It’s a great time of year, when Alaskans come out of the long, dark winter and rush into the great outdoors, ready to relive the freedom and natural beauty for which our state is so aptly celebrated.
As we prepare to go fishing, hiking, boating, camping, quad biking or sightseeing, Alaskans need to be aware of our responsibility to respect our shared natural resources and re-commit to being of great stewards of the lands we love by keeping our state. clean and garbage-free this summer.
We Alaskans pride ourselves on doing things our way. We “don’t care how they do it on the outside”, and we pride ourselves on our reputation for taking good care of the special place we call home. Our reputation for pristine natural beauty supports a healthy lifestyle for ourselves and a thriving tourism industry whose benefits extend statewide from town to village.
But while most of us do our part to maintain high standards of upkeep and cleanliness outdoors, the bad behavior of a few can literally tarnish Alaska’s reputation. Too many of us have seen the evidence in too many places: piles of empty bottles or food wrappers, carelessly discarded fish carcasses, overflowing dumpsters and telltale wisps of windblown toilet paper by the side of the road.
Over the past summer, COVID in Alaska – which most of us have carried out outdoors – heavy weekend use in the Kasilof River Special Use Zone on the Kenai Peninsula saw dumpsters overflowing with trash and an unsightly campground that produced ugly images in the news and on social media. media. Unfortunately, with the travel of outside visitors limited by the pandemic, Alaskans had only ourselves to blame for this embarrassing scene. Simple practices like “pack, put away” make all the difference when we share all facilities and areas of public use.
As Commissioners, we head departments dedicated to fulfilling our constitutional responsibility to conserve and develop our state’s land, water, fish and wildlife for the common good of the people. As part of this mission, we are proud to support Governor Mike Dunleavy’s “Unlocking Alaska” initiative, asserting the state’s management authority over navigable waters and submerged lands, as promised to Alaska at the time. of its accession to State status. Alaskans can help strengthen this effort by ensuring that we know who owns the lands and waters where we recreate and by being respectful users, whether ownership is state, federal or private.
One example is the popular dip net fishing of the Copper River near Chitina. Those who take the Copper River Highway to access the public salmon resource at the end find themselves on private land, most of which is owned by Ahtna Inc., the regional Alaska Native corporation, and the Chitina Native Corporation, the village corporation of the region. Having suffered the damage caused by a few bad actors in the past, these private land owners are justified in charging fees to cover the costs of maintaining their land, cleaning up garbage and repairing the damage, and in some cases restoration. desecration of Alaskan Native burial sites. .
Such behavior has consequences, not only at local or state level, but also nationally. Our state is under nationwide scrutiny, with the development of important resources vital to our state’s continued prosperity stalled due to the perception that Alaskans are unwilling or unable to protect our own environment. Alaskans ransacking public and private lands lend credence to claims by anti-development forces that they cannot be trusted to protect our own environment. They strengthen the case of those who want to impose federal authority to look over our shoulder to keep Alaska “clean”.
We are Alaskans. We respect our communities and love our land. It just takes a little consideration, a little thought, and some preparation to be good stewards of public lands and respectful visitors to private lands. If you pack it, pack it. Leave the trail or campsite cleaner than you found it. Pick up after your pets. Be a good example of the kind of Alaskan outdoorsman you wish all visitors were.
When we do this, we demonstrate to ourselves and to the world that we Alaskans care for our land and are more than capable of managing our common resources responsibly, without the federal government or outside vested interests. tell how we should take care of our own home.
Corri A. Feige is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
Doug Vincent Lang is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game