A Letter From The Arctic

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The letter excerpted below seems an eloquent way to introduce the article on the following pages by Walter Sullivan, science editor of the New York Times. The writer of the letter, Samuel Wnght, is a professor of social ecology who resigned his post to live with his wife m an isolated l2-by-l2foot log cabin in Alaska’s Brooks Range, north of the Arctic Circle. There they are writing and filming the story of “this last great wilderness.” “A Letter from the Arctic,” relayed by bush pilot, first appeared in The Living Wilderness, the quarterly publication of The Wilderness Society. It is with the society’s and Mr. Wright’s kind permission that we present it here.

As I write this, a great caravan of heavily laden trucks is growling over a new winter road which yesterday reached the Eskimo village in Anaktuvuk Pass at the central top of the range. Yesterday wrote the end of Anaktuvuk Pass as it was, a small village of inland Eskimos still dependent upon migrating herds of caribou. It may have writren the beginning of the end of the great caribou herds, majestic mountain sheep, and the wolf. It was certainly the end of thousands of years of solitude, as the great diesel trucks thundered up the John River valley on their way to the North Slope and the great oil strike near Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean.

For many millenniums this great range of mountains north of the Yukon in Alaska not only sheltered caribou herds and bands of mountain sheep but provided breeding grounds for myriad birds. Athabascan Indians and inland Eskimos shared this great wilderness, living out their lives as an integral part of a balanced ecology. To the Indian and caribou-hunting Eskimo, this was more than home. It was ten thousand years of Eden, where the bear and wolf gave their pelts, and the fish flashing in lakes and streams after break-up were fat and abundant.

This is the way it was in what is now called the Brooks Range, that great escarpment which stretches over five hundred miles from Canada to the western coast north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Because of its inaccessibility and because the winters are long and cold, this last great wilderness on the American continent is still relatively pristine, a resource from which man can yet gain sustenance for his spirit, know his roots, and perhaps save his soul. …

Who speaks for wilderness? Nearly everyone says it is a value we must not lose and expresses regret at what seems to be the inevitable ambition of civilization to bring every niche on earth under domestication. But when a choice for wilderness or domestication is to be made, progress, money, exploitation, if not encouraged, are condoned. With the North Slope oil strike already producing millionaires, and an estimate of enough reserves to make the United States virtually independent of foreign sources, few question that the fields will be brought into full production. But need we destroy a wilderness in the process? …