VI. AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY, AND RESERVATIONS (Historic Information)
As on other points, there have been advanced optimistic and pessimistic views on the possibilities of successful agriculture in Alaska. On this subject various official reports and many verbal statements have been considered, which are supplemented by personal observations over a great variety and extent of country.
Agriculture as a whole is valuable in Alaska solely for the purpose of supplying the local market, and that in part only. There are a few successful farmers, all in well-chosen localities in the vicinity of towns of considerable size. On the outlying islands, such as Baranof (Sitka), and at Kenai, grain is a failure except when cut for hay. At Sitka, while potatoes do well for some years they fall off in size and quality, and other vegetables are only raised with care and in favorable seasons. At Kenai the cattle live exclusively on the native grasses, which are sweet and nutritious. Butter and cheese are there made, but the demand is not equal to the supply. Stock raising is practicable to a limited extent on the southwestern islands.
As one enters the valleys of southern Alaska, from Cook Inlet or Prince William Sound, the agricultural possibilities materially improve. Potatoes and other vegetables do well, but as a rule grains fail to ripen and are valuable for stock only. In the interior forage costs from twenty cents a pound upward, and is sold by the ton f. o. b. at prices ranging from six to twelve cents per pound, so that in some localities such crops pay largely.
As one goes north in Copper Valley conditions are more favorable for vegetables and native hay, and quite a number of good gardens or small farms are now cultivated, some as homesteads. The growing season, six months or more in the islands and in the inlets of southeastern Alaska, decreases to five months at Skagway, and is about four in the interior valleys. Although the period between killing frosts in the interior is considerably shorter than in the islands (Sitka, etc.), yet in the northern valleys there is not only much more sun, but there is also a much greater summer heat, due to the longer hours of sunlight, less cloudiness, and dryer atmosphere.
While the Seward Peninsula and the Arctic coast have no agricultural possibilities, yet considerable parts of the Yukon basin are suitable for gardening to a degree astonishing to the uninformed. The best-known instance of successful farming is that at the Holy Cross Mission, on the Yukon, in 62° N. Here cattle have been raised for ten years or more, and the products of the forty acres of land under cultivation excite surprise in every visitor. All through the valley of the lukon potatoes and other vegetables mature, when proper ground is chosen and skilled attention given.
Home Gardening at Fairbanks, Tanana Valley.
At Fort Gibbon, at the junction of the Yukon and the Tanana, and at Fort Egbert, on the international boundary near the Arctic Circle, the military garrisons have raised large quantities of vegetables, potatoes being especially successful. Even in the Koyukuk Valley similar conditions obtain, and at Coldfoot, within the Arctic Circle at 68° N., potatoes, cabbages, turnips, rhubarb, etc., are grown of large size and good flavor.
Truck gardening and hay farming are flourishing industries in the lower Tanana Valley, where it is claimed that 30,000 acres of land have been home-steaded. While grain will ripen only under favorable conditions, potatoes with other vegetables do very well, and the native and selected foreign grasses are productive of good crops. With baled hay at $80 to $100 per ton and imported potatoes costing from 6 to 8 cents per pound, the Alaskan gardener has a stimulus of certain profit.
That the productivity of Alaskan agriculture is important both in quantity and in value is clearly indicated by the diminution in the shipment of potatoes from the United States to Alaska, which dropped from 211,215 bushels in 1906 to 167,033 bushels in 1908. Meanwhile, the values of all vegetable shipments fell from $696,928 to $483,855, a decrease of more than thirty per cent. During the same period the quantity of imported hay fell from 10,405 tons to 9,165 tons, though the number of stock increased.
At Rampart, on the Yukon just south of the Arctic Circle, is located an experimental station under the United States Department of Agriculture. Grain has there ripened six consecutive years, four kinds of winter grains living and maturing, though the winter temperatures touched -70. Potatoes, cabbage, peas, etc., all thrive without much care.
As to berries, nearly the whole Territory produces numerous edible varieties, which for size, color, and flavor are unsurpassed.
Flowers of great variety and exquisite beauty seem to spring up everywhere in the short summer. John Burroughs writes: At the mountain's [St. Elias] base the columbine, rock-loving as at home, but larger and coarser flowered, was in bloom, and blue violets could be gathered by the handful. Back of the encampment [Yakutat Bay] were acres of lupines just bursting into flower. At Orca wild flowers yellow, white, pink, purple were everywhere. Such flowers as we gathered! The colors were all deep and intense."
The importance of conserving the forestal wealth of Alaska was promptly recognized, and the policy of establishing national forests has been adopted, (the Chugach forest, with its area of about 830 square miles, includes practically all the valuable timber in the Prince William Sound region and on Afognak Island. The larger national forest, Tongass, with an area exceeding 1,000 square miles, is situated in southeastern Alaska, where the cedars and other very valuable timber of the mainland and Alexander (or Sitkan) archipelago are brought under national control. It includes the mainland south of Unuk River, Chichagof, Kupreanof, Prince of Wales, and adjacent Islands. While timber from these forests cannot be exported from Alaska, yet the regulations permit local lumbering under liberal terms as to price and utilization.
Timber in the Chugach National Forest, near Cordova.
(Along Copper River Railroad.)
The ordinary tourist who visits the Sitkan archipelago gains an exaggerated idea of the value of the Alaskan forests, while the miner of the practically treeless Nome region is equally ill-informed as to Alaskan woodlands.
The treeless wastes are the Aleutian Islands, the south half of the Alaska Peninsula, the Yukon Delta, and the mouth of the Kuskokwim, the west half of Seward Peninsula, and the coasts for a hundred miles inland from Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean. Excepting the glaciers and high mountain summits the rest of Alaska may be called wooded.
The true forest with valuable timber is confined almost exclusively to southeastern Alaska, and to the immediate coast region from Yakutat Bay westward to Alaska Peninsula. As one travels north from Seattle the conditions change slowly in British Columbia, and along the Alaskan coast to Yakutat Bay. The forest consists very largely of hemlocks (coast and alpine) and spruce, with considerable elder, willows, and cottonwoods, some yellow cedar, a sprinkling of red cedar, and probably a few other straggling species. The scanty depth of soil often distorts the tree s growth, so that it makes inferior lumber, though spruces are occasionally found that are from five to six feet in diameter and upward of 150 feet in height. In the Prince William Sound region the other species gradually fail, the hemlock last, leaving the spruce dominant and almost alone from Cook Inlet to the westward.
A well-known writer, in a misleading and erroneous article, has lately said:
Alaska is the great timber reserve of the continent. Trees of such size and commercial value exist nowhere else in such numbers and extensive areas.
MAP NO. 1 DISTRIBUTION OF TIMBER IN THE TANANA-YUKON REGION
The sound and conservative view as to its economic importance is set forth by an authority, Professor Fernow, who writes:
That the value of this forest resource must increase with the development of the country needs allow of no doubt; as a field of exploitation under present economic conditions, however, it does not offer any inducements, unless it be that the spruce could be turned into paper pulp.
As a matter of practice it may be said that all lumber for permanent use, even in Alaskan coast regions, is imported from Puget Sound, local saw-mills being unable to compete, price and quality being considered.
The interior of Alaska is largely wooded, and though the spruce is the most numerous species there are large quantities of hemlock, birch, poplar, cotton-wood (or aspen), alder, and willow. The Tanana Valley has almost inexhaustible supplies of poplar, spruce, hemlock, and birch, and in the lower valley considerable tamarack. Thousands upon thousands of cords of wood are transported for steamboat fuel from the densely wooded shores of the Tanana to the barren Yukon delta. While there are enormous areas densely wooded in the Tanana Valley, yet the timber near the mining camps is rapidly disappearing. The interior limit of timber elevation is unusually high, some trees being found nearly five thousand feet above the sea.
The general distribution of the interior forests is along rivers and adjacent lowlands, as is indicated by the accompanying map of woodlands in the Yukon-Tanana region.
While there is considerable timber in the vicinity of Fort Gibbon, in the central Yukon Valley, yet the far greater part of the trees are of very moderate size. Several years since an army contractor had difficulty in obtaining within seventy-five miles of the post a not very large number of sizable logs.
In the lake region between Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay there are well-timbered areas with considerable large spruce, some said to be over three feet in diameter.
The eastern part of Seward Peninsula and the adjacent shores of Norton Sound are fairly covered with spruce. The Kobuk Valley is quite heavily timbered with birch and cotton-wood, and Stoney reports large spruces, one being sixty feet long with a butt diameter of sixteen inches. The Susitna is well timbered, principally with spruce. The Kanuti Valley also has considerable forest areas, as well as the Tozi and the Koyukuk, the latter especially in the lower reaches where there are many large trees. The Porcupine has a dense growth of birch, spruce, and cotton-wood. On the arctic slopes of Endicott Mountains and to the west of Colville River there is much timber, though of stunted growth and rapidly decreasing toward the ocean.
In short, there are few extended areas in the interior of Alaska where timber fails to amply meet the wants of the miner or settler.
Under Executive Orders there have been established many reservations for public purposes, of which the following are the most important. The War Department controls sites for military posts, for military telegraph stations, and as fuel reserves. Among these stations are Forts Davis, Egbert, Gibbon, Liscum, St. Michael, and William II. Seward, also about thirty telegraph offices, and a telegraph right of way between Valdez and Nome. The Navy Department has Kiska Island, and naval grounds at Sitka. The Light-House Board controls certain lands for occupancy for lighthouses and their keepers. The United States Bureau of Fisheries has a sea-otter reserve on Afognak Island, and the Bureau of Education a reindeer station on St. Lawrence Island. The Department of Agriculture in addition to experimental stations at Sitka, Fairbanks, Kodiak, and Rampart for developing the agricultural possibilities of Alaska, also controls certain reservations for the preservation of mammals and birds. The moose reserve is on Fire Island, Cook Inlet, and the bird reserves are at St. Lazaria Island, Sitka Harbor ; Bering Sea Hall and St. Matthew Islands; Tuxedni Chisick and Egg Islands, Cook Inlet; Bogoslof Bogoslof and Grewingk Islands; Pribilof Walrus and Otter Islands; and the Yukon Delta Nelson Island, and the tundra between the Yukon and Kuskokwim, west of 162° 20' W. The Department of Commerce and Labor controls the fur-seal reservation of the Pribilof Islands. Under the Act of March 3, 1891, Annette Island, was set aside for the Metlakatlas and other allied natives.