Alaskan Wilderness – The Nellie Juan Story


This is the view from the visitor center in portage Alaska looking into the Chugach National Forest. Within the Chugach there is an exceptional place called the Nellie Juan college fiord wilderness study area. There are over 2,000 miles of coastal shoreline and beaches here. It is the farthest north reaching temperate rainforest in America. It is a place still being carved by ice and the forces of nature. The human connection is strong on this forest land. History dates back before time was counted as it is now. All along people have benefited here. Alaska native cultures that developed with the land, fur trading, gold claims, logging, fish hatcheries, and other prosperous adventures. There were tragedies too, including the great alaska earthquake in 1964, and the exxon valdez oil spill in 1989. This is a place to enjoy the simple things in life. To hike, to camp, to wander, to roam, to paddle, to bring family, to learn, to fin subsistence and be sustained. To enjoy our public lands. Alaska is home to the nation’s two largest national forests. The Tongass National Forest in the southeast. And the Chugach National Forest in south central. The boundaries of the Nellie Juan make up almost forty percent of the Chugach National Forest’s 5.4 million acres. It’s a whopping 2.1 million acres itself . Larger than yellowstone. In 1980 Congress and the president recognize the outstanding wilderness character of the Nellie Juan and included it in the alaska national interest lands conservation act or an ANILCA as it is called. In this landmark act, the Forest Service was asked to initiate a study of the area to determine its eligibility for inclusion in the National wilderness preservation system, as recognized in 1964 with the signing of the Wilderness Act. Studies were completed and submitted and to date the Nellie Jaun is not officially designated as a wilderness area. Only Congress can designated official Wilderness. Wilderness character is a resource just like minerals timber or fish. The wilderness study area provides many benefits such as clean air and water fish and wildlife habitat and a vast forests that moderate the climate by storing carbon. A healthy forest means healthy fish, and without healthy fish fisheries can’t exist. In nature everything has a purpose and is connected. I think there’s just so many special places and reasons to love the wilderness area you can still find solitude the largest concentration of Tidewater glaciers a nation right there all of the cruise ships and the tour boat and the pleasure boats to go right through that area it’s our story it’s our message to the world that we value wilderness and wilderness is available to everyone because so many places in the world don’t have it once you take a little bit of wilderness area way you can never regain that there’s an economic impact and economic value to wilderness areas it’s how we my family business and a lot of the businesses and Prince William Sound how we make our livelihood taking people out to explore wilderness to kayak wilderness to view wilderness that’s how we feed our families. Local people prosper from a healthy environment while participating in subsistence hunting and fishing. Visitors come to see Wild Alaska to see glaciers and the newly emerging landscapes. To surround themselves with pristine lands long lost so many other places. Rain or shine, forest rangers patrol the area working on a variety of projects from education to clean up of marine debris and controlling invasive species. Working with volunteers students interns and youth from the Chugach Children’s Forest Program, the Forest Service is actively trying to keep the wilderness study area the place where everyone can reap the benefits. Well we don’t want sites like this in the WSA. What we have here is an illegal set net camp and its really a drag because this is all going to be cleaned up and it looks like it hasn’t been used in some time. So we’ll be hauling all of this out. You know this is such a great spot as a recreationalist I should be able to come up to this really nice campable, like this is a great leave no trace area. A lot has changed in the wilderness study areas since 1980. Affects of the oil spill remain with over twenty one thousand gallons of crude still underneath some of the beaches here. Glaciers here are among some of the fastest changing places on earth, undergoing extraordinary retreat due to changing climate and a lack of winter snowfall. The whittier tunnel just a short drive from Anchorage now allows vehicle traffic near the area which means access to the nelly Juan is closer than ever before. While increased access provides more opportunity for visitors to enjoy the wilderness study area, the increase in visitation present certain challenges such as litter, invasive species and other human interaction issues. And almost in spite of all these modern changes and challenges, the Nellie Juan college fiord wilderness study area is still one of the most beautiful places to lay your eyes upon. Areas like this are places to explore deeply and lighting, to exercise freedom but also restraint, to manage but also leave alone. Wilderness habitat contributes significantly to our nation’s health and well being. A uniquely American idea, Wilderness is part of our heritage and his past as a legacy to our children and the generations to come.

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