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This Last Treasure of Wild Country

 June 4, 1977 — Hearings before the Subcommittee on General Oversight and Alaska Lands, Denver CO


I am Margaret E. Murie, a long-time resident of Alaska, now living in Wyoming. In 1970, I was in New Zealand — a return trip after 20 years. That beautiful little country, had, in 1970 one big conservation problem; the threat of the raising of a dam at their beautiful lake, Lake Marapouri. There was a mass meeting in Auckland, which we four Americans attended. Sir Edmond Hillary of Mount Everest fame was on the panel. He spoke briefly. He said: “They accuse us of being emotional about this. I wan tot ask what’s wrong with the little emotion?”

I am here before you today, gentlemen, as an emotional woman. I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska. During the latter years, with my biologist husband, I went back to Alaska many times, and in more recent years three more times, including 1975 and  1976. I have been in the Brooks Range 5 times; I am familiar with 11 of the areas proposed in the H.R. 39, a bill which I am here endorsing. I feel deeply about all of these areas, but am not going into detail about them. You have been, or will be, told a great deal about their physical characteristics. I am only trying here to tell you why I, an emotional woman, but a woman familiar with Alaska, think they should all I their innocence and beauty be cherished.

I don’t know whether the human race is going to survive very much longer; I sometimes wonder whether we deserve to. Who knows what is ahead in the long march of evolution? But saving the last remnants of wild untouched country seems to me to be the one wise, altruistic, beneficial, and practical action this Nation can take for its sanity. It is [a] tremendously important and providentual (sp) fact that, so far as all research to date shows, the areas which have been selected as the most important for wildlife, for scenery, for recreation, for undisturbed ecosystems in Alaska, are not known to have appreciable resources of oil or minerals. Therefore, when all the nonrenewable resources have been dug up, hauled away, piped away, to satisfy the needs of a certain span of users, Alaska can still have a renewable, sel[f]-perpetuating resource of inestimable value, value economical, value spiritual, value for the health of the people.

We cannot foretell the future, but we can give a nod toward it by putting this last treasure of wild country into an interest-bearing savings account. The interest will be to the continual revenue from travel. From allowing the other owners of these lands to come and see them and travel in them and leave them unspoiled.

The fact that Congress has stipulated that a part of  Alaska should remain the property of the people of the United States has been the hardest concept to convey to people. I have known Alaska all these years. During its earliest times, when the Federal Government was indeed being neglectful, Alaskans were clamoring, and were embittered, they grew to feel their country was being made separate and apart from the rest of the United States and then to reset any suggestions, any plans from the outside. I believe this feeling still exists to some degree — the rest of the United States doesn’t belong up there; we should all go home. While eager for Federal aid yet, Alaska has wanted no claim on her lands or her management from the outside — she still feels separate. She still has to learn that Alaska is also our home; that we can at last go there, if not to stay.

In the long view — all Alaska needs to do is be Alaska, That will be her economy. If managed with ordinary commonsense, it will be a stable economy. Long term, something even the Teamster’s Union can continue to benefit from. The oil will be found and it will go. Whatever minerals are left will go too. Timber will be depleted. What then is left for the future besides the fisheries? We plead that enough Alaska will be left, as H.R. 39 stipulates, to furnish a healthy economy and a happy life for her people and her visitors.

In the continental United States, we have managed to save 2 percent of our original glorious heritage of lands in their natural state in national pars; the same amount which is under asphalt and cement in our highway system.

In regard to this, Newton Drury, when he was Director of the National Park Service, said; “Surely the great United States of America is no so poor we cannot afford to have these places, not so rich that we can do without them.”

All I have said here could be called emotional, sentimental impractical, too idealistic. I am here to plead an impractical theory, for I firmly believe there are cases where idealism is in the long run the most practical course and I believe this is true of Alaska now. Thank you.



Source: Hearings before the Subcommittee on General Oversight and Alaska Lands of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, 95th Congress, First sess., (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office) 1977, pp. 25-26.