporations the people of Alaska may be even more the losers than if the lands had been exploited.” Following the Constitutional Convention of 1955, Alaska was the only state with an article in its constitution dedicated solely to natural resources. Article VIII of the document states “It is the policy of the state to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.”

Alaskan courts have since utilized a review process much like the environmental impact statement process used by the United States federal government, in which the courts must rule the development of any state-owned resource to be in the best interests of the state. Statehood Onward

Since receiving statehood in 1959 Alaska has been the largest state in the country, roughly one-fifth the size of the rest of the united states. Alaska’s large size, sparse population, and geographic location factor into the State’s abundance of natural resources. Alaska has more coastal waters than the rest of the United States combined, as well as large river and lake systems, multiple mountain ranges, expansive forests and tundra, and massive glaciers. As such, Alaska offers abundant oil, gas, mineral, coal, wildlife, and fishery resources.

From an economic standpoint, the development of these resources, whether it be for extraction or tourism, faces challenges due to Alaska’s harsh natural conditions, distance from markets, complicated land ownership, and relative lack of infrastructure. From a social perspective, the possible communal and economic benefits of resource development are measured against competing interests, such as subsistence-based lifestyles and a view held by some that Alaska should remain as “pristine” as possible.

Alaska’s Natural Resource Industries[edit | edit source]

Alaska’s abundance of natural resources has driven and shaped its economy throughout the course of statehood. Today, Alaska is considered a world leader in terms of resource production and management, boasting world-class industries in mining, fishing, and most notably: oil.

Oil[edit | edit source]

The discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 is credited with shaping and boosting the Alaskan economy more so than any other single event. Eighteen months after the discovery of oil the state of Alaska held a lease sale for roughly half a million acres along the oil and gas rich area. Receiving bids from many of the largest oil corporations in the world, the sale would go on to generate over $900 million in revenue in a single day; dwarfing the entire state budget for 1968 of approximately $100 million and revolutionizing the state’s economy virtually overnight.

In 2009, the oil and gas from Cook Inlet and the north slope of Alaska, where Prudhoe Bay is located, made up more than 15% of the United States total production. Despite Alaska’s overall size of oil reserves estimated by some to be the largest in the country, Texas is still the leading producer nationwide, with North Dakota, California, and Alaska finishing second, third, and fourth respectively as of 2014. According to the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, the state has collected approximately $157 billion (adjusted for inflation) from oil since 1959. As of 2008 the oil and gas industry of Alaska accounted for nearly 10% of employment state-wide, with more than 40,000 jobs generated.

Mining[edit | edit source]

For over a decade, the mining industry in Alaska- including exploration, production, and development- has had a total value of over $1 billion. Coal, sand, and gravel production, as well as hard-rock mining operations of all sizes are essential to the industry, with gold, silver, coal, lead, and zinc making up some of the state’s most important exports. Alaska’s mineral production is ranked sixth in the U.S., behind only Nevada, Arizona, Texas, California, and Minnesota. Despite this, the Red Dog mine located in Alaska’s northwest is the largest producer of zinc worldwide. The Fort Knox and Pogo mines are also considered to be powerhouses in terms of production and are central to employment and taxation in their respective regions.

Fisheries and Seafood[edit | edit source]

Alaska’s fisheries and seafood industry produces billions of dollars’ worth of output on an annual basis; with Alaskan seafood exports valued at $3.2 billion, roughly 55% of total U.S. seafood exports, in 2014 alone. Exporting to over one hundred countries worldwide, the domestic United States market is the largest single market for Alaska, but foreign trade plays a large role, accounting for around two-thirds of production value totals. Alaska boasts both the largest groundfish fishery in the world, as well as the world’s largest run of salmon at Bristol Bay. From a social standpoint, the fishing industry of Alaska is vital in many of the states coastal communities regarding employment and economics. Fishing is synonymous with Alaskan Indigenous peoples and other individuals alike, with fish making up a significant amount of many Alaskans diets, particularly subsistence based ones.

Tourism[edit | edit source]

Alaska’s tourism industry, albeit inherently different from industries regarding the extraction of resources, still largely hinges on the natural resources of the state. Alaskan tourism depends on the landscapes of Alaska remaining as beautiful and accessible as they can be. The state offers a variety of National parks and preservation areas, including the famous Denali and Kenai Fjords National Parks. Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, boasts the highest mountain peak in North America. Denali, among the other mountain ranges, forests, lakes, rivers, and glaciers of the state, attract thrill seekers, explorers, and other travelers largely due to the unique qualities of the land Alaska offers; being the northernmost and arguably most rugged, yet peaceful state America has to offer. In the summer of 2006 Alaska counted over 1.6 million visitors, with the state-wide tourism industry employing roughly 40,000 people.

Interesting Facts[edit | edit source]

Alaska on 9-1-2008

Alaska has more than 3,000 rivers and 3 million lakes, which are more over Minnesota. There are over 100 volcanoes and volcanic fields which have been active within the last two million years. Alaska has three different coastlines; the Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. Lake Iliana, the largest lake in Alaska and third largest in the United States, covers roughly 2,600 km². Alaska also has more volcanoes than any other state. The Yukon River is the largest river in Alaska, stretching about 2,060 kilometers.

An interesting law is that it is illegal to whisper in someone's ear while they are moose hunting.