Fighting Federal Power in America's Last Wilderness
No American state is more antistatist than Alaska. And no state takes in more federal money per capita, which accounts for a full third of Alaska’s economy. This seeming paradox underlies the story Stephen Haycox tells in Battleground Alaska, a history of the fraught dynamic between development and environmental regulation in a state aptly dubbed “The Last Frontier.” Examining inconvenient truths, the book investigates the genesis and persistence of the oft-heard claim that Congress has trampled Alaska’s sovereignty with its management of the state's pristine wilderness. At the same time it debunks the myth of an inviolable Alaska statehood compact at the center of this claim.
Unique, isolated, and remote, Alaska’s economy depends as much on absentee corporate exploitation of its natural resources, particularly oil, as it does on federal spending. This dependency forces Alaskans to endorse any economic development in the state, putting them in conflict with restrictive environmental constraint. Battleground Alaska reveals how Alaskans’ abiding resentment of federal regulation and control has exacerbated the tensions and political sparring between these camps—and how Alaska’s leaders have exploited this antistatist sentiment to promote their own agendas, specifically the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Haycox builds his history and critique around four now classic environmental battles in modern Alaska: the establishment of the ANWR is the 1950s; the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s; the passage of the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act in 1980; and the struggle that culminated in the Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990.
“Battleground Alaska enlightens by linking legal, legislative, cultural, and environmental history to impressive effect. The book is also evenhanded in the process.”
—American Historical Review
“Historians of the environment will do well to consider the lessons and understandings of Battleground Alaska.”
—Pacific Northwest QuarterlySee all reviews...
“Haycox provides important insights relevant not only to Alaska but also to many other states in which federal lands constitute an imperium in imperio, the political monster the framers of the Constitution feared.”
“One of the greatest strengths of Battleground Alaska is Haycox’s seamless integration of various historical dimensions: environmental, legal, political, and economic. . . . Challenges simplistic arguments about land and resource economics and environmental regulation. . . . Deserves a broad readership beyond the classroom, where it will facilitate more thoughtful and informed public debate.”
“Haycox, the doyen of historians of Alaska, has produced another landmark study that grapples incisively with the big questions that have run through Alaskan history since statehood and remain just as alive today: who owns Alaska and to whom does the largest and most unusual American state belong?”
—Peter Coates, author of The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline Controversy: Technology, Conservation, and the Frontier
“No one, however, has addressed the struggle for the last frontier state of Alaska, where it has been especially sharp, until this book by one of its leading historians. The story is well researched and well told.”
—Donald Worster, author of Shrinking the Earth: The Rise and Decline of American AbundanceSee fewer reviews...
What emerges is a complex tale, with no clear-cut villains and heroes, that explains why Alaskans as a collective almost always opt for development, even as they profess their genuine love for the beauty and bounty of their state’s environment. Yet even as it exposes the potential folly of this practice, Haycox’s work reminds environmentalists that all wilderness is inhabited, and that human life depends—as it always has—on the exploitation of the earth’s resources.