The word conservation has meant many things to many people over the years. This seems especially true in Alaska where whether you want to preserve a forest or harvest it for use, you call yourself a conservationist.
This was as true in 1925 as it is today as shown by the book "Alaska, its Past, Present, Future" by then-Territorial Gov. Scott C. Bone.
On page 24, Gov. Bone states his conservation credo:
I am a conservationist. I believe in conservation of all our national resources. I am all the more a conservationist after a close range view of Alaska. Conservation politics has been a blight to Alaska. Real conservation has been positively unknown from the date of the Seward purchase. Twenty million acres of reserved forests, virtually untouched and overgrown and in need of harvestration, do not bespeak conservation. Uncultivated agricultural lands, unsurveyed and unoccupied, the acreage beyond computation, do not spell conservation. To make two blades of grass grow where one grew before and to utilize our God-given resources for the benefit of mankind is the kind of conservation the country in general and Alaska in particular needs at this juncture.
Lest you think that Gov. Bone is simply stealing language, let's allow him to explain his view a little more after a paragraph on timber statistics I don't care to transcribe:
Hoarding is waste. For half a century Alaska has had this timber waste. Meanwhile, and with no outcry or protest, the fisheries of Alaska, save for the seal herds, have been exploited, unregulated and unconserved.
Notice he's not simply saying "come and get it!" While his use of the the term "conservation" isn't familiar to most people using it today, there is a sense of managing resources for the future, which I think could be viewed as a kind of conservation. Or at least reasonably viewed as stewardship.
At the end of this speech on on conservation, Gov. Bone makes some predictions worth sharing:
But a brighter and better day is dawning for Alaska. The turning point has come (early 1920s). Constructive conservation is at hand. The completion of the government railroad, the Alaska Railroad, now in successful operation, is already transforming Alaska and prospective oil discoveries will make for further transformation. Alaska coal is coming into general local use and the day is not far distant when it will find markets on the Pacific Coast.
As predictions go, this isn't so bad. The Alaska Railroad, having been transferred from federal to state owenership, continues to play a significant role in Alaska. There are many who dream, as I do, of connecting the Alaska Railroad to the Canadian rail system. This would not only have potential to lower the cost of living in Alaska, but would give Alaska products more outlets to the world. And possibly give us who live near the railroad cheaper travel to Canada and the Lower 48.
His remarks about "prospective oil discoveries" could rank as one of the understatements of the 20th Century. He was way, way off the mark about coal. But then most anyone talking about the future of coal in the early 20th century was bound to be off the mark. Alaska's coal not only didn't reach Pacific markets, it doesn't even have much use in Alaska. One coal mine that does seem to have some market for its coal is the Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, Alaska.
Personally, I view coal as a fuel that needs to be phased out. We will need to find some strong alternative fuels for China and India, large coal consumers, to change their ways.
Daniel Cornwall is a librarian, amateur photographer and hiking enthusiast who lives in Juneau. Find more about him, and lots about libraries, on his blog, http://alaskanlibrarian.wordpress.com, where this column first appeared.