IT’S a farther cry than Lochaber, in most places, from frost to farms, but not so in Alaska; for here, as we already know, agriculture is in part dependent upon frost for its success. In the Tanana Valley the sub-irrigation formed by melting frost coming up through the turned and opened soil is one factor making our splendid crops possible.
But my experience has been that, while Outsiders will believe any statement we Insiders make on the subject of frost, they are very skeptical about our farms. When we say ” farms ” in the same breath with ” Alaska,” they snort at us and merely think we’re joking. On no phase of Alaska’s many re-sources is it so difficult to get a serious hearing as on the, really basic subject of agricultureexcept with those relatively few people who possess both intelligence and open minds.
What, then, are the facts and how deep is “bed-rock” truth in this foundation matter of agriculture, upon which a permanent population must eventually be built?
Alaska has the largest glaciers on American soil, but she has also the longest summer days. In some sections of Alaska that day is three months long and very warm indeed. At Matanuska there were 126 ” growing” days in 1921. Any farmer knows what this means, and any farmer in the States knows too that an extension of actual sunshine to 22 continuous hours per diem would increase his crops; and he also knows how much a summer of relative briefness may be compensated by intense sunlight. Only two per cent. of Alaska’s land area is covered with the perpetual ice and snow of high mountains and glaciers, while, on the other hand, in the great valleys of the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Tanana of the Interior, and the Susitna, Matanuska and White River valleys of the south, there are wide areas of already proved agricultural possibilities which could support an ever-growing population. Some of Alaska’s valleys are covered i0 to 20 feet deep with a black chocolaty loam from old river deposits, and I have looked on plains of wild red-top grasses 40 miles long and extending as far as the eye could see. On the South Coast humidity combines with extra sunlight and fertile soil to create ideal growing conditions for certain garden crops and dairying produce, while in the Interior almost continuous summer sunshine plus the sub-irrigation of frost waters living under us, make wheat and rye and other similar crops a known and tested success. As Jack Underwood says, ” Spoiled child of Nature, Alaska has been endowed with about everything that could be desired by way of climate.” Professor Georgeson of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, who did pioneering work in Alaska for many years, declares that ” there is no possibility of the failure of the country in agriculture.”
In farming land Alaska is so far superior to New England that there is simply no comparison. Official Department of Agriculture experiments demonstrate that 100,000 square miles of Alaskan terrain are capable of being turned to various agricultural uses and can produce all the hardy vegetables, forage plants, grains, garden truck and berries needed for a heavy population. The possible farming area of Alaska is equal to that of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, combined. There is more agricultural land in Alaska than in all the Scandinavian Peninsula, which supports to-day a farming population of more than 3,000,000; and this acreage is exclusive of the wide reindeer grazing lands extending north of the Yukon to the Arctic. Altogether, government agronomists estimate 32,-000,000 acres of arable land that can be cleared and cultivated, and a similar area suitable for grazing certain types of live stock. A large portion of Alaska lies in the same latitude as Norway, Sweden and Finland, has a better climate, a more fertile soil (as all my many Scandinavian friends in the North vehemently assure me) and taken as a whole is larger than all three, as well as Denmark and Icelandwhich for a thousand years has supported its population on a less highly mineralized, less arable soil.
It is my belief that Scandinavian colonists will make of Alaska in the future a great productive state such as Peder the Victorious and his kin, those ” Giants in the Earth,” have already made of great sections of our nearer Northwest. Those who ex-press surprise at farming as a possible major industry in the far North, forget that sections of northern Europe have been agricultural for centuries. The myth of ” Alaska, the land of icebergs and polar bears, Eskimos and ice-worms,” is in a fair way to get a death blow when Seward’s Ice-Box is really opened up and people see what goodies lie inside. Serious settlers may one day do for Alaska the work the Mormons did for Utah. The wheat yield at Fairbanks is sometimes at the rate of 33 bushels to the acre; and strawberries ” half the size of golf balls,” as one tourist described them, are grown along the line of the Alaska Railroad. The Spaniards started north from Mexico to find the fabled golden cities of Cibola, and found instead the cattle and wheat empires that stretch from Texas to the Dakotasthough they didn’t have vision enough to realize it. Begotten and flowered upon paradox, even so Alaska may one day well be famous chiefly for its exceptional potatoes and strawberries, for we are learning that one acre of land in certain parts of Alaska will raise more vegetables than four acres in certain portions of the States, and do it in half the time. Metals and fur and fish are natural frontier products; they were the things sought first in New England, too. But as we live here longer and spy out the land further, we begin to read what is written in plain script upon the hills and valleys:
” Is this an empty land which you have reached? The North is not stretched out over an empty space nor is the Earth hung upon nothing. You see my cattle grazing on a thousand hills. You see their pastures on the plains. They feed and they are filled here. Beasts of the field are not afraid, for the pastures of the wilderness do spring. Why, then, should any child of man do less? These are not barren grounds but fertile prairies. Dig, and do eat.”
The plentiful moose, mountain sheep and caribou of Alaska are all pasture animals, and surely they are Nature’s pictographic way of telling us that this is truly pasture land. Maternal Earth broods here, as ever. Stefansson says, ” Where land animals are plentiful, one needs no further proof of vegetation! ”
A pioneer farmer of the Northland writes:
Yes, I have a farm in. Alaska and, what is more to the point, I like it. It is located on the east side of Glacier Bay at Strawberry Point, just where the ground begins to rise toward the mountains. I have never been as well satisfied any place I have lived, as I am here; I don’t have the dust storms characteristic of the country in eastern Oregon; I do not have to dig a hundred feet for water to drink, and I do not need to build an irrigation ditch to get water to make things grow. I raise barley, oats, rutabagas, potatoes, etc., and they grow well. Meat is running wild about the shores and I do not even have to feed it.
Birds? Yes, lots of themducks, geese, snipe, ptarmigan, grouseplenty of them; and if I want a deer, all I have to do is to go over to Pleasant Island, about two miles south, and get one and have venison for my table. I don’t kill many. If I get as many birds in two months as is allowed to a city sport, who kills his limit in a day, I can have a bird twice a week.
Berries? Well, I should say! The woods are full of them. That is why the point that sticks out in the bay is called Strawberry Point. Just walk over it in the last of July and the air is full of the scent of the berries. ‘We eat until our appetites are satisfied, put up for winter use all we want, and leave the rest to rot on the ground. Strawberries, salmon berries, huckleberries, currants, nagoon berries grow in any quantity. We feed nearly all our produce to the stock. We keep horses, cattle, pigs, and chickens and they do well. We catch enough fur-bearing animals to pay our grocery bill with the skins, so make a living and that is all most people do in the city.
These men were only beginners, just as men once began to settle on the bunch-grass sections of the West and grew to be giants in the earth there,prairies that ox teams crept across on the long road to Willamette,land long considered fit only for horned toads and rattlesnakes. That was the time the cry was raised, ” Go West!” Today it’s changing; and tomorrow, when men realize the frontier still extends and is untaken, and that a hundred and sixty acres of Uncle Sam’s farm land is theirs for the taking, almost anywhere in Alaska, another covered-wagon saga will begin. But before this is possible our old men must dream dreams and our young men must see visions. There is no haste, Alaska knows long patience. But they are coming.
We have our forests and our mines, of which Denmark has practically none to-day. But take a globe and trace your finger round it east from Sitka, and you’ll find Denmark lying at the same latitude. Denmark is composed of a peninsula with islands, fifteen thousand square miles, once forested and moss-grown with tundra until cleared now for pasture land. Today Denmark, one-fortieth the size of our Alaska, supports her two and a half millions of people and more cattle to the acre than any other country in the world. Danish butter is shipped to New York City at a profit, and Iceland markets quantities of butter in England; for a ton of butter will pay for distant shipment, and the best dairy products in the world come from regions similar in climate to southern Alaska.
” But these Alaska beginnings are just first steps, general outlines, visions,” I hear you say. ” What has been actually done to make the dream come true? What actually can be raised there, and how do you know it can? Be definite, be factual. Colonists aren’t fed on theories, but on crops.”
While it is true that some of the earliest Russian colonists were purposefully recruited from agricultural districts, with a sane view toward securing the type of settler that would be most successful in the new possessions over seas, when they arrived in Russian America the pressure from home upon the governors was so great, in the matter of securing furs, that these first families of two hundred souls were widely scattered, were driven to get out a big fur yield and not a yield of crops. ” The two ideas did not mix well, for agriculture is an all-year occupation and the Russians were primarily concerned in trade. Much of the agricultural work of the early settlements such as Kodiak (as much of the pioneer work by Catholic Missions, such as Holy Cross) was done by natives, under the instruction of the clergy. But the natives were by nature fisher-men, hunters and trappers, and the Creoles were mostly agents for the company.”
Russian masters were either directing sea-otter hunts, building ships at Resurrection Bay, or stealing down the coast to poach on Spain’s possessions, though Khlebnikof in 1838 stated that about a thousand bushels of potatoes were then raised in Sitka, and ” there is hardly a cleared spot that is not used for kitchen gardens.” In 1790 Three Saints Bay had gardens growing potatoes and cabbage, in 1818 the Siberian cattle brought to Kodiak numbered five hundred, and there were ten cows in Sitka, hay being cut by natives and brought in by canoe. But all through the Russian days there were no individual settlers as such, but only employeespractically indentured servantsof the fur company; and at no time was an able-bodied man whose wish and care might be to get out and develop a few paternal acres, to call his own and hand down to his children, ever allowed to do so.
Nor was there, from Alaska’s purchase in 1867 down to 1898, any attempt made by the United States to reward in any way the initiative of those who might see undeveloped agricultural possibilities here. In place of too much government, as under the Russians, there was now no government at all. But something happened in 1898-not in Alaska but just across the border in ” Y. T.” Hungry swarms of men poured over White Pass and Chilkoot and down the Yukon, packing all their grub with them; for no one had ever told thembecause no one knew that anything vegetable would grow here. Then one day a discouraged miner in Dawson, opening a package which he thought contained beans, found he had been sent assorted garden seeds by mistake! To him, at the moment, hungry and scurvy-worn and blue, it seemed the cruellest stroke Fate could have foisted on him. With a curse he strode to the open door, cast the rattling, dry and useless things in handfuls out upon the spring mud of the south hill-slope, rushed off to town, struck a pal for a grub stake, and ” beat it ” for the creeks.
A month later he returned, the story goes, and found a miracle! The little melting trickles of water from the hill, the slippages of spring mud, had buried those discarded seeds. The long-stretched early summer days of drawing sun had warmed and quickened them and, by no will of man, they had become food for the hungry; for his hillside was now a mass of vivid shooting green, a strangely Dolly Varden patterned garden of helter-skelter, but actual and edible. He sold his first ” sass ” to his scurvy-ridden mates for a fat poke of precious ” dust ” ; but he had made a strike and a discovery that was to outlast Klondike gold itself.
That is why, when disappointed Klondikers hiked over into Fairbanks after Pedro’s find here, they brought the thought of growing things tucked into pockets of their minds. That is why, when Alaska’s gold-camps began to ” pay big ” and a determined group of American citizens began to settle here, Uncle Sam himself began to plant some window-boxes in his own high attic.
In March of 1903 an act was passed providing for the entry of agricultural lands in Alaska. Thirty years ago the first agricultural experiment station was established at Sitka, and since then four others have been started in various sections of the big land favorable to varied farming undertakingsKodiak, Rampart, Matanuska and Fairbanks. These stations have done pioneer work, each specializing in some different phase of agriculture; have literally cleared ground and now have gathered a set of facts, a library of literature, and have perfected a technique of possibility and limitations. What they have done is to suggest those lines of farming which can be undertaken with known success, until the farmer stands securely on his own feet and can then afford to experiment for himself. Mistakes are fewer, results more sure, because of this system. Some Federal help was necessary, for prospectors are not by nature farmers. They tell a story in one section of Alaska of an old-timer who admired his neighbor’s garden truck extravagantly, and ” borrowed ” frequently, especially the fresh green peas.
” Why don’t you plant some for yourself? ” he was asked. ” Why, I did, but nothing grew,” he answered. Further questions elicited the fact that it was canned peas he had planted!
I have told you that my own very first sight on reaching Fairbanks, when I first came in by boat, was the sloping grain fields of the Government Farm. But I can never tell you what that sight really meant to me, in wonder and security, in sense of home and permanent settlement and well-being. A wheat field is the white man’s bread, a surer meat than moose upon the hills. And it was then that text from Joel jumped into my mind (you see, I am a parsonage-bred person) and ever since then it has stuck with me: ” Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field; for the pastures of the wilderness do spring.”
The Tanana Valley section of a thousand square miles has proved exceptionally favorable to grain growing and the cultivation of hardy vegetables, particularly potatoes. (The Rampart Station was found to be duplicating much of the Fairbanks work, under similar conditions, and so was discontinued, the cleared fields being used now as a landing place for planes.) Here, under the very Arctic Circle, our Farmers’ Association have built a flouring mill and both grow and grind native wheat. Indeed, it looks as though an empire of wheat is going to be developed here, to supplement the golden empire of the past, the copper empire and the silver horde of fishes of the Coast, the fur and reindeer empires of both Alaska’s past and future. The soil here has been found to have the same qualities which make the wheat of Manitoba famous. Once Manitoba was considered ridiculously far north for consideration as an agricultural province, but now we know bet-ter; for-it is a recognized principle that the farther north wheat grows and matures, the better quality is the resulting crop. Farmers are forever pushing their work-stained shoulders against that ever-retreating “wheat line,” rolling it back further north. No one now dares to prophesy the north-most limits of wheat growing, for this grain has great powers of adaptation. It almost seems as though it has no limits, given intelligent breeding of the right acclimated strains.
On the mild south coast at Sitka topographic and climatic conditions are not favorable to wheat growing; but at Matanuska oats, barley, wheat and rye are grown, and at Fairbanks ruby wheat seeded May 20, heads June 28, blooms July 5, and matures August 5. In one recent year the average yield of wheat in Alabama was 10.5 bushels per acre, in Iowa 19.2; but an average of the yield of wheat in the Tanana Valley was 25 bushels per acre, over a five-year period. Barley matures by July 30 and yields as high as 32 bushels, a strain of Canadian oats seeded May 27 was ripe August 4., and yielded 35 bushels per acre, while Wisconsin Pedigree No. 7 produced 40. Peas drilled May 18 bloom June 20, and mature 40 days later, yielding 10 to 16 bushels. “All varieties of yellow-flowered alfalfa seeded in June came through the winter well,” says one report; ” and vetch seeded five years ago has produced a fine crop this year, with plants over three feet high.”
Why shouldn’t the wilderness pastures grow? There are ten thousand acres of wild rye in Alaska then why not cultivated crops? Dr. Smith of the Department of Agriculture says, “The soil seems as productive as the best soils of Minnesota and Wisconsin.” Oats grow at Unalaska. A number of hybrid barleys now mature early in Alaska, and some, having no beards, can be used for hay and feed for farm animals without being threshed. Win-ter rye and wheat can be successfully grown in the Interior wherever the snowfall is deep enough t9 protect from the low winter temperatures. Rye has proved hardier than oats. A very sturdy and prolific strain of spring wheat has been developed, and more than forty tons were ground at the local flour mill last year.
The Tanana Valley Agriculture Association is a lively cooperative enterprise born in 1917, and composed of farmers living near Fairbanks. It is the selling and distributing agent for local farmers, and all farm products are pooled by it, production is regulated, and profits distributed pro rata. The Association owns its own warehouse and warm storage plant and operates the flour millan out-standing cooperative success. As ” W. F.” says, ” It has grown greater with the years that have passed into history, until it is the biggest thing in this camp to-day.” M. D. Snodgrass (an early member of this Association, once connected with our Fairbanks Agricultural Station, a former member of the Alaska Legislature, himself a ” dirt farmer ” and in touch with agricultural work at Kodiak and Matanuska) is now in charge of colonization projects for the Alaska Railroad, and I can think of no man more intimately informed upon this phase of Alaska’s life. The Association holds an agricultural fair each September in Fairbanks, gives a big banquet each winter when local products alone are served,and people nearly commit felonies to secure tickets to it!and puts on an annual picnic some time in the summer. ” There is no man, woman, or child in the Fairbanks district,” says “W. F.,” “who does not know the baking and eating qualities of our home-grown and home-milled graham, white and whole-wheat flour.”
Sugar beets grown here are found to contain the highest known percentage of sugar. The cultivation of all the hardier vegetables has been thoroughly demonstrated throughout most of Alaska. Radishes, turnips, kale and lettuce can be grown nearly any-where. Carrots, parsnips, parsley, peas, cress, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, onions, spinach, beets, potatoes, and rhubarb may be matured not only along the Coast but also in the Interior of Alaska on garden sites that are sheltered and sun exposed. Potato growing has developed into a real industry, especially near Fairbanks, and potatoes as well as cabbage, peas and turnips have been raised successfully even as far up as Coldfoot on the Koyukuk, 68 degrees north.
In Fairbanks local celery is earlier on the market than in Boston. The white Jerusalem artichoke is grown at Sitka with success, and all hardy vegetables flourish luxuriantly in that climate,from turnips at 15 tons per acre t0 rhubarb which grows exceptionally well there,and all these are also grown in Fairbanks. In fact, I can think of no major garden product, other than corn, which I have not seen growing in some Alaska garden; I have seen corn grown and matured here, but in local hothouses, as are tomatoes, cucumbers and a score of other tender plants. Indeed, because of the quick uninterrupted shooting up to which the long suns force these gar-dens, plants grow especially crisp and tender, and root vegetables are without woody fibre.
I once heard a child born in Fairbanks say, upon returning from a trip Outside: ” I didn’t like those Outside vegetables. They haven’t any taste.” You can see that Alaska’s future is safely assured when her little childrenwho are proverbially truthfulbegin thus early to boost the home product!
The Sitka Experiment Station has specialized in horticulture, and has made a great success of the hybridization of strawberries, crossing cultivated varieties with the hardy and sweet native wild straw-berries and producing a result that’s sturdy and yields large berries of excellent quality, retaining the fine flavor of the wild but taking on the size and color of the best cultivated products. These hybrids now grow lustily in almost any section of Alaska. Raspberries and strawberries grow plentifully and well at Fairbanks. An official report states;
In 1903 a test orchard of apples and other fruits was planted at Sitka, and in 1911 the fruit of five varieties matured. The difficulty with apple growing has been not the winter cold but the fact that the summer temperature (on the Coast) was not sufficient to ripen the fruit, and the temperature in the autumn was such as not to cause the wood thoroughly to ripen before freezing. In the Interior of the Territory the summers are warm enough, but the winters appear to be too severe for the trees to survive without protection.
Peaches, pears, plums, and cherries are grown at Sitka, although no one ever believed this possible; and there is a new gravel walk laid out there, between a strip of sward leading through apple or-chard and flower beds, which if you’ll once walk down it, will convert you to the possibilities of the North more quickly than a library of books! Ketchikan, Sitka, Juneau and Haines have all demonstrated their ability to produce apples. In Juneau the Sisters at St. Anne’s Hospital make a fine amber jelly of their apple crop, made possible through the care of Father Rocatti. Berry and vegetable canning is developing as an industry at Anchorage and other points on the South Coast. In 1928 fine jelly made of Matanuska currants was given away at the Tanana Valley Fair, and Alaska’s berries are famous among those who know them. Jonas Lie, in his “Second Sight,” remarked: “The learned say that the intensities of color and fragrance in the far North are due to the power of light which fills the air when the sun shines without interruption day and night. Therefore one cannot pick so aromatic strawberries and raspberries or so fragrant birch boughs in any other clime. If a fairy idyl has any home, it is certainly in the deep fjord valleys of Nordland in the summer.”
I am no gardener, but even I can raise anything here I’ve tried to ! The Sitka Experiment Station has found the Japanese sweet crimson rosa rugosa an especial favorite. Annuals grow luxuriantly at Sitka, baby-blue-eyes being the first to blossom and balsam the last, while in between come candy-tuft, clarkia, chrysanthemum, cockscomb, centaurea, lobelia, larkspur, mignonette, nasturtium, phlox, pansy, Santa Barbara poppy, Shirley poppy, scarlet sage, scabiosa, snapdragon, stocks, sweet peas, verbena and zinniaalmost an alphabet of posies!while perennials by the score bloom profusely throughout the summer and nearly all bulbous plants so far introduced have been successful, including crocus, thirty-seven varieties of ” glads,” narcissus, English and Japanese iris, and tulips.
The first-coming Russians early recognized the possibilities of Alaska for stock-breeding purposes and imported cattle from Siberia, and when the United States purchased Alaska, cattle raising was still in progress at the principal Russian settlements. Indeed, some remnants of the original Russian stock were still in evidence when the first agricultural experiment station was established in 1898. But the animals were small and slim, with a narrow head and thin upright horns. They were dark brown or red in color, and poor both in milk yield and in beef production. Obviously, since Alaska imports more than a million dollars’ worth of dairy products annually and over half a million dollars’ worth of beef, Uncle Sam thought he would try his hand at raising cattle locallyreal cattle, and not the type of the scrawny Russian herd remnants.
But first he began to inquire about forage, and he found that, excluding the heavily forested region of Southeastern Alaska, the remainder of the Territory was largely a forage-producing area, that certain favored valley sections were eminently suitable for farming, and that, given a stock adapted to the climate, there were unlimited possibilities. He saw grass in abundance, and where there’s grass in summer there’s grass in winterand what is winter grass but uncut hay? Perhaps he could find some animal rugged enough to withstand the cold of winter, warm-coated, a good ” rustler,” and one that was not pampered and stall-fed but had hoofs for pawing through light snowand wasn’t afraid to use them! He found one such animal in the reindeer, suited to sub-arctic prairies, ” barren lands,” the Bering coastal plain, and ” the slope of the lonely water-shed that borders the Polar brim.” But he hunted further, and made some very interesting experiments. Indeed, he made an animal, to order, to fit the country.
In 1917 cross-breeding on the coast was begun between Galloways and Holstein-Friesians, to create sturdy, general-utility cattle that would be suitable for southern Alaska, and in this cross we have a hardy animal that is capable of giving all this part of the country desirable herds. The Matanuska Valley is now essentially a dairying locality. But the really fascinating experiment has been at Fair-banks; for here we have crossed Asiatic yak with Galloway cattle and have produced a curiously-fringed bovine that can be used for meat, milk or domestic service. Cattle and yak are commonly crossed in Asia, where it has long been the domestic bovine of Tibet and adjoining India, China, Mongolia and Siberia. The yak can endure extreme altitude and extreme temperature in either its wild or domestic state, and is not fussy about forage. It stands on short stout legs and has a very heavy long coat of hair that drops down like black chenille. The hybrids produced from this cross are sturdy, stocky animals though of an odd appearance, and are perfectly adapted to the native pastures of both sub and supra-arctic circles.
A herd of fifteen bison from South Dakota were brought into Alaska two years ago and were liberated on the range of the Delta district on the upper Tanana. The entire herd, including a calf born this year, are now grazing near Jarvis Creek, are in good condition, and evidently quite at home here. Domestic sheep are also kept in many sections, and when Senator Warren (who was called ” the greatest shepherd since Abraham “) visited us in Fairbanks and we took him out to see something of our valley, I was interested to hear him exclaim: ” What a land for sheep! It reminds me of Wyoming, when I first went there as a young man.” Recently a twenty-year lease has been granted on Sitkalidak Island, which is to be stocked immediately with a thousand head of sheep. Sheep do well at Kodiak, and the Cordova Daily Times said in 1923, when a thousand sheep were shipped to Unalaska:
Sheep raising in Alaska!
Can you beat it?
Even the thought of such a thing a few years ago, before gas wagons succeeded malemutes and horses, and when dance halls and yellow gold were in flower, would have caused old sourdoughs to have pinched themselves to see if they were strictly sober! Regarding the grazing landsacres and acres and miles and miles of themthere never has been any doubt, for in early days sheep were driven in over the trail and allowed to fatten on the luscious grasses of the Tanana before being slaughtered for winter consumption. The main trouble was to keep malemutes from destroying the bands!
The wool from these flocks brings a high price in the western market, and in the fall of 1929 the first shipload of mutton was exported from the islands. Sheep are raised today at Matanuska, too, and ” the flock when turned at large is afforded protection from the weather by standing timber, and seeks the open sheds only on stormy or extremely cold nights ” -the January mean temperature of Matanuska being higher than that of Bismark or Duluth. Shearing is done early in May, and one ram fleece recently weighed fifteen pounds while the average weight of the famous Lincolnshire fleeces is but twelve. In other sections hog raising has been profitable. Stoney of Salmon Creek is a hog-rancher, and Stoney says, ” When I started in the business every one told me it was impossible to raise hogs in Alaska, but I don’t pay much attention to pessimists.” Stoney sold nineteen hogs to local markets last year at slightly over $67 per head and, as Stroller says, ” You know hogs! They’re among the best sellers. A hog will run an Alaska prospector a close second when it comes to living off the country, and he grows like a head of cabbage or a rutabaga. In March he is a small bundle of short bristles, but in October or November he is ready for the market.”
It’s hard for me to leave the farm and go a-foresting, but a word must be said of this other great natural resource of the Great Countryfor much of Uncle Sam’s attic is truly built of logs, though except in the south the timber is not large. Trees are heavy drinkers and do not thrive well in frozen ground. Much of Interior Alaska is timbered, especially along the streams, but the trees here cannot send down tap roots into the frozen gravels and so they spread out a mat of fine roots instead, which, with the overburden of moss, support them. But high winds or burning off the moss topples them over. Interior Alaska timber will not likely furnish export outside the Territory, but is needed here for home consumption, on the Yukon and Kuskokwim basins. Of the estimated 150,000,000 acres of Interior forests, probably only half bears timber of sufficient size to make it valuable for cordwood, saw logs, boat building, mine timbers and farm use. There is a forest along the entire line of the Alaska Railroad, except over Broad Pass itself. These Interior forests are all in the public domain, and, although their present commercial value may be small, yet in any consideration of a forest policy for the nation these extensive woods of Uncle Sam should not be overlookedfor Alaska may well be a state, one day, and then she’ll want her own trees. These interior forests have already played an important part in the pioneer development of the country. Uncle Sam owns forests here that extend up beyond the Circle, on the Chandalar and Porcupine. The inland forests are comparable to those of Maine and eastern Canada as to species, though inferior as to qualitywhite spruce, white birch, balsam, poplar, black cottonwood, aspen, black spruce, and tamarack or larchwhite spruce and white birch being most common. Timberline in the Yukon Basin is roughly 2,500 feet above sea level, and tree growth is slow.
The best Alaskan timber is comprised in the twenty million acres of Tongass and Chugach National Forests and the two million acres of similar character lying in between. These national forests are about to become important factors in a new industry, for they include seventy-seven billion feet of timber suitable for lumber and pulp. Southeastern Alaska is surely going to break into newsprint, soon! It is estimated that this territory can produce a million and a half cords of pulp wood or a million tons of newsprint each year, and do it, too, by holding the annual cutting down to an amount which will be annually replaced by normal tree growth. If developed carefully under Forest Service supervision, the annual cut strictly held down to annual growth, these two national forests can supply a wood-pulp industry indefinitely.
The two principal tree species in the south are western hemlock and Sitka spruce, usually found growing together, also with scattered stands of western red cedar and Alaska or yellow cedar. Sitka spruce is far and away the finest tree of Alaska. It reaches a great size10 feet in diameter and 250 feet in heightand its clean-limbed columnar trunk, extending up through a dense surrounding of dwarfed hemlock, stands like a hero’s shaft. Its wood is good for many things, from boxes for canned salmon to airplanes and newspaper. Hemlock is fine for the piling used in fish-trap and dock construction, and it, too, is a paper-making wood. Western red cedar is a shingle wood. Alaska yellow cedar, ” the slowest-growing tree of North America,” is excellent for boats, telephone poles and furniture, and there is a growing demand for it in Japan where it is valued for its insect-resisting qualities. The wood has a peculiar odor, shows remarkable resistance to decay, and the Indians like it best for paddles. Alaska birch, too, is an excel-lent furniture wood, and pieces we ourselves have made of it for our Fairbanks home not only fit well with old pieces of mahogany but are often taken for mahogany! Its drying and cutting qualities are good, and it is a little softer and a little closer grained than is the eastern paper-birch.
All the ties and piling used on the Alaska Rail-road are native timber, largely from Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet—spruce and hemlock cut from the right-of-way, suitable for piling and ties, also being used. Most Alaska towns are built of Alaska logs and lumber, and before we opened up our coal seams our fires were from Alaska’s forests. The builder of Alaska’s new capitol at Juneau, a Nome sour-dough now a Chicago contractor, is said to be planning the use of Alaska lumber, wherever possible in its construction, as well as Alaska marble, cement made from Alaska limestone, and Alaska labor.
Forests tie in with water power, and the first unit of the paper mills about to be erected on Gastineau will be powered, it is reported, from a lake hitherto unknown but discovered accidentally near Taku Inlet by this summer’s Naval Alaska Aerial Survey. This hidden lake lay tucked away in the hills, its natural storage reservoir of power unguessed until picked out by the navy’s cameras. Its discovery will, it is estimated, save hundreds of thousands of dollars in shorter transmission lines, for it lies only three miles from tide-water and within twenty miles of Juneau. Even Alaska’s trees and white coal stand indebted to her trackless air ways, unlimited.
The streams of Alaska have always been important factors in her youthful growth. Like New England, she has a fall-line near the coast, with power avail-able in many places. The success of the placer workings in northern and central Alaska has depended primarily on the water available for sluicing, hydraulicking and dredging, and water power has long been used by mines, canneries, sawmills and other industries in Southeastern Alaska. The future of mining and lumbering plants, of fisheries and wood-pulp manufacture, as well as of electro-chemical products, hinges upon that’ falling water.
Mention the wealth of Alaska and it is likely that the average person will think instinctively of gold. Yet in the years to come it’s very probable that other natural resources of the landwheat, cattle, fruits, timber and water powerwill bring more wealth and certainly more permanent population than fa-bled gold mines ever did. Gold is a fleeting harvest; once taken, it is gone and unrenewable. But these are harvests of perpetual pastures, upspringing in our mis-called ” wilderness.”