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A Panel Discussion on Glacier Bay

Summary by Julia O'Malley and Kim Heacox

The Glacier Bay Panel convened at 4:20 p.m. on July 28 for a discussion of the conservation and issues facing Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve.

Kim Heacox moderated, and began with a ten minute opening. Next to speak was Greg Streveler, founder of Icy Strait Environmental Services and co-chair of the Alaska Board of Game. "The money-changers left the temple but the temple hasn't yet been dedicated," Greg said, referring to the commercialism in Glacier Bay. He focused on the recent closure of commercial fishing in the Bay, and gave three objectives for Marine Waters after the closure:

1) Marine Plant Concept: Minimizes human contact and presents a "primitive environment"

2) Marine Laboratory: Allows for partial openings to allow for scientific study

3) Marine Reserve: Designs a closed area to benefit the fisheries

The next to speak was Johanna Dybdahl, tribal administrator for the Hoonah Indian Association. She explained that the Hoonah Tlingit have inhabited the area for 9,000 years, according to archaeological studies.

"The creation of the national park curtailed traditional food harvest in the area. We've always believed that we are good stewards of the land," she explained. "When you ask an elder about leaving Glacier Bay it would appear that it had happened yesterday, the pain is still so present… We want to protect this land forever and we also want to partake of the resources as we have in the past… My people travel here in small craft; this has been considered their breadbasket, their food locker. To deny them entry when huge cruise ships come in here every day, we say, 'this can't happen.' We need to be allowed to connect with our ancestral, spiritual homeland."

She added that the Hoonah Indian Association, which is not a corporation, does not support ANILCA Title 8 Subsistence in Glacier Bay, as it would open the Bay to intense rural use, for thousands of people to hunt and fish as they please. This would destroy much of the wilderness value in the Bay.

Bill Brown, a retired historian for the National Park Service and the author of several important books on the national parks, then painted a sobering picture of the loss of wildness in Alaska. He said that two-thirds of all the nation's protected and preserved lands are in Alaska.

"You might have thought that the Alaska Land's Act might have taken care of the preservation of the lands. Not so. The debate has only gotten more and more furious… Boom and bust defines the European period in Alaska… The result of the fear of the end of the oil boom is a resource politics that's run rampant… National lands become prey to that desperation… If ANWR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) goes, so too will other protected lands. If we can't draw the line with these places, where in God's name will we draw the line? These national interest lands should be baselines of knowledge -- places where nature is still working at it's basic rhythms… The question is: do we sustain the earth, or do we sack it?"

Jim Mackjovak, the author of Hope and Hard Work, A History of Gustavus, then addressed the Tongass timber issue, saying, "Trees weren't considered trees in the jargon of forestry, they were considered 'fiber,' and it didn't matter if eagles nested in them or deer relied on them… The best of the forest is gone. We are picking at the rind of a watermelon but the heart's gone… The future is to concentrate on making the most of what we have left, and doing it in a sustainable manner."

Hank Lentfer, president of Friends of Glacier Bay, spoke to the disappearing wilderness in Alaska, and the commercialization of everything, even the sacred.

"There is not a single cove or river in Southeast Alaska that has not been exploited commercially. There are no undiscovered places. I'm just going to burst that bubble right now… I am no fan of regulations. I have lived in Alaska my whole life and I find regulations pretty damn distasteful, but the only thing I find more distasteful is how badly we need them… Glacier Bay was listed in Consumer Reports as the number one national park. It is not the ranking I mind but the fact that it was listed in Consumer Reports -- that Glacier Bay is treated like a commodity."

The last to speak was Tomie Patrick Lee, Superintendent of Glacier Bay National Park. "Most people who come and spend any time in Glacier Bay will find that it gets inside you and touches a part of you that you didn't know was there," she began. She had been warned by colleagues (after accepting her new position in Glacier Bay but before arriving in Alaska) that people who live in the area would attempt to co-opt her and make her policies part of their personal agendas. But it didn't happen that way. It was the land itself that co-opted her, that persuaded her to stand up in defense of what little wildness remains. "Glacier Bay gives America the opportunity not to make the same mistakes it has made with parks in the past… What we're really here for is to protect Glacier Bay for your experience when you come to the park."

After that, the questions were eager and furious, dealing first with commercial fishing, then with the challenges facing Tomie Lee to make difficult decisions under the hot glare of Alaska's pro-development congressional delegation. Kim Heacox summarized the discussion by saying that national parks are paradoxical places that are best explored deeply yet also lightly; they are places to exercise freedom yet also restraint. They may someday be the only vast wild places left, where in a world of dotcoms, sitcoms, factoids and fashion, we can go and find out who we are, where we came from and what we stand for.


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