Magazine article Sierra

A Grand Arc of Plenty

Magazine article Sierra

A Grand Arc of Plenty

Article excerpt

MOST OF THE THOUSAND-MILE ARC OF THE Alaska rainforest, from Ketchikan at the southern tip of the "panhandle" to Kodiak Island, is much as it was when Vitus Bering, near death from scurvy, first glimpsed it in 1741, and as Alutiiq hunters had known it for the last 7,000 years. Where mountains jut 18,000 feet out of the sea and glaciers as big as Rhode Island calve monstrous icebergs into the tides, the natural giantism of the Pleistocene still survives in the largest bears on earth and moose that stand higher than horses. Towering hemlock, cedar, and spruce shade rivers still throbbing with salmon, while coastal waters teem with orcas, sea lions, otters, and milkywhite belugas--a natural wealth that sustained human communities in comfort and plenty for millennia.

Our generation, however, is destroying the source of bounty. When the wreck of the Exxon Valdez blackened more than 1,500 miles of Alaska beaches with 11 million gallons of North Slope crude in 1989, the world learned how fragile this mighty system is. Five years later, most visible signs of the spill are gone (though populations of otter, salmon, harbor seals, harlequin ducks, and marbled murrelets have still not recovered). Now the region faces a graver, more permanent threat: the same razed-earth logging that has already devastated the Pacific Northwest.

But by rare poetic justice, the former disaster provides the opportunity to help stop the latter. Nearly $700 million in civil and criminal penalties assessed against Exxon are available to help restore the region by such means as the purchase and permanent protection of private inholdings within public parks, refuges, and forests. The Sierra Club has helped form a broad alliance of environmentalists, commercial and sport fishermen, tourism entrepreneurs, Native corporations, and Native subsistence users to ensure that much of this money is spent on preservation. …

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