Author to visit UAS today with new book on Yukon

Book follows writer's 10-day solo trip along river in 2001

Posted: Friday, July 21, 2006

Alaska author Dan O'Neill - a historian, former Fairbanks Daily News-Miner columnist and 31-year resident of the state - will visit the University of Southeast Alaska Egan Library at 7 p.m. today for a presentation on his latest book, "Land Gone Lonesome: In Search of Blood and Thunder along the Yukon River."

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The book follows O'Neill's 10-day solo trip in 2001 along the Yukon River between Dawson, Yukon, and Circle City. It also flashes back to similar trips O'Neill took along the river in 1991 and the 1970s. Eighty percent of the story comes from people who have lived along the river and seen it change.

"It's a lament for the disappearance of the river people who lived a subsistence lifestyle, largely due to park service policies and law," O'Neill said.

The writer was inspired partly by author John McPhee's Yukon writings from the 1970s and 1980s.

National Park Service policies began to change in 1980, when the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act placed most of the land along a 120-mile swath of the Yukon under federal protection.

"Now, within 2 and a half million acres of preserve, which is bigger than a couple of small states, there's not one single person permitted to live in a cabin," O'Neill said.

Thursday, O'Neill lectured to students in the UAS Research Experience for Undergraduates program as part of a seminar on scientific ethics.

His 1994 book, "The Firecracker Boys," tells the story of the University of Alaska Fairbanks' 1950s contract from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to conduct studies in advance of a massive thermonuclear test planned for Point Hope. Several of the UAF biologists concluded the project would irreparably harm human and environmental health. The commission, and later the UAF president, attempted to quash the findings. Two of the most outspoken faculty members were eventually fired.

The Alaska Historical Society named O'Neill the Alaska Historian of the Year when the book was published. UAS has used the book in its curriculum.

"In Alaska, we still face and will forever face more issues that pit natural resource development against environmental protection," O'Neill said. "This was a good lesson for us to take and play on in the future."

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