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September 24, 2021

Locked Up or Locked Out?

Want to see the Arctic Ocean? Just start driving the Haul Road north of Fairbanks. You’ll pass through miles and miles of rugged, beautiful, unfenced land.

The road is rough and there aren’t many amenities like gas stations, toilets or cell service. And before you make it to the ocean, there’s one other complication: the security gates.

The gates belong to the oil companies.

In the past few years, all of us have spent more than a billion dollars to “beef up” the road, which is owned and maintained by the State of Alaska and considered a “road to resources.”

But travel websites warn, “There is no public access to the Arctic Ocean from Deadhorse. You must be on an authorized tour.”

At the end of a publicly owned, publicly maintained road, public resources are being extracted, but NO PUBLIC ACCESS.

My whole life I’ve heard folks fuss about how Alaska was going to be turned into a “federal preserve” or a “state park” and we Alaskans would lose our right to access our lands.

Republican Gov. Jay Hammond was damn near tarred and feathered for having the audacity to say that privatizing land locked it up a lot tighter than putting it in trust ever would.

If you want to go fishing in Southeast Alaska, you’ll need to check with the Tongass National Forest’s website to see what miles of streams, rivers and creeks are accessible to the public. There are huge parcels of “private corporate property” listed on the website. How many miles of public roads have federal taxpayers built to provide “roads to resources” for the timber industry?

Red Dog is an open pit mine on private land. The State of Alaska owns and maintains the road, port and airport. But don’t eat the berries along the roadway; pollution from the ore makes them unsafe.

“Roads to Resources” is just one way we underwrite corporate access to public resources. It’s one of the ways we “make Alaska competitive” but for which we rarely get credit, especially not when corporations are lobbying to pay less for what they’re extracting.

A gas line to Southcentral to benefit residents and businesses doesn’t pencil out without subsidies. I guess that’s why Gov. Sean Parnell vetoed a gas line from Anchor Point to Homer — because the market just wasn’t big enough to make it economically viable — though a steady and relatively cheap source of energy would be heaven sent for residents.

But our Legislature, prompted by a proposal from Rep. Mike Chenault of Nikiski, is now entertaining a new public policy that could be branded: “Energy to Mining.”

The entire railbelt uses about 500 megawatts of electricity. The Pebble, Donlin Creek and Chuitna Coal mines will require 450 megawatts combined. Just like the rest of us, mining has an energy problem. Chenault’s solution: Subsidize power for the mining companies.

For all the time we Alaskans have spent worrying about our state being “locked up” in parks and preserves, we badly missed the mark. “Responsible development” is too often a sales slogan, not a commitment. I wish it meant good stewardship. In the long view, renewable resources are rarely a fair trade for finite ones.

There’s a game to development in Alaska. Figure out what citizens need, keep it from them until you can trade it for what industry wants. It’s like chess with oil spills, Superfund sites and cyanide pools.

Alaska’s history is full of examples of our long suffering as a colony of corporate investors and federal managers alike. Those who want lands kept public for trapping, hunting and fishing are “waffle stompers,” but those who want to lock up the same lands for corporations are “pro-development.” How did we get to this point? How is “locking up” land for use by the public bad while “locking it up” for private development is good? Make no mistake, privatization for industrial development, whether cutting, digging or drilling, comes at the cost of access — yours and mine.

Government doesn’t “lock up” land from “us.” That is the “us” who fish, hunt and fill our freezers with wild things.

The “us” who stand on the edge of muskeg on a September morning, seeing our breath as the sun first comes through the trees.

The “us” who snowmachine into the lonely hills and eat a hot lunch from under the cowling.

The “us” who look through the cathedral canopy of the Tongass and think we hear music.


This was originally printed in the Anchorage Daily News.



41 Responses to “Locked Up or Locked Out?”
  1. stephen gingrich says:

    It was said when the Haul Road was built that there was an agreement that there would not be public access. It was always open to people who lived along it. Initially the checkpoint was on the north side of the Yukon bridge, then Coldfoot, then on the Chandalar shelf, then Deadhorse.

  2. Bearhug says:

    “Thanks to former Gov. Tom McCall.”

    If all Governors were like Tom McCall, this country would run like a Swiss Watch. He was the best thing that ever happened to Oregon.

  3. NickWI says:

    The Arctic area needs to be preserved as it currently is. all government owned lands should either be level 1(Wilderness- national Parks) or Level 2(national monumemts) in terms of protection. this includes ANWR and the petroluem reserve, and in south, Bristol Bay and the Chuitka area. the entire coastline of the state should be preserved as a national monument, like Californias is. I know you have to try and find a balance, but the oil companies don’t have a good reputation in doing the right thing. Use the areas you are actively working, the rest is permanently protected, and the rest is added on after the oil and gas run out.

  4. Thank you Shannyn. The last sentence, caught in my throat….about hearing music in the Tongass. Thank you….

  5. G Katz says:

    Thanks for this very insightful piece. There is so much chicanery for the average citizen to try to keep up with.

  6. leenie17 says:

    For the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing near constant ads on the radio here in western NY. It seems like they are airing every ten minutes but that’s probably because I start to twitch every time they come on. There is an enormous push to promote hydro-fracking to drill for natural gas.

    Not only is there potential for the hydro-fracking chemicals to cause permanent damage to the water supply for much of the southern tier and southeastern NY (including NYC), but the type of shale in the Marcellus Shale Formation contains uranium which is released through the hydro-fracking process.

    Once again, industry is destroying our environment for a short term profit.

    • Maggie in NC says:

      Leenie, this form of environmental destruction is heading for North Carolina, where it currently is illegal. Alas, the forces of evilness are working overtime to change the laws in NC to allow for shale gas drilling using horizontal drilling and hydrofracking. I’m originally from the Marcellus region of northern PA, and have already seen the consequences of fracking there; it is heartbreaking to think that the state of NC will be next in line.

      No one talks about the NORMs (naturally occurring radioactive materials) that are released with each frack of the wells in the Marcellus region. Shale gas is usually found in areas with high natural radioactivity — radon, strontium, uranium etc. and it is trapped deep underground. It is not harmful to humans or animals as long as it is undisturbed. The fracking process brings that stuff to the surface, and the waste water is not only toxic from the fracking chemicals, it is also radioactive! In PA they are dumping the used fracking fluids into municipal water treatment facilities which are *not* equipped to deal with the radioactive contaminants. This is a horror to witness, and yet the process is industriously churning along in Pennsylvania, systematically polluting every ounce of fresh water in the commonwealth. Some day someone will look back on this era — if there is anyone left — and they will say, “Good God, what were they thinking?!”

  7. huntforfood says:

    Hey Rich, I agree somewhat with your perspective, and I do dislike extremist arguments on any side of a debate. I think though that we sometimes forget to consider what industrial development means not only for our own profit and loss today, but what it means for those following us in 20, 30, 50 years or more. Once the oil, coal and other minerals are gone, they are not coming back. Will the residuals of our profit, our gain of jobs, and our comfort, be of benefit to those people following us, or are we being incredibly profligate and self-serving when we “develop” irreplaceable and precious resources for our own immediate and typically wasteful use? Guess you can see what I think. As time goes by, we need to be ever more careful with how we choose to use our land, there being more and more of us humans in need, and no more ‘stuff’ to help us get by. We need to slow down, and consider each project, reject those that threaten the quality of life that our grandchildren will have access to, and not consider only our immediate needs. I have a truly bad feeling about the power that corporations, named or not, are accruing in our society. I honestly see government as a tool to control the profit motivated, socially detached corporate entities that are becoming a shadow government themselves. Anyway, not all business/private endeavors are evil, true, but the point is that the public is not always well served now, and especially in the future, by large scale, subsidized development. Whew.

  8. Rich says:

    “If you want to go fishing in Southeast Alaska, you’ll need to check with the Tongass National Forest’s website to see what miles of streams, rivers and creeks are accessible to the public. There are huge parcels of “private corporate property” listed on the website.” – How much of this land is Native Corp land? True, these are still corporations but I’m not sure that helps make your point as well as some evil unnamed “corporation”. I was talking to a Seward fishing guide last summer and was amazed that he could keep track of all the access rules and boundries for all the native parcels near Seward.

    Shannon – I appreciate a good debate but when you slant the facts you are no better than the other side you love to ridicule.

    Reader commment – “We paid for that road and its maintenance. And every other road for private development. We get very little in return” – How about jobs and the permanent fund, is that very little?

  9. Wallflower says:

    Shannyn, well-researched and well-written, as always!

  10. LoveMyDogs says:

    Although I agree with you on a philosophical and personal level, it is necessary to point out that oilfields are inherently very dangerous. There is nasty stuff that comes up out of the earth such as H2S gas that can kill you in a matter of seconds or minutes and many more things that are equally as dangerous. There are also nutjobs that would see the roads in the oilfield as a license to drive like maniacs (the oilfield workers must abide by very strict rules concerning speed limits (25-35 mph) and wildlife. They can lose their jobs forever if they do not abide by the rules. Civilians (non-oilfield workers) might not feel inclined to follow the rules and it would be very hard to police them.

    I am not, and never will be, a corporate apologist but not everything is black and white.

    I heard a very interesting NPR story the other day about how environmentalists may find themselves in a new pickle over sustainable resources (as in problems with solar arrays having negetaive effects on wildlife, etc.

    All things to make one say “hmmmmmm…….”

    • LoveMyDogs says:

      And the ‘”us” who snowmachine in the lonely hills’ have to get fuel for that snowmachine from somewhere….just sayin’. One of the reasons I prefer a dogsled. But then I have to drive to the store for dog food so I am just as guilty.

    • cortez says:

      I agree, Prudhoe is not a place you want to be a tourist in. But Shannyns point is absolutely correct. We paid for that road and its maintenance. And every other road for private development. We get very little in return, and we see more and more land becoming off limits to the residents and friends of Alaska.

      • LoveMyDogs says:

        We get a permanent fund dividend every year. The state gets tax revenue from the oil companies. We don’t pay a state income tax. I am not defending the oil companies but we get a lot more than the “us” in many states do. We can’t have everything both ways.

        If I were queen of the world (which I am not and do not want to be), there would be someone smart enough to figure out how to get wind power from the slope to the rest of us.

        There is a lot of hinky stuff that goes on here. The oil companies wanted to build a refinery on the slope so that they could produce diesel (sp?) fuel up there and not have to ship and truck it up from Nikiski (hundreds of miles away) and $P put the nix on that with her BS. How much more pollution and land destruction comes because of that? To say nothing of expense.

        This state was built on the raping of the environment starting with Russian fur traders and moving on to the gold rush. It just seems to me that I have heard this same complaint from so many Rethugs who hold to my take on the Alaskan state motto which should be “you can’t tell me what to do”. It goes all ways.

        We, as a people, are going to have to decide (at some point–better sooner than when it is too late) what it is we want and how to get there together. And we need to be honest (not hypocritical) about it.

    • UgaVic says:

      Some good points and part of every conversation we must all hold ourselves to…learning about both sides of an issue to the best of our ability.

    • It cannot be on a par with oil spills, not at all! I’ll bet that person works for an oil company.! Give me alternatives – ANY day. We are smart enough to do it….at least we used to be.

  11. Bearhug says:

    Here in Oregon, unless the land is privately owned, Logging companies cannot gate National or State Forest roads simply because they have a timber lease, although many have tried.

    I had a friend (now deceased) who cruised logging roads on a regular basis, hunting , exporing, etc. He had a portable arc welder in his truck. When he came upon a Timber Company gate on National or State forest land, he would weld it shut. The lock box, hinges and cross-bar, rendering the gate completely solid. He often said, “Hell, I just did them a favor by making sure that nobody could get through it. I just do what I can to help them out…”

    • tigerwine says:

      Bearhug – I wish we could all know someone like your friend. Most of us just grin and bear it.

    • fishingmamma says:

      The Monkey Wrench Gang.

    • Elizabeth says:

      One of the things my husband and I love about Oregon are all the forest service roads, criss-crossing the mountains. DeLorme maps, a gps, and off we go.

    • bubbles says:

      Bless his heart and may he rest in peace. wish i could have met him Bearhug.

    • VernD says:

      LOL BearHug. I love it.
      The latest here in Oregon is the Corps Of Engineers gating off the South Jetty at Yaquina Bay (Newport). They say that the traffic is deteriorating the jetty. Hmmmmm. Yea… I don’t think so. Luckily here in OR we have public access to nearly all the beaches. Thanks to former Gov Tom McCall.


      Enjoying the late Spring rain on the Central Or Coast. (Spring/Summer=The rain is warmer)

    • UgaVic says:

      I also love how Oregon has made sure most of its beaches are open to the public AND accessable without traveling 10 miles for a ‘gate to the beach’.

      I would love to see AK do some hard work to see what has worked in other states and start a statewide program to develop a plan that included the voting stakeholders. After that is done the industries and others could speak up.

      Your friend’s cruising and ‘helping’ sounds like it was great!!

      Sometimes tough zoning and land use laws can be made to work for the public.

    • Beautiful…..and just.

  12. WakeUpAmerica says:

    i just got a picture in my head while reading this of that guy lying on his back and staring while saying, “The horror. The horror.” Only I visualized him saying, “The hypocrisy. The hypocrisy.” What a flipping, greedy joke politics is. Thanks for your insightful post and perfect picture, Shannyn.

  13. Zyxomma says:

    Thanks for this beautiful photo and educational post, Shannyn.

  14. DuckDriver says:


    This is getting sent to all on my email list. This is exactly what Utah politicians are doing and
    saying out West.

    Excellent post.


    • hedgewytch says:

      Unfortunately this is modus operandi all across our nation. Alaska just sees it so much more clearly as we have exponentially more lands and resources to exploit than in the lower 48.

  15. Eastcoaster says:

    Where is Shannyn Moore’s podcast?

    • hedgewytch says:

      My thoughts exactly. She hasn’t been updating her web site or podcasts for a month now. I’ve emailed about it, no response. It’s a shame as I live remote and live streaming the broadcast over the internet is not always an option for me. I enjoyed listening to the podcasts in the evening. I think her inattention to these details on her web page are not doing her any favors for building an audience.

  16. Irishgirl says:

    “This is what Palin told Christina Lamb in the Sunday Times:

    “I am going to Sudan in July and hope to stop in England on the way. I am just hoping Mrs Thatcher is well enough to see me as I so admire her.”

    It appears that the former prime minister has no intention of meeting the darling of the Tea Party movement. Andy McSmith reported in the Independent this morning that Palin is likely to be “thwarted” on the grounds that Thatcher, 86, rarely makes public appearances.

    It would appear that the reasons go deeper than Thatcher’s frail health. Her allies believe that Palin is a frivolous figure who is unworthy of an audience with the Iron Lady. This is what one ally tells me:

    “Lady Thatcher will not be seeing Sarah Palin. That would be belittling for Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts.”

    • Cassie Jeep says:

      Tee hee (hand not even bothering to hide the chuckles).

      Thanks for the link.

      And Shannyn…could I get a public road built to my house if I got a remote acre somewhere in AK…oh, never mind.

    • Lilybart says:

      She will crash the Reagan Statue event where Thatcher will be. Mark my words. 4th of July Miss Wasilla will just happen to be in London on her way to feed the starving pagans in the Sudan with her BFF, Franklyn.

    • bubbles says:

      Sarah is going to the Sudan? what the hell did the Sudanese do to her? Don’t they have enough problems? what with war and rapes and stuff?……oh wait. yeah. go Sarah go! and don’t forget to stop in Kenya while you at it. Obama’s relatives and his tribe would love to meet you and so would his relatives and tribe in Moneycall Ireland. make sure you try the stout. i am told it is delicious. you can give a little speech there and tell the whole town exactly what you think about ‘Sambo’ and his wife Mrs. ‘Sambo’. they’ll eat it up and you too. you betcha also.

  17. ks sunflower says:

    Thank you, Shannyn.

    This is a powerful and insightful post. Short, to the point, and worth remembering.

    Loved the photograph as well because it communicates your love of what is being locked away from the public and focuses our attention on the beauty that could be lost through our inattention.

    • All I Saw says:

      Um, there are no trees in Prudhoe 🙂 a different kind of wild beauty exists up there. But I agree the picture is lovely and illustrates Shannyn’s passion for nature.

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