Reading the North

December 31, 2011 

The Sacred Headwaters: The Fight to Save the Stikine, Skeena, and Nass

By Wade Davis, principle photography by Carr Clifton (Greystone Books, $50)

The blurb: This collection of photographs captures a rugged knot of mountains in northern British Columbia that holds a valley known to the First Nations as the Sacred Headwaters. Proposed industrial development in the area has sparked controversy, and author Wade Davis describes the region and the responses from Native groups regarding those proposals.

Excerpt: "In the summer of 1879, John Muir went prospecting for glaciers, a journey that led him a thousand miles up the coast of British Columbia to Alaska and the mouth of the Stikine River. He disembarked at Wrangell, gateway to the interior, but was not impressed. Gold had been found on the lower reaches of the Stikine in 1861, and a later, richer strike farther inland in the Cassiar had brought a rush of dreamers and drifters, thousands of miners whose presence stunned the native Tlingit and transformed Wrangell into a 'lawless draggle of wooden huts.'

"Once upon the river, however, moving by paddle wheeler steadily through the islands of the delta, where eagles gathered by the thousands to feast on salmon runs so rich they colored the sea, his mood shifted to delight."

Mark of the Grizzly

By Scott McMillion (Lyons Press, $16.95)

The blurb: Interviewing survivors and investigators, Scott McMillion relates the accounts of dozens of grizzly bear attacks, from Yellowstone National Park to Alaska. In the 13 years since the book was first published, this latest edition includes new stories and updated studies of how we understand bears.

Excerpt: "It's amazing, when you think about the numbers, that bear attacks aren't more common. Drive around the Kenai, and you find overflowing dumpsters and sandwich shops set up in travel trailers, with barrels of fetid refuse out back. People clean fish in the crowded campgrounds. They feed bears. They leave pet food outside. They make dirty camps.

"In places like Yellowstone or Glacier National Park, where grizzlies are almost always at least a little hungry, these things would be bear magnets, drawing hungry bruins from many miles. But in the Kenai the bears are fat and life is easy. The grizzlies here -- referred to as browns when they live this close to the occean -- get huge, up to a thousand pounds, fattening up on the abundant berries and the incredible runs of salmon. Alaska and bears were made for each other."

Alaska: A History

By Clause-M. Naske and Herman E. Slotnick (University of Oklahoma Press, $29.95)

The blurb: This textbook provides a chronological survey of Alaska's history, including the Russian period, the quest for statehood, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the effect of the oil industry and state politics through the early 2000s.

Excerpt: "Prudhoe Bay is the world's twelfth-largest oil field and the largest discovered in North America, with recoverable reserves of approximately 13.7 billion barrels of crude oil and condensate and 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. In comparison, only two other fields discovered in the United States -- the East Texas and the Wilmington -- initially contained recoverable reserves in excess of 2 billion barrels of oil. Except for these two, more oil had been removed from the Prudhoe Bay field during its first 4.5 years of production than from any other North American field. At the end of 1985 more than 4 billion barrels of oil had been pumped from the Alaska North Slope (ANS). By early 1968 approximately six thousand tankers had berthed at the pipline terminal at Valdez."

-- Compiled by Matt Sullivan, Anchorage Daily News

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