John Muir, circa 1902. The great naturalist’s trips up the Inside Passage of Alaska in 1879 and 1880 inspired popular interest in glaciers. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.
“Tombstone to Extinct Species” (1913) is an illustration by William T. Hornaday from his revolutionary book Our Vanishing Wild Life. Hornaday helped launch the modern endangered species movement.LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.
Former president Theodore Roosevelt examining gopher tortoises in Gulf Florida. As the Bull Moose Party’s candidate for president in 1912, he vigorously campaigned to protect American wildlife. HARVARD UNIVERSITY.
Theodore Roosevelt’s snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus), shot on Long Island during the 1870s, is part of the permanent collection at the American Museum of Natural History.AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY.
Gifford Pinchot, director of the U.S. Forest Ser vice from 1905 to 1910, helped protect the Tongass and Chugach national forests in Alaska. COURTESY OF THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.
Colonel A. J. “Sandy” Macnab (right) and Frederick K. Vreeland (left) aboard the SS Admiral Watson en route to Anchorage in July 1921. Together they explored the Lake Clark region of southwestern Alaska.COURTESY OF LAKE CLARK NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE.
Charles Sheldon in front of his cabin at Toklat River, just across from the mouth of what is today Sheldon River (named in his honor). The upper Toklat River is located in today’s Mount McKinley National Park. KARSTENS LIBRARY.
Margaret “Mardy” Murie, often called the “grandmother of the conservation movement,” with her husband, Olaus Murie, the “ father of modern elk management,” upon their return from their Arctic honeymoon in January 1925. The Muries led the grassroots effort to protect Arctic Alaska in the 1950s. U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE.
Robert Marshall, cofounder of The Wilderness Society, with Native people from the Brooks Range of Alaska. His memoir Arctic Village (1933) brought national attention to the Alaskan frontier. He is considered the founder of Gates of the Arctic National Park. UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON.
Lois Crisler’s memoir Arctic Wild (1956) became White Wilderness (1958), a popular documentary by Walt Disney Productions. Crisler led the campaign to protect Alaskan wolves from aerial hunting, bait-trap poisoning, and government extermination.UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON.
The photographer Ansel Adams on a ferry ride up the Inside Passage of Alaska in 1947. His ethereal photographs of such sites as Mount McKinley, the Tongass, and Glacier Bay attracted ecologically minded tourists to wild Alaska throughout the cold war era. MICHAEL ADAMS PRIVATE COLLECTION.
Ansel Adams’s flawless Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake (July 1947). This photograph has come to define the surreal beauty of the Denali wilderness.ANSEL ADAMS COLLECTION.
The artist, illustrator, and author Rockwell Kent, circa 1920. His outdoors manifesto Wilderness (1920) is considered the Alaskan equivalent of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. THE ROCKWELL KENT ESTATE.
Aldo Leopold, beloved author of A Sand County Almanac (1949), dedicated his life to protecting American forests, prairies, and open spaces. As cofounder of The Wilderness Society, Leopold promoted roadless land tracts.THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY.
William O. Douglas, a Supreme Court justice from 1939 to 1975, was a fierce advocate for saving the Brooks Range of Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. His memoir My Wilderness, published in 1960, promoted the value of preserving the Alaskan tundra.YAKIMA VALLEY MUSEUM.
Virginia “Ginny” Hill Wood, bush pilot, at age eighty-five, holding up a picture of herself as a young woman in the WASPs. Wood was a cofounder of the Alaska Conservation Society and helped save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1960. VIRGINIA HILL WOOD PRIVATE COLLECTION.
Gary Snyder (left) and Allen Ginsberg (right) hiking together in the Sierras. As part of the beat generation, they promoted ecology in the 1950s and beyond. Snyder eventually wrote a cycle of poems about Alaska. COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY.
The Atomic Energy Commission’s Project Chariot wanted to create an oil port in the Chukchi Sea by detonating five thermonuclear devices. Environmentalists such as William O. Douglas and Virginia Wood successfully derailed the plan. THE ALASKA CONSERVATION SOCIETY.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower (left) and Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton (right) created the Arctic NWR on December 6, 1960. Seaton is among the most underrated secretaries of the interior in U.S. history. DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY.
The Tongass National Forest was established in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt. At close to 17 million acres—about the size of the state of West Virginia—the Tongass is the largest forest in the U.S. Forest Ser vice system. Approximately 70,000 people live in several dozen communities throughout the region, with commercial fishing and tourism driving the economy. After five decades of industrial-scale clear-cut logging in the Tongass since World War II, the U.S. Forest Ser vice is transitioning out of harvesting old-growth forest for timber. U.S. FOREST SERVICE. MAP DESIGN: ANI RUCKI.
Coastal temperate rain forests are rare, covering just one-thousandth of the Earth’s land surface. © AMY GULICK.
The Tongass National Forest contains nearly one-third of the world’s remaining old-growth coastal temperate rain forest, and the largest reserves of old-growth forest left in the United States. © AMY GULICK.
One of the world’s densest populations of black bears (Ursus americanus) lives on Kuiu Island in the Tongass, with three to five bears per square mile. © AMY GULICK.
About 40 percent of the Tongass National Forest is not forested, and consists of glacier ice fields, alpine tundra, wetlands, and water. © AMY GULICK.
Every spring, humpback whales migrate to southeast Alaska, where food is abundant. They come primarily from their calving and breeding waters in Hawaii, some 2,800 miles away. © AMY GULICK.
With more than 4,500 spawning streams, the Tongass National Forest supports all five species of Pacific salmon—chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink. © AMY GULICK.
More than fifty species feed on salmon, including bald eagles, bears, wolves, sea lions, orcas, ravens, and people. The abundance of salmon in the Tongass supports some of the world’s highest densities of bald eagles, brown bears, and black bears. © AMY GULICK.
Owing to the bounty of both the forest and the sea, the Native peoples of the Tongass region developed one of the most complex indigenous hunting-and-gathering societies in North America. Today, 10,000 Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian live in southeast Alaska. © AMY GULICK.
More than 5,000 islands of the Alexander Archipelago make up much of the Tongass National Forest, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the marine and terrestrial ecosystems. © AMY GULICK.
Unfortunately, the moose had largely been shot out of the vast region. The wildlife deficit didn’t prevent Vreeland and Macnab from enjoying the sight of lordly Redoubt Mountain in the distance. But their overriding opinion that summer, as they investigated the region with naturalists’ eyes, was that the CFCA had to start campaigning on Capitol Hill to protect the lowland forests of spruce and balsam from the timber industry. Around the gravel bars, where the bears ate, there were scattered clusters of cottonwood. Much of their hiking was on damp moss—sphagnum, mainly. The mountain country was ideal for hiking. Most peaks were about 3,000 feet high; some were broken by tributary canyons. Macnab’s diary was vague about color, unusual for that of an outdoorsman. “From this region,” Vreeland wrote, “can be seen to the northeast a dense tangle of rugged mountains of the Alaska Range, as far as the eye can reach.”
The Vreeland report to the Biological Survey was gloomy about the depletion of game around Lake Clark. Vreeland had never seen such abuse of land in his life. Salmon were being overfished by the Bristol Bay canneries at tidewater. The Natives at Iliamna and Lake Clark—Yupik and Dena’ina Athabascans—had always depended on subsistence fishing to survive. However, their catch was a very small fraction of what the commercial canneries were hauling in at tidewater. “The native name means ‘salmon go up,’ ” Vreeland wrote to the Survey. “The salmon in this region have been depleted to a very alarming extent by many canneries on Bristol Bay, and unless prompt action is taken their early extinction is threatened. The Fisheries Bureau has adopted the policy which I feel is very unfortunately endeavoring to exterminate the trout in the lakes because of their habit of eating salmon spawn. . . . It is a great pity to destroy wantonly these splendid fish, especially as their destruction can have only at best a slight mitigating effect on the terrible depletion of the salmon by the canneries.”
While Vreeland was sounding like Cassandra in 1921, writing a long, painstaking memorandum that would start Lake Clark on the long road to designation as a national park (it would take until December 2, 1980), Macnab, who loathed café society, was having a fine time hunting and canoeing. His field diaries revealed none of Vreeland’s anxiety about endangered species. Often, Macnab—whom the humorist Will Rogers called “the greatest fellow you ever saw”—wrote arch critiques of Alaskans encountered on the way to Lake Clark–Lake Iliamna. “Visited the village and called on the U.S. Commissioner named Phillips,” Macnab wrote on August 5. “He is a Holy Roller—holier than thou S.O.B., a human fish.”47 Macnab’s diaries are full of military terminology such as “we make a reconnaissance on foot” and “we hang our clothes on a tree and lean our other impedimenta against it.”48 He grumbles about salmon drying on racks at Iliamna Lake and about constantly having to cope with rain, rain, rain. Yet Macnab clearly loved the primitive country, putting memories of the Great War behind him, writing straightforwardly about hunting, a genre in which the first rule was to be direct about death. A typical entry read: “Killed a ptarmigan from door cabin.”49 Macnab—who in 1938 would go to East Africa for the American Museum of Natural History and write the book The White Giraffe—marveled at the salmon-rich waters of the Bristol Bay region (Iliamna Lake and Lake Clark were the two largest salmon producers in the bay system). As an outdoorsman extraordinaire, Macnab was flabbergasted that five—five—main rivers drained into Bristol Bay, thereby making it the world’s richest salmon fishery. Nowhere else could boast of having five species of Pacific salmon, or of offering the financial returns of the Bristol Bay canneries.
Reading Vreeland’s fact-filled field reports from Lake Clark and Macnab’s diaries in close succession is somewhat jarring. Their literary styles are diametrically opposite. Vreeland, like Muir before him, wrote with something of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s narrative verve. Macnab, by contrast, wrote in a clipped, Hemingwayesque style. It would seem that these two men didn’t belong on the same trail together. But that was the genius of the CFCA in the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. What brought these two high-profile, successful men together was the great Alaskan outdoors. There was no reason for either Vreeland or Macnab to gloss over the grim reality of the time: the big country was being bought, sold, subdivided, carved, and developed. If the CFCA acted fast, this stretch of Alaska could be forever wild. Vreeland wanted Lake Clark saved for photographers, hikers, and bird-watchers—a people’s wilderness in the Chigmit Mountains far away from the crunch of New York City. Colonel Macnab—a fervent gun lover who would serve on the board of the National Rifle Association (NRA) between 1925 and 1935—firmly believed that hunting and fishing turned men into soldiers. A day in the Lake Clark–Lake Iliamna region was far better basic training, he believed, than all the push-ups demanded by a drill sergeant at Camp Benning, Georgia.
The friendship formed between Vreeland and Macnab at Lake Clark became a model for how the conservation movement could stay politically potent in the age of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. Without a charismatic Roosevelt—neither Theodore nor Franklin—as a leader in prioritizing wildlife protection (particularly the saving of habitats), the “hook and bullet” recreational types (like Macnab) and the wilderness preservationists (like Vreeland) intuited that public policy would be enacted by Congress as law only when these factions collaborated in harmony. Each faction on its own, for example, was politically too weak to wage a sustained sixty-year campaign to permanently preserve the 4 million acres of the Lake Clark region. They were, after all, going against the “Big Three”: commercial fishing, mining conglomerates, and oil exploration. (There was no commercial logging in the Bristol Bay region in the 1920s.) If the hunters and anglers, however, could learn to tolerate the Vreelands, and if, in turn, the preservationists could accept the robust hunters like Macnab, then pristine landscapes and big-game species in Alaska could be saved.