One gets to Anaktuvuk Pass on the plane from Fairbanks about 2:30 in the afternoon. The pass suddenly widens out to an expanse of level ground several miles wide, and to the north the terrain can be seen gradually curving down 2,200 feet to the Arctic Ocean 150 miles beyond. On this particular day caribou herds were coming through the pass; the advance bands had been seen the day before, somewhat behind schedule. Traditionally the hunters let the advance bands pass; otherwise the main herd may be frightened into following some unknown route a hundred miles away. Formerly they were hard to hunt because of the lack of cover, and a shot within 150 yards was rare. But now they are hunted in snowmobiles. The Eskimos ride into the main herd, shooting at close range like oldtime buffalo hunters, and a single hunt may—and hopefully will—supply a village with food for the winter.
This sounds like butchery but it is not. "There is no limit on caribou north of the Arctic Circle," says Robert Hinman, the district director of the Alaska Fish and Game Commission. "The herd is underharvested. Moose—no problem. Dall sheep—in specific areas there may be a decline, but not as a general condition. There are only about 25 guides who fly hunting parties into the mountains regularly or occasionally, perhaps a few more now, because the Alaska Range in the south is being heavily hunted and guides there are flying some parties to the Brooks. Fishing is usually an adjunct to a hunting party. The oil-drilling crews do not hunt much, as a rule, but they fish a good deal. No, the thing that scares me is not the depletion of the wildlife, but the fact that the Brooks Range is such a fragile environment. Anything that is done there leaves a mark. Inevitably there is going to be some scarring of the landscape. The question is, how much can it be controlled and reduced?"
Yes, that is the question. The villagers in Anaktuvuk Pass are the last inland Eskimos left. They have been so often interviewed that they greet an incoming plane with a smiling readiness to answer questions; the white people they have met have been geologists, archaeologists, ethnologists, botanists, zoologists, limnologists, soil scientists and experts from the Arctic Institute. The Eskimos seem to feel that the outside world is composed of educated people concerned with Eskimo lore. Some of them, like Simon Paneak, have appeared in so many erudite books that they are intellectual figures and are called upon to correct manuscripts. But today there are a lot more visitors to Anaktuvuk Pass, and not just questioners. A boom is on. Eskimos are being trained to work on oil rigs, a pipeline is projected that will go through the pass to Prudhoe Bay and a winter road has been completed to the oilfields.
In the thin afternoon light, so uniformly blue and shadowless it seems as if the world has suddenly turned pale, Anaktuvuk Pass looks unreal. It is the last area in the world where one would expect that a major industrial development could cause concern. All that space—wild, virginal. But the facts are inescapable. If there were ever a place where progress and conservation come into direct confrontation it is the Brooks Range. For the first time in history the alternatives are absolute. There is an untouched wilderness on one hand and an enormous natural resource on the other. Industry has never before had such a clear opportunity to develop the resource and still preserve the wilderness. There are two causes to be served. Perhaps, with unusual thought and care, both can be served.