- Written by Michelle Theall
(Photo: Michael W. Rogers)
A community discussion on the values and benefits of wilderness took place on Tuesday, April 15 at the Loussac Library in Anchorage. The event, "Explore Wilderness: A Conversation on Alaska Wilderness Values," brought together artists, scientists, Alaska Native leaders, land managers and adventurers to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, historic legislation that changed the country and Alaska.
"In Gwich'in we don't have a word or corresponding concept to Wilderness," said Princess Daazhraii Johnson, Executive Director of Gwich'in Steering Committee. "Instead we can look at our traditional stories and teachings and that informs how we inhabit and take care of the land today. For instance, the word vitseezhuu is a cloud formation which means 'her stomach fat.' As people looking up at the sky we are in our Mother Earth's womb. If you think about it, what are the conditions that we must have for life to thrive in the womb? We should be considering these questions as we relate to the land and animals."
From eco-tourism to subsistence, Wilderness is good for Alaska. However, Alaska's Wilderness is unlike any other state's—and not just for its beauty and remoteness, but also for its management and uses. This event—and many more events to be held throughout the year—is designed to explore how Wilderness affects Alaskans.
"For me, wilderness is bedrock. Time in wilderness opens up new possibilities for where my writing can go," said Marybeth Holleman, author and Denali and Voices of the Wilderness writer-in-residence. "It's a reflection of the way one is in wilderness—there's an expansiveness that happens, and a kind of collaboration with the place. I think it's because wild places have a stronger presence or character, since they're not so mediated or diluted by the busyness of human civilization. Considering my own work, and that of Alaska art in general, it's clear to me that Alaska's wilderness areas elicit and nurture a distinctive and vibrant artistic force. Wilderness is, quite simply, vital to creativity."
The Wilderness Act of 1964 set up the National Wilderness Preservation System "to secure for American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness." The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) modified the Wilderness Act for Alaska to recognize and protect the ongoing traditional and customary subsistence use of Wilderness areas. This allows for continued subsistence hunting, fishing, berry picking, and other activities, including with the use of snow machines, motor boats, or other vehicles not allowed in Lower 48 Wilderness areas. Wilderness in Alaska does not restrict subsistence users.
"The Department of the Interior preserves 53 million acres of designated Wilderness in Alaska, and it benefits Alaskans in innumerable ways," said Adrienne Lindholm, Wilderness Coordinator with the National Park Service. "We hope Alaskans will join us in celebrating Wilderness as an important part of Alaska's future, and recognizing Wilderness as our gift to future generations."
2014 is a celebratory year for the Wilderness Act, and it is being celebrated through art, performances, and more. Across the state events are being held to highlight Alaska's wilderness and the values it brings to the state. Alaska is home to many artists that draw inspiration for their work from their surroundings, and that makes Alaska a very inspirational place.
This event was hosted by a coalition of groups working together on events to celebrate Wilderness in Alaska throughout the year. Known as "Alaska Wild 50," this group includes federal agencies, non-profits, Alaska Native organizations, local businesses, conservation groups, individual citizens, and more to host the events. For more information, please visit: www.facebook.com/AlaskaWild50.