1945-1980 The Old Alaska"' Vanishes"
Alaska's Past - Regional Perspectives
In this section you will learn about:
Postwar economy becomes international
Mining was slow to recover from the World War II shutdowns. The fishing industry was troubled, too. By the mid-1950s, forest products had outstripped fish as the most valuable resource in Southeast Alaska. The annual timber harvest doubled and then quadrupled. Pulp mills, so long proposed, became a reality. At Ward Cove near Ketchikan, the Ketchikan Pulp Company began constructing a $55 million mill in 1952. At that time it was the largest single industrial investment ever made in the territory. An extensive logging operation got underway at Hollis on Prince of Wales Island. Two years later, the first shipload of pulp was on its way to Argentina under the brand name Tongacell.
The Japanese, so recently the enemy, now became investment partners. They poured millions of dollars into lumber mills at Wrangell and Sitka. There were problems with meeting Japanese needs, however. They wanted to import round logs and not processed lumber. The primary manufacturing regulation prevented it. Under this rule, all Alaska timber which was exported had to be processed. This rule was designed to give more jobs to Alaskans and to encourage building pulp and lumber mills, but manufacturing costs were higher in Alaska. This meant lumber products were too high-priced to be competitive.
Some critics questioned whether the primary manufacture regulation gave Alaskans more jobs. The same people were still unemployed. The spectacular growth of the forest products industry did little to solve their economic problems.
Economic problems continue
Federal policies dating back to the 1930s supported the Alaska Natives' desire to reestablish some control over natural resources. Programs to put the policies into effect, however, were contradictory. For example, a loan program was approved after World War II to help Natives buy fishing boats and build canneries. A conflicting federal policy urged tighter credit. The government foreclosed on loans that could not be repaid when fishing runs were poor. The federal response was to increase funding for welfare programs.
Most Natives were no better off economically than they had been before World War II, but they made political gains. In 1949, the territorial senate elected Frank Peratrovich of Klawock as president. Natives held seven seats in the 1952 legislature. Natives, including several from Southeast Alaska, were also among the 55 delegates who met in Fairbanks in 1955 to begin work on a proposed state constitution.
Among the first actions of the new state legislature was to outlaw fish traps. This issue had split Southeast Alaska residents for decades. Abolishing fish traps was expected to help small operators. It would increase the number of fish that could be caught with mobile gear. But cannery operators would suffer from increased costs. They would have to pay more for fish caught from boats, and the number of salmon they would receive for processing would not be as dependable.
Tsimshian Indians of Annette Island near Ketchikan immediately disputed the trap ban. They had been awarded treaty rights to fish in traditional and accustomed" areas as they saw fit. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld their right to use a limited number of traps. The Annette Island traps yield was only a fraction of the total Alaska catch.
Neither the ban on fish traps nor the transfer of fisheries management to the new state ended the threat to the salmon runs. Prospects for fisheries continued to be dim.
Ferries link Southeast Alaska communities
The need for better transportation was one of the first problems that the new state legislators tackled. The U.S. Forest Service had built local roads in many parts of Southeast Alaska. Airports and seaplane facilities were developed or improved.The Alaska Marine Highway was the most welcome of all transportation improvements to Southeast Alaska residents. The marine highway system began operating in 1963. Three ferries, the Malaspina, the Taku and the Matanuska, provided regular service from Prince Rupert in Canada to Haines. They linked seven towns along the Southeast Alaska coastline with highways. Each ferry was capable of carrying 108 cars and 500 passengers.
Admiralty Island dispute begins
In 1968 the U.S. Forest Service awarded U.S. Plywood Champion Papers the biggest contract in Alaska forest history. The sale amounted to 8.75 billion board feet of timber. Most of the trees to be cut were on Admiralty Island. The island was also a nesting area for hundreds of bald eagles and home to great numbers of brown bears. The Sitka Conservation Society and the Sierra Club were concerned with the effect the timber sale might have on wildlife, salmon runs, and ecology. They filed suit to stop the sale.
Protecting bald eagles was a relatively new concern in Alaska. In 1917 the territorial legislature had established a bounty on eagles. The birds preyed on young foxes on Southeast Alaska fox farms and on spawning salmon. More than 128,000 eagles were killed for bounty before the federal government passed legislation to protect them in 1952. The proposal to log Admiralty Island was viewed as a further threat to the eagle's survival. Logging would mean the eagles had fewer places to nest.
Native claims conflict
Before the timber issue was settled the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed. The Tlingit and Haida Indians of Southeast Alaska became members of Sealaska Corporation.
Sealaska Corporation was composed of nine village and two urban corporations. Together, the corporations were entitled to 550,000 acres in Southeast Alaska. Three of the corporations claimed land on Admiralty Island.
One of the corporations was Kootznoowoo, that included the residents of Admiralty Island's only Native village, Angoon. The Angoon Tlingits managed to carry on a largely traditional lifestyle in their island isolation. They wanted the land in order to continue subsistence living. The two urban corporations, Goldbelt of Juneau and Shee Atika of Sitka, claimed portions of Admiralty Island for its timber. Areas of the island best-suited for logging also supported most of the wildlife and were the most accessible for recreation.
When Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in November of 1980 it designated Admiralty Island as a national monument, but excluded the Greens Creek mineral deposit from the wilderness. The bill gave Shee Atika Corporation 23, 000 acres in exchange for the same amount of Native-owned land in another part of the national forest. On most of the island, however, the Forest Service would now be charged with preserving timber instead of harvesting it.
U.S. Borax discovers molybdenum
In other parts of Southeast Alaska national interest land designations affected the future of mining. One of these areas was Misty Fjords near Ketchikan. In 1974, U.S. Borax discovered large deposits of molybdenum at Quartz Hill. In order to sample the ore to see if a molybdenum mine would be profitable, U.S. Borax asked for permission to build an 11-mile access road from tidewater to the mine site.
Environmentalist groups, fishers, and the Ketchikan Native Corporation all protested the proposal. They thought the road would disturb the area's beauty and affect the salmon runs. The secretary of agriculture refused the permit and suggested that samples could be transported by helicopter rather than by road. U.S. Borax filed suit, arguing that helicopter access was too expensive.
The 1980 legislation made Misty Fjords a national monument. But the 150,000 acres that U.S. Borax needed to build the access road and dock facilities were excluded. Special rules provided for supervision of the construction to make sure that the environment and fisheries were not harmed.
Land use disputes create new force in Southeast Alaska
As it did in other regions of Alaska, resolution of Alaska Native land claims with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act created major new forces in Southeast Alaska's economy which have undertaken active resource development projects. Sealaska Corporation acquired Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Inc., and some of the assets of the bankrupt New England Fish Company. The Tlingit and Haida Central Council used $1.1 million in federal employment assistance to train Natives in fish processing, hatcheries operation, and other industries. The new Sealaska Timber Corporation marketed its first shipment of Native-owned timber in September of 1980. The shipment was valued at $2 million. Village corporations were also beginning new economic ventures. Disputes over control of Southeast Alaska's land and other resources, however, will remain as much a part of the region's future as they have been a part of its past.
Many Nations Challenge Tlingit Claims