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Alaska should drain its gator swamps and plan for the future

Governing a state day-to-day is like being up to your rump in alligators -- which leaves little time or resources for draining the swamp. Nevertheless, it's only after the swamp is drained that the land can be converted to agriculture or used as a foundation for building. Indeed, the Alaska we enjoy today was built by thousands of men and women with the vision and energy to drain a lot of swamps, despite having to simultaneously battle swarms of gators -- i.e. predatory special interests concerned only with what they could take from Alaska, not what they could contribute. It's time that we Alaskans quit tolerating Outside gators or behaving like them, and got back to draining swamps.

First and foremost we need a strategic vision for Alaska's future, then a step-by-step plan of how to get there.

How can we generate enough income now (e.g., through royalties on oil, gas, minerals, timber, ecotourism, etc.) to finance the infrastructure and educate the workforce necessary for later steps? How can we provide enough jobs that our kids and grandkids don't have to emigrate in order to find employment in their chosen professions?

The issue is not whether we fish, hunt or view wildlife, nor whether we drill, mine or log, but where, when and how. Which resources do we exploit now, preferably on a sustained-yield basis, and which do we leave for the future?

For example, why risk the Bristol Bay fishery now in order to extract minerals that will still be there decades from now, when continued pollution of the oceans from other sources could make salmon and other seafood too toxic to eat?

Furthermore, how can we shift from being primarily a source of raw materials for outside industries to developing our own sustainable industries that produce high-demand finished products? Alaska is richer in resources than many nations with millions of residents, yet we barely derive enough benefits to support our tiny population. How can we keep expanding our benefits from Alaska's wealth without paying huge economic, medical, cultural and environmental costs?

How can we ensure that the people who pay the highest costs receive a fair share of the profits? How can we ensure that most of the profit and jobs go to Alaskans, not to Outsiders, so that our wealth supports as many of us as possible?

Achieving this kind of strategic planning and implementation will take a level of vision and statesmanship in Juneau that we haven't seen for a long time. It will take our best minds and our best efforts. What are we waiting for? Our history is legendary, our future unlimited. We are Alaska.

Stephen F. Stringham, Ph.D., is a wildlife ecologist, president of WildWatch and director of the Bear Viewing Association. He has been an Alaska resident since 1970 and has worked as an adjunct professor and an ecological consultant.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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