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   Chapter 6 POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT

The Land of Tomorrow By William B. Stephenson Characters: 10233

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


UNTIL recent years one administration after another completely ignored the real worth of Alaska. It was organized as a "non-contiguous territory" in 1886. Not until seventeen years later was it supplied with a form of government of any kind, and even then the laws of Oregon were extended to it. In 1899, however, gold was discovered in the sand on the beach at Nome! The attention of Congress was promptly directed to this "non-contiguous territory" and the next year (1900) actual civil government was granted. In 1906 the first representative was sent to Congress. In 1912 a territorial assembly, with limited powers, was authorized.

To say that Alaska has suffered and been hindered in her development by this legislative apathy on the part of Congress would be putting it mildly. First of all, one of the greatest needs of any new country was wholly lacking. The absence of any kind of a criminal code was a bit appalling. It is a matter of record that once the settlers, in dire need, were forced to seek the protection of the English navy! There was also a lack of proper legal, medical and educational facilities, and as Alaska's importance increased she became a helpless victim of political conditions some of the results of which were serious. One of these results was an unnecessary Forest Service. Another was the belated opening of the coal fields. A third was a long period of very meagre transportation facilities.

The discussion of all these important matters by government officials was lengthy and profound. But, as usual, wherever and whenever new policies are projected there is always the pessimist who stubbornly blockades progress. Alaska was no exception. So advance in her affairs was negligible.

One hears much, especially in these restless days, of the red tape which results from the lack of co?rdination in our government. But, with the possible exception of the Secretary of the Interior, only one who has dwelt in Alaska can appreciate to what lengths it extends. In an article published not long ago in the Outlook, Mr. Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, expressed himself forcibly upon this subject as it concerned Alaska, making use of the following illustration:

"A citizen who wished to lease an Alaskan island for fox farming carried on a correspondence with three different departments of the Federal Government for several months in an effort to find out which had jurisdiction and authority to make the lease. It was finally decided that none of them did!"

Further investigation brought forth the following astonishing facts: The control of Alaskan lands is in one department, the control of forests in another. The control of roads is in a third, of fisheries in a fourth, of railroads in a fifth! The black bear is entrusted to one department and the brown bear to another! Cables and telegraphs comes under another department, reindeer and the native races under still another. Entry for homestead or mineral land, if it lie outside the national forest, is made through one department, if within the national forest through another. Timber in the national forest is sold at auction under the Department of Agriculture. Timber outside the national forest is sold (under wholly different rules and regulations) under the Department of the Interior. One may export the pulp made from timber in the public lands, but the timber itself may not be exported.

A child could readily understand how all this, or much of it, might be avoided by the creation of governmental offices in Alaska with sufficient officers to get over the large territory which must be covered. As a further illustration of what all this red tape means to those desiring to live in the north I cite a case (also referred to by Secretary Lane) which came to my personal knowledge. On October ninth, 1906, Mrs. Mary A. Dabney, of Seattle, filed a claim, recording the location on this day. The survey was made September twenty-fourth, 1908. It was approved by the Surveyor General January twenty-first, 1909. Application for patent was made March twenty-fourth, 1909. There was no protest against the validity of Mrs. Dabney's claim, and no conflicting claims. But the mineral entry was not patented until October seventeenth, 1913-seven years after the claim was filed! Had there been an officer on the ground, with power to act, with authority to investigate and prepare the case for the General Land Office all this long wait would have been avoided.

This lack of co?rdination affects almost every phase of Alaskan life and industry. Certain islands are set apart as bird reserves under protection (?) of the Biological Survey which sends a keeper in summer to guard one or two of the islands! At other times they are unprotected. Game animals are supposedly under the protection of wardens hired by and under the direction of the Governor of Alaska. These wardens enforce the rules of the Department of Agriculture and are paid out of the appropriation of the Department of the Interior! Fur-bearing animals are under the protection of wardens appointed by the Secretary of

Commerce and working under the regulations of the Department of the Interior. The Department of Agriculture has sole authority over the animals which are shipped as specimens for scientific and propagating purposes, except reindeer, which are controlled by the Department of the Interior.

Not long ago it was discovered by the Bureau of Education that the walruses were being slaughtered by the wholesale. As this is a menace to the food supply of both the natives and their dogs the Bureau at once reported it to Washington. The report was turned over to the Department of Agriculture and this Department promptly decided that the killing was illegal. When it came to putting into motion the machinery to stop it, however, the usual thing occurred. There was no machinery available to prevent it.

The prize story along this line, however, is the evidence in the case of the black bear versus the brown bear. Some years ago a law was passed making the brown bear a game animal. The law was intended to protect the Kodiak bear, the "great brown bear" as it is called. So the brown bear passed under the control of the Department of Agriculture. The black bear, recognized as a fur-bearing animal, remained under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce. And then the fun began! Scarcely a litter of black bear cubs but contains one or more brown ones! To which Department of our National Government shall the little brown brothers and sisters be awarded? One protests against the separation of families in this manner! The question we are asking ourselves and which yet remains to be solved is: Is a brown bear of Alaska the brown bear?

The Forest Service as it was inaugurated also proved a detriment. Rules and regulations which worked well in the States could not be intelligently applied to Alaska. As an illustration,-there was a territorial law in force at the time the Service took charge which forbade the shipment of timber into the United States. Under the new Service, timber might be exported provided stumpage were paid to cover the Service's expenses. In case of the reserve forest on the Alexander Archipelago, however, an exception was made. This forest was withdrawn (it was said) in order that the timber kings could not rifle it for export purposes. Yet--. The old territorial law would have furnished ample protection and would have been a better measure of conservation than the one introduced by the Forest Service.

Any system which imposes irritating restrictions (as this one undoubtedly did) upon the pioneers of a sparsely-peopled country is a mistake for many reasons. Such a system never fails to operate against itself. And this system proved a boomerang. Under it the railroads, wishing to buy Alaskan lumber for construction purposes, had to pay for it at the stumpage rates of the Forest Reserve! Meanwhile Alaska was suffering for lack of transportation facilities and it is difficult for even the most optimistic conservative enthusiast to see improvement in such measures.

The belated opening of the coal fields was but one more instance of the legislative indifference which hindered Alaska's development. Eastern coal operators were shipping coal in large quantities to the Pacific coast. In Alaska the belief was general that when the Panama Canal was once in operation these operators would intrench themselves strongly on the coast, confident that they would be able to compete with operators from Alaska as soon as the latter's coal fields were released. Naturally, the first man on the ground would have the advantage and the Alaskans grew almost desperate as time went by and the troublesome situation was not relieved. In 1914, however, a bill was passed in Congress which authorized the leasing of the coal fields and permitted the lessee to rent two thousand five hundred and sixty acres at a yearly rental of one dollar an acre, this to be applicable on the royalty demanded, which was two cents a ton.

In the matter of highways Alaska was also handicapped. Wheeled traffic here was out of the question until roads were built. Railroads which can not touch the interior are limited as to their usefulness. The highways are of paramount importance to the development of any country. But a Board of Commissions for Alaska was organized a few years ago and since then the building of roads has increased.

Even in the face of all these handicaps and difficulties, however, we are not pessimistic. In time they will, they must, adjust themselves. As soon as sufficient roads are built to enable settlement it will be only a question of time (and a short time at that) until Alaska will become self-supporting. Her vast resources can not be dealt with singly. They must be dealt with as a whole. When once the United States grasps Alaska's needs and conditions, when her receipts and disbursements pass through a single, responsible Board which shall each year report to Congress the revenues and expenses, the government will undoubtedly form an Alaskan budget which will render legislation in her behalf much simpler and more intelligent.

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