Both sides love Alaska

Posted: Thursday, December 05, 2002

On Tuesday, KTOO TV presented a Sierra Club-funded film on Wilderness Society founder and John Denver fan Mardy Murie. Afterward, all I could think was: what an incredible display of unbelievable, in-your-face arrogance.

"Arctic Dance" explains how Mardy and her government-funded biologist husband spent a lot of time walking across Alaska in the 1940s and '50s. Through their exploration of Alaska as wildlife researchers, the Muries came to believe the only acceptable future for Alaska was to have it closed to almost all development.

In one particularly amazing scene, Mardy crisscrosses Alaska in a small plane, single-handedly deciding what lands should be included in ANILCA and forever barred to development. Murie took this vision of Alaska to Washington, D.C., where she became a key figure in drawing up the wilderness maps incorporated into ANILCA.

"Arctic Dance" makes it very clear who environmental organizations see as friends and enemies of Alaska. Murie is Alaska's defender. Congressman Don Young, as shown in a film clip, leads Alaska's enemies. Was it Don Young or Mardy Murie who was elected in a vote of the people to represent Alaska's interests?

Mardie then set to work to keep ANWR closed, and is shown being awarded and praised by Jimmy Carter and the Clintons. Regardless of her views, Mardy Murie is deserving of respect as a pioneer Alaskan. She had a vision for Alaska's future and relentlessly and successfully pursued it.

But Murie's view of Alaska as a place where most people are unwelcome interlopers is not the only vision with moral standing. Others who are also moral people see our state as a place with room for responsible development, where good-paying jobs allow Alaskans the financial resources needed to access some of this wilderness and see it for themselves.

During the recent political campaign, environmental activists objected to being termed "enemies of Alaska." In "Arctic Dance," Congressman Young, and others who objected to locking up Alaska in wilderness are pretty openly cast as "enemies of Alaska."

The way I see it, both sides of this debate love Alaska. But the film makes it clear that environmental activists certainly see those who seek to responsibly develop Alaska's natural resources as their enemies.

It's accurate, I think, to see Murie and her followers as enemies of an Alaska with an economy that can provide family-wage jobs and development opportunities for a vibrant, growing population.

Richard F. Schmitz


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