Steve Haycox

Jack Johnson was a larger than life figure, a true Alaskan character. Born in 1926, raised on Kodiak Island, he went to sea at the age of 13. At various times he served in the U.S. Merchant Marine, in the Scottish Guards, in the Russian Army, in the French Foreign Legion, and in the Israeli Army. He ended his career as a ship's pilot in southcentral Alaskan waters. Retiring at 80, he died earlier this year. In 1947 Johnson was in France and a bit at loose ends. He was recruited by Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization in British Palestine which at the time was outfitting ships to carry Jews from Europe, illegally, to settle in Palestine. In the Russian Army Johnson had helped liberate one of the death camps in 1945, an experience that seared his conscience. The ship he helped sail...Steve Haycox
Correction: Upon first publication, the following commentary stated that Riversdale Resources is partly owned by the mining company Rio Tinto, but that is incorrect. The text below has been corrected. Matanuska Valley residents have witnessed an environmental drama over coal development during the last several years that raises important questions about the direction of Alaska’s energy policy. Riversdale Alaska, a subsidiary of Riversdale Resources, an Australian company, has a 10-year lease on about 10,000 acres of Alaska Mental Health Trust lands around the Native village of Chickaloon, at the east end of the eight-mile long Wishbone Hill coal complex, east of Palmer. Riverside plans both underground and strip mining of the remaining deposit. At the same time, Usibelli Coal has leased...Steve Haycox
Cliven Bundy doesn't understand something about "federal overreach." And if he wasn't such a deadbeat scofflaw and unreconstructed social miscreant he might have started another Sagebrush Rebellion. The last one fully enveloped Alaska at a time when resentment of federal presence in Alaska ran as high as it ever has. Bundy is the fellow with the Nevada ranch who's been running cattle on Bureau of Land Management acreage for 20 years while refusing to pay his grazing fees; he claims the BLM has no authority because the federal government has no constitutional right to the land he is using. There are a host of ironies in his story, not the least of which is that if the federal government didn't own the land and the BLM didn't have any authority, all the land around him would be in private...Steve Haycox
Brock Evans is president of the Endangered Species Coalition, a national network of conservation, outdoor, community and other groups working to protect the nation's disappearing wildlife and wild places, and the Endangered Species Act itself. In the late 1960s he worked in Seattle for the Sierra Club, as the Northwest representative; his area of responsibility included Alaska. In the early 1970s he headed the Sierra Club's new Washington, D.C., office, lobbying Congress to block authorization of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, a fight environmentalists lost. Later he was a vice-president of the Audubon Society. He has recently published a new book titled, "Fight & Win: Brock Evans' Strategies for the New Eco-Warrior." The Alaska Coalition, first formed to pursue Congressional...Steve Haycox
2014 is a major anniversary year for Alaska. March 24 marks 25 years since the Exxon Valdez tanker oil spill in Prince William Sound; March 27 will be 50 years since the great Alaska earthquake. 2014 also marks the 40th anniversary of the start of construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. As is widely recognized, the pipeline and subsequent tax revenue generated by oil production profoundly transformed Alaska, economically, politically and even socially. Alaska had undergone previous transformations. As a result of immigrants flooding across Alaska subsequent to the Klondike gold rush at the turn of the 20th century, the non-Native population surged from around 5,000 to about 30,000, catching up with about the same number of Native inhabitants. Trapper/prospectors working mineral...Steve Haycox
It remains to be seen what the Alaska legislature will do this session with the Watana Dam project on the Susitna River. The 700-foot high structure, if ever built, is projected to supply 50 percent of the power needed along the Railbelt from Anchorage to Fairbanks. But three issues have taken the blush off the project for which the Legislature appropriated about $95 million last year and $66 million the year before. The Alaska budget is not as robust as it has been, and there are more immediate needs calling for priority; the gas profile in Cook Inlet looks better than it did a few years ago when the prospect of a gas shortage in Southcentral Alaska made any energy alternative look attractive; and Native land title in the area that the dam's reservoir would flood has yet to be resolved...Steve Haycox
A news item of particular import passed mostly unnoticed early this week: A statue of James Meredith on the University of Mississippi campus was found with a noose around its neck and a Confederate flag draped around its shoulders. Meredith is the courageous African-American who forced the Kennedy administration to enforce his civil rights when he sought admission to the University of Mississippi in 1962. Mississippi's Gov. Ross Barnett tried to prevent Meredith's enrollment but backed down under pressure from Kennedy. Meredith's action generated a riot at the university, to which the federal government responded with 500 U.S. marshals, a contingent of U.S. Army troops and nationalization of the Mississippi National Guard. Two people were killed and more than 200 injured. Rioters set fire...Steve Haycox
Global warming has been a hot topic this winter. The polar vortex of cold air poured into the central and eastern U.S., carried by a wandering jet stream, possibly a result of more exposed water and less sea ice having caused more rapid warming of the atmosphere over Alaska. The drought in California has led to serious water rationing, and at least one source has revived Wally Hickel's idea of transporting water from Alaska to that paradise. And in his State of the Union address, President Obama noted, "The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact." Taking advantage of the retreat of Arctic sea ice, in September, the M.S. Nordic Orion, a bulk carrier operated by a Danish firm, became the first large freighter to navigate the Northwest Passage, carrying coking coal from Vancouver, B.C...Steve Haycox
It's over half a century since Michael Harrington published his eye-opening analysis of poverty in the U.S., "The Other America." Yet the problem he identified so vividly and effectively is still very much with us: Poverty is growing. In his revelation, Harrington presented a gripping picture of American poverty: the workers who could not earn a living wage; the teens who had nothing constructive to do because their were no jobs for them; the homeless who through no fault of their own slept in their cars or on park benches; the mothers frazzled by their failure most months to make their meager grocery purchases get their families through to the next paycheck; the seniors living on dog food and forgoing their prescribed medicines. Complacent and quite pleased with themselves, most...Steve Haycox
A new book formally published this week has already attracted considerable critical attention nationally. Joel Greenberg's "A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction" (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014) tells the extraordinary story of the reduction of a natural species of wildlife from billions to nothing is just a few decades of the 19th century. Passenger pigeons, not to be confused with the chubby, waddly rock pigeons of today's urban parks, once flew around North America in aggregations whose size is impossible to picture. A larger, more slender bird than the rock pigeon, with a long tapering tail, they flew in hordes of billions, literally. When they passed over a region they often blotted out the sun, and might take three days to pass entirely. They fed...Steve Haycox