Will 'pristine' ultimately mean landscape devoid of all human activities?

Posted: Tuesday, April 02, 2002

First, there was don't extract. That's long been the mantra of national environmental groups who've lobbied hard to exterminate resource extraction industries in Alaska.

They've had a significant success. The timber industry in Southeast Alaska is a shadow of its former self. The potential for oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been stymied by members of Congress backed by environmental organizations. It seems that most proposals for resource extraction in Alaska are followed quickly by a green organization threat of legal action to prevent it from happening.

Until recently, it was the miners, loggers and drillers who caught the brunt of the eco-warrior onslaught. It seemed that another major (and non-extractive) industry could avoid the greens' withering glare and actually grow and prosper in Alaska. Indeed, some people thought the cruise industry wouldn't be targeted by environmentalists because selling cruises to Alaska relies on the marketing of its pristine environment.

They were wrong, apparently. And, it's starting to look like the new environmental mantra for Alaska is going to be: Don't go there.

This thought is prompted by the inclusion of Southeast Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in a Ten Most Endangered National Parks list published ... by the National Parks Conservation Association.

What might make Glacier Bay so endangered? Cruise ships, according to the group. It says the vessels pollute the air and pose a risk of fuel spills. Worse, they say, Congress might be thinking about letting more ships visit Glacier Bay.

We're all for stringent controls on ship air emissions and discharges of fuel, oil and wastewater. We believe those issues have been mostly resolved in the past two years by the improvement of federal and state regulations. Congress, meanwhile, has capped the number of ship visits to Glacier Bay at 136 a year. For a group to highlight cruise ships in Glacier Bay as one of the nation's most distressing environmental situations sends a pretty clear signal -- especially to those familiar with environmental group tactics -- that the ultimate goal is to ban ships from the area.

It's worth noting that commercial fishing already is being kicked out, oops, phased out, of Glacier Bay partly because of pressure applied by the National Parks Conservation Association. With that accomplished, cruise ships are the next target.

Could it be that any business profiting in Alaska will eventually attract the ire of an environmental group? If so, perhaps the only allowable economic activity will soon be the electronic flow of dollars from misguided donors into the bank accounts of environmental organizations.

And if the goal in this case is to exclude cruise ships from Glacier Bay, where will a ''Don't go'' there campaign end? As we've seen in the anti-timber campaign, even the smallest of proposed harvests get challenged. After Glacier Bay, how many other areas might be targeted to be placed off-limits?

It will be a sad, strange day when pristine environment comes to mean a landscape devoid of people.

-- The Ketchikan Daily News

March 28

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