Keeping the Alaska way of life in the Chugach

Voices of Alaska

Posted: Friday, August 05, 2005

July 23 marked the 98th birthday of the Chugach National Forest, which was created in 1907 by President Teddy Roosevelt for the conservation of fish and wildlife resources. Today, the forest isn’t known only for its bounty of fish and wildlife — including brown and black bears, eagles, moose, wolves, mountain goats, whales, sea otters and our priceless Alaska salmon — but also for the unique lifestyle it affords residents and visitors of this region.

Close to 100 years ago, President Roosevelt recognized the value in safeguarding natural resources within Prince William Sound, the Copper River Delta, and the Kenai Peninsula for the American people. Today, those of us who know the Chugach know that the quality of life here is unparalleled to most places in the world, making it something to be extremely proud of.

The Chugach is not just a forest; it is our home, our playground and it represents what we would hope to leave for future generations to enjoy.

Residents and visitors would likely tell you that they “love the Chugach” because they get to do and see things here that are not found in any other place in the Lower 48. Seeing a brown bear sow with cubs, landing a 30-inch rainbow trout, or hiking to the top of mountain to ski fresh powder are moments to be cherished in the Chugach. A unique experience exists for everyone who gets the opportunity to discover the communities and backcountry areas of the Chugach National Forest’s 5.5 million acres.

Close to 1 million acres of the Kenai Peninsula are part of the Chugach, and are home to stunning glacial fjords, rugged mountains, blue-green lakes, and the internationally recognized Kenai River. The combination of the Kenai’s well-known and well-loved wild character and its proximity to Anchorage make balanced management of this area a compelling priority.

Prince William Sound, still recovering from the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, remains as one of the most visually spectacular areas of the state. The sound, cloaked by rainforest surrounding fjords where glaciers plunge to the sea, supports recreation, tourism and commercial fishing.

Just east of Prince William Sound, The Copper River Delta’s 700,000 acres of fresh and saltwater wetlands make it the largest contiguous wetland on the Pacific coast of North America. Surrounded on three sides by the Chugach and Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains and fed by the mighty Copper River, the delta is the biological heart of a landscape of massive glaciers, tundra and rainforest. Each spring, 16 million shorebirds and waterfowl descend upon the delta wetlands to rest and feed, and also it sustains one of the most prized wild salmon runs in the world — the Copper River Reds.

As beneficiaries of the wild forest, we need to expect balanced management of our public land and water resources to ensure that our lifestyle remains as it is today. A long term plan for this region should include responsible development coupled with conservation of our unique resources which would then foster sustainable econ-omies and preserve our quality of life. Protecting this wild place should remain a priority for all of us who call it home — or call it a vacation — because the cultural, economical, and ecological integrity of Southcentral Alaska depends on it.

On Saturday, Aug. 6 at the Festival of the Forest held in Cooper Landing, over 150 participating agencies, local businesses, artists, sportsmen’s groups, environmental organizations and local native tribes will join together in celebration.

Bobbie Jo Skibo is the Wild Forest Program Coordinator at the Alaska Center for the Environment.

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