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New Book on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Reviewed

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Photo

Last Great Wilderness: the campaign to establish the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Written by: Roger Kaye; published by: University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks; released in June 2006. The hardcover price is $29.95. Call 1-888-252-6657 or go online at to order the book.

Even though the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is, without doubt, the best known national wildlife refuge in America, and even though there are more books in print about that refuge than any other of the 545 U.S. refuges, Roger Kaye has done everyone a great service by diligently researching and presenting this history of the Arctic NWR. Roger Kaye is highly qualified to write this history, based on his PhD dissertation alone. In addition, as a Wilderness Ranger and Pilot for the Arctic NWR, he has lengthy first hand experience and knowledge about the refuge's unique, intact wilderness, and the many values it offers to Americans today and indefinitely, including those who never go there.

Last Great Wilderness is the story of the beliefs and values, the ideas and idealism, and the hopes and concerns for the future that inspired the leaders of the campaign and many of their followers. (LGW, review copy, p. xv) Because the national campaign for establishment covered the period from 1950-1960, Arctic NWR serves also as tracer for the evolution of the Wilderness concept and the 1964 legislation establishing America's National Wilderness Preservation System. The Arctic NWR campaign, in its broadest context, involved many famous names in environmental conservation annals—Olaus and Margaret “Mardie” Murie, George Collins, Lowell Sumner, A. Starker Leopold, F. Fraser Darling, Howard Zahnizer, and others. The foundational vision came from Collins and Sumner, but the Muries helped steer the campaign at critical periods and obtained broad support for the proposal in Alaska, a feat worthy of Hercules.

Roger Kaye moves the text along in pleasant prose even while adhering to sound principals of historical documentation. The result is an entertaining mix of facts and often nuanced drama in a high stakes gambit involving Congressional manipulation by the Alaska delegation (now a known anti-conservation tradition by that three person delegation). Ultimately, Executive authority had to be used at the last minute to assure an essential level of protection in the face of corporate and political resistance. The book's treatment is thorough, and balanced. Readers will find facets that suggest intrigue, but more often they will find a logically explained and well-documented presentation of important chronologies and key happenings.

Make no mistake; Last Great Wilderness will help readers understand the significance of this largest and most threatened refuge in our U.S. Refuge System. The book presents the hopes and dreams of the visionaries who worked so hard and so well for its creation. It presents the compromises that had to be made, and it gives context to the International, scientific, wilderness, fish and wildlife, cultural, and landscape-level ecological values for which the refuge stands, thereby creating a preeminent symbol of freedom, “…freedom from the crowding and pollution of our cities, freedom to continue, unhindered and forever if we are willing, the particular story of Planet Earth unfolding here—freedom for us as well who need to come to the few out-of-the-way places still remaining where we can breathe freely, be inspired, and understand a little of the majestic story of evolution… .” (LGW, review copy, p. 224; from Lowell Sumner's 1989 essay.)

Reviewed by: Bill Reffalt, Board of Directors, Blue Goose Alliance