Our Last Great Wilderness

America’s greed for oil has drastically upset the ecological balance of Alaska’s North Slope, and the end is not in sight

On August 16, 1826, after long weeks of frustrating and perilous travel along the north coast of Alaska, the British explorer Sir John Franklin decided to abandon his bold ambition—completing the exploration of the North American coastline. The cluster of gravel banks where a conspiracy of storm, fog, drifting ice, and approaching winter forced him to turn back—still shown on maps as the Return Islands— lay off an indentation that he named Prudhoe Bay.

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