PLANNING HOW TO USE LAND IN VILLAGE
One of a Series of Articles on
THE NATIVE LAND CLAIMS
Professor of Wildlife Management
University of Alaska
COMPILED & PRODUCED
ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
CENTER FOR NORTHERN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA - FAIRBANKS
Dr. Marshall L. Lind
Commissioner of Education
Director, Center for Northern Educational Research
ARTWORK: CANDACE OWERS
TO THE READER
This booklet is one of a collection of articles written by people
who are interested in Native land claims. As you will see, all of the
people do not agree. They present their ideas for you to read and
discuss. You may be excited about some of their ideas because you
think they are absolutely right, or very wrong. When you have
finished reading the articles, you will probably have done a lot of
thinking about Native land claims and Alaskan politics.
Politics is not an easy field to understand. And yet politics is
what the Native land claims are all about. Most of the articles were
written by people who have spent a lot of time working in the world
of politics. These people have a whole vocabulary which most students
have not yet learned. So, to help students understand the reading,
there is at the beginning of each article a list of definitions of
terms. Any words in italics are explained for you at the
beginning of that article, or an earlier one.
At the end of some articles ate questions which you can ask
yourself. In the margin, next to the question are numbers. If you go
back to paragraphs in the article with the same numbers, and reread,
you can increase your understanding. We cannot say you will always
have definite answers but you may form your point of view.
ARTICLES AND AUTHORS
PLANNING HOW TO USE LAND IN VILLAGE ALASKA
This essay is about land use planning and how it can improve the
life and growth of small Alaskan communities.
The phrase "land use planning" is common as canvas and often seems
to cover as many different things. A good definition of land use
planning is deciding how to meet the needs of people by using and
caring for the land available. (Land, used in this way, means a
geographic area together with its waters, air, climate, soils,
plants, animals, and natural resources, which can be sold.
Many groups of people are planning the use of land in Alaska:
private landholders, industrial and Native corporations, communities,
boroughs, regions, the state, and the federal government. Why so much
attention to land use planning? The reasons can be summed up in two
words - competition and change.
Every thoughtful Alaskan can see changes taking place in his
community. Physical growth is often the most easily noticed change
because of the roads, schools, homes, airports, and other facilities
that have been built to serve the growing number of people in Alaska.
6,000 to 12,000 people have been added to Alaska's population every
year since 1967.
There are a number of reasons for changes in the population of
cities and villages in Alaska. Some are economic: the rise in oil
development, fewer and fewer military personnel and operations, and
the greater number of jobs in government and service industries. The
Native population of the state is increasing because of amazing
inprovement in Native health during the 1950's. Within the state,
large numbers of people move from one town to another. The successful
fight of Native political organizations for settlement of Native land
claims will have important effects on community development and land
use in the future.
Cities and villages of Alaska are affected by more than just
changes within the state. They are also affected by national or even
worldwide forces like oil politics and energy shortages, economic
recessions and infalation, relations between the United States and
Japan, and environmental politics. As just one small but important
example, consider what might have happened within Eskimo and Aleut
villages along the Bering Sea coast if early versions of marine
mammal protection bills had been passed by Congress, making it
illegal for anyone to harvest walrus, seals, or whales, and wiping
out the fur seal industry.
A thoughtful person, seeing these changes in Alaska, can see that
the demands on land and natural resources are increasing fast
throughout the state, and that Alaska, huge as it is, is still not
big enough to satisfy all of these demands. Arguments are very often
the result of competition arising from demands which cannot be met.
Forces over which Alaskans themselves have no control as well as
matters which they can control or guide, determine the course of
events in every community. So community land use planning must be
salted with realism and able to survive unexpected events.
The purpose of this essay, which can cover only a tiny fraction of
the field of land use planning, is to describe community land
planning so that its purposes, needs, and limits are understood, and
to discuss some of the needs and opportunities for land planning that
small Alaskan settlements face today.
Elements of Land Planning Processes
Imagine a young couple starting a home at the edge of a coastal
town in Alaska. The land they own, about 10 acres, is on the bank of
a stream where it runs into a bay. They need a house, a mooring for
their gillnetter, a source of water, and a way to town; they would
like to have a garden in summer, a storage shed, and a sheltered view
of the sea.
The lay of the land, how good the water is, and the kinds of soil
on the land, will be extremely important as the couple decides where
to build the house and other facilities. The cost (in effort as well
as dollars) of building in different locations will have to be
considered too. (For example, lumber has to be brought in by boat.
The man is fishing all summer and has only a very short time to build
the house. Therefore, he probably won't build far from his anchorage
even if a better site exists farther from shore.) The couple's plans
will take shape over months or years, and will be reshaped by
unexpected events: a storm that erodes the bank protecting the house,
increasing pollution of the creek, or triplets.
In this simple and familiar case of land use planning the planners
started with a general picture of the kind of life they wanted to
lead, spent rather a long time developing specific goals (such as
house plans), fit these into the advantages and limitations of the
land they owned, and at times changed their plans of their own free
will or of necessity.
These are the important elements of community land use planning as
well. The difference is in the greater number of competing needs of
the community in comparison with the family, which cause all kinds of
Need for Community Land Planning
The lives of townspeople are so bound up in buildings and people -
schools and school teachers or schoolmates, homes and families,
working places and fellow workers, airports and travelers, etc. -
that it is easy to develop the idea that land is simply so much stage
and scenery. Really, all communities, big or small, are a part of the
land around them. Communities are built in a certain place because of
what the land provides there, such as good harbors, nearness to fish
or game populations, closeness to a river or road or air strategic
defense location, or closeness to a mineral deposit or stand of
timber. A town's layout, shape, number and closeness of houses, and
general physical character are partly decided by the shape of the
land, the way water drains, and types of soil. But the people of
communities may make decisions to change the land: they may move
dirt, change the direction of water drainage, use up or take care of
wildlife and forests, change local temperature and windspeed, and
build up or use up good soil.
Many, perhaps most, Alaskan communities have grown up without
thoughtful, cooperative planning. When "unplanned" communities are
small, are growing slowly or not at all, and are made up of people
with similar ways of living, they can be pleasant, efficient places.
Communities that are growing rapidly or have changing, mixed
populations, however, rarely make good use of their natural
surroundings without group-planning efforts.
Let us look briefly at some of the needs of communities which make
them start land use planning. There are five different categories of
land needs for most communities:
1. Land for building
private docks, floats, moorings
stores, service stations
(and many other structures)
public docks, harbors
dumps, sewage treatment plants
water storage reservoirs
power generation facilities
schools, meeting halls
(and many other structures)
To decide where these structures can and should be built, people
must consider distance and condition of roads or rivers from built-up
areas, soil and permafrost conditions, water drainage, and winds.
2. Land for resource exploitation: mining, timber growing
and logging, fish and game use, tourism, reindeer or stock grazing,
farming, sand and gravel beds.
In most cases there is little choice of where these activities
could go on, in comparison with the different locations often
available for building. Mines, fish runs, tourist attractions, stands
of timber, and gravel beds are where they are, not necessarily where
we want them
3. Land for open space recreation. Community open space
recreation areas and facilities can serve lots of recreational uses
by using many different natural features (lakes, riversides, beaches,
woodlands, mountain meadows, etc. ) either as they are or with small
developments such as trails, shelters, and so on. Most communities in
Alaska have many possible recreation areas. Few have protected or
4. Lands for beauty, and historic settings, whose main
purpose is to show and add to the "personality" of a community and to
increase the pleasure of living in it.
5. Land for revenue. Communities with taxing and spending
powers usually can obtain public lands as investments, to be leased
or sold to private individuals at a profit.
These needs for land and land resources by communities cause a
variety of problems. Solutions can best be found through cooperative
Following is a list of goals in land use planning.
1. Prevent land from being used for purposes for which it is
poorly suited. An example would be where a community decides not to
allow home construction in an area that is flooded every few years.
This type of planning protects a person from a personal disaster, and
prevents unnecessary costs or tax losses to the community.
2. Do not allow uses that have very damaging side effects on other
land uses. A riverbank gravel pit that changes normal river currents
and causes erosion of nearby property, would be an example.
3. Prevent "leapfrog" homebuilding or commercial construction
where houses are scattered far from community centers and community
costs for fire and police protection, water supply and sewage
collection, and school bus services will be raised.
4. Try to prevent arguments and lawsuits between land users with
5. Protect important and good uses of land which cannot compete
economically (or politically) with commercial, well-organized groups.
Subsistence users of berry, fish, game, and timber resources often
need such protection in Alaska.
6. Decrease community costs, increase tax and other revenues.
7. Help achieve the way of life residents want.
8. Attract new people.
9. Obtain state and federal funds for various community health,
recreation, and economic projects, which often are available only
when there are community land plans and planning groups.
Notice that the first five functions of land use planning are to
prevent great costs to communities and to prevent environmental
damage. These are the defensive functions of planning, and they are
interrelated with the last four goals aimed at progress.
Special Problems of Alaskan Land Use
The cold-dominated environments of Alaska have special
characteristics which decide uses made of the land. Also, Alaska's
history and economic conditions affect land use, which planners must
take into account. The most important of these environmental,
economic, or governmental conditions are worth mentioning here.
The major environmental problems of land use at the community
level relate to (1) small amounts of plant and animal life, (2)
permafrost and other soil conditions, (3) water supply, (4) water
erosion and flooding, (5) waste disposal, and (6) air polution.
Though many tourists to Alaska come with ideas of wildlife in
great numbers, Alaskans know that most of the State has very low
population of wild animals because of the low production of plants
which the animals eat. There are many local and seasonal exceptions
to this rule. Many rural settlements were built to take advantage of
wildlife concentration points: caribou migration routes, good fishing
areas, waterfowl breeding marshes and migration routes, and marine
mammal hunting areas. When people move to larger communities like
Bethel, Nome, and Barrow, to take advantage of jobs, schools, or
hospitals, the number of people can become greater than the amount of
local wildlife to provide for their needs. Alaskan villages sometimes
move. They may find poorer hunting and fishing opportunities, or they
may improve their subsistance opportunities if their planning has
been good. Settlements located near good hunting and fishing areas
may also be able to develop charter, guiding, and other businesses
Soil conditions, especially permafrost, can be a major factor
determining land use in the North. Permanently frozen ground near the
surface can be good, providing a solid foundation for buildings,
refrigeration, and keeping water near the top of the ground where it
is available for plants. Permafrost can also be a hazard, especially
if it melts when you do not want it to, after road, pipeline, or
building construction. Other soil types common in Alaska also present
special land use problems. Well known examples are: silty soils of
the Interior, which erode easily and do not compact well after being
dug up; clay-like soils in earthquakeprone areas such as those which
slid into Cook Inlet in the 1964 earthquake; and soggy, muskeg soil
of southeastern Alaska.
Water supply problems plague a surprising number of Alaskan
communities, big and small. The causes of water shortage are many.
1. Kodiak's water shortage is caused by very wasteful use by
canneries. The town either must build a new reservoir or require
industry to use less water, or both.
2. Ketchikan's problem is with a poorly designed dam which failed
during a storm. Like many other southeast Alaskan communities,
Ketchikan is in an area of shallow, porous soil where rainwater
disappears quickly. When the sun shines for a few weeks (as it does
once in awhile!) a lack of water results.
3. Point Hope and Wainwright have problems common to communities
built on beaches. Salt water surrounds the town on two or three sides
and seeps into the old beach gravels under the communities. Fresh
water from a river is available in summer, but is expensive to carry
in small motorboats. Old sea ice can be used in winter. Shallow
freshwater ponds can supply water in summer, but are hard to keep
4. Barrow simply grew too fast, and ran out of drinkable water.
Erosion and flooding are real problems in many communities,
including some that have seasonal water shortages. The location of
communities above high-water limits is necessary for most riverbank
communities in Interior Alaska because of yearly flooding during
spring break-up. The same is true of many coastal tundra villages
where storm tides flood far inland across the low, level ground.
Chevak, Old Minto, and Emmonak are three of many villages forced to
move from flood-prone areas. Fairbanks is a town which should never
have been built where it is, on the floodplain of the Chena and
Tanana Rivers. The cost in flood damages and flood control structures
is now obvious to everyone.
Wastes of all sorts - industrial wastes, sewage from homes,
garbage, and used equipment and vehicles, to name a few - are hard to
get rid of in the North. The problem is both ecologic and economic.
Wastes do not decompose very fast in the cold Alaskan climate. Many
disease organisms in sewage live for years in soil and ponds. On the
economic side, the fact that waste metals, paper, and other re-usable
materials are scattered in heaps all over the State, and the high
cost of shipment to recycling centers, make it expensive to dispose
of these materials properly. All of the common techniques for waste
disposal such as locating dumps, burning garbage, and putting in
sewage lines, lead to land use problems.
Alaskan towns often are located in sheltered areas and valleys
where there is little wind. Fairbanks, Juneau, and Anchorage all have
air pollution problems (1) because of periods of still air, and (2)
because of the amount of pollutants being poured into the air. Many
other communities would have air pollution problems if there were
more homes, cars or industries. Communities must plan to prevent air
pollution when they build airports, housing, industrial plants and
Economic factors of land use are related to environmental
characteristics. High costs of labor, equipment, and materials mean
that land uses where big changes must be made are often impractical.
For example, treeplanting, forest fertilization, and brush control,
all commonly done outside of Alaska as part of tree-farming
operations are too costly in Alaska. So loggers must wait longer
to get a second timber crop in southeast Alaska. This lowers the
income from forests, and may influence land use decisions.
High labor and other business costs keep many Alaskan products
from being competitive in price even in Alaskan markets. This is why
West Coast lumber is all one can find in retail lumber yards in the
timber country of the Alaska Panhandle. Likewise, it means that
practically all of Alaska's crude oil is shipped south for refining,
while Alaskan consumers use gasoline and stove oil from California.
Governmental problems also affect Alaskan !and use and land
planning. The two main ones are problems of land ownership and lack
of planning authority.
Before settlement of Native land claims practically all Alaskan
communities were surrounded by government land owned either by the
federal government or the state. This meant that the uses of the land
right around villages were decided in Washington, D .C . or Juneau
and carried out by field offices in Anchorage, Juneau, or Fairbanks.
The ways in which the land was used sometimes was in conflict with
local needs (defense areas, dam sites, refuges, parks). The 1971
Native Land Claims Settelemnt Act changed this situation quite a bit.
Nevertheless, state and federal agencies always will control some 85
percent of Alaskan lands, at least some of which will be needed for
community uses. The problem of cooperation between local and
state-federal landowners will continue.
On the other hand, both the federal and state governments have
long had programs of giving land to private individuals, so that
individuals may control land useful to the community as a whole.
Mineral claims, homesteads, homesites, recreation sites, and Native
allotments are common examples. Local land planners must cooperate
with or "buy out" these individuals when important pieces of land are
The third ownership problem is a cause of confusion and delay in
community land planning. This is the fact that land ownership in
Alaska is in such a state of change. Land now in federal hands might
soon be given to a village of Native Regional Corporation under the
Land Claims Act, but as yet no one knows exactly how much land, or
which lands. The state has spoken for about 65 million acres of
federal land, and may select another 40 million acres between now and
1984 under terms of the Statehood Act. Certain tidelands and
submerged (offshore) lands are claimed by both the state and federal
governments. Within the federal bureaucracy there will be major
shifts or "trades" of land between various agencies. In short,
Alaskan communities often do not know who their neighbors will be.
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act: Influence on Community
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act puts about 220 communities
and 12 Native Regions squarely into the business of land use planning
on a very large scale. Regional and village corporations will have 40
million acres of land and resources to plan for. The monetary
settlement in the Act (increased, it is hoped, by income from
corporate investments ) provides money to plan with. Planners
must consider the needs and desires expressed by Natives, presently
numbering some 53,000, to develop goals.
Before looking at some of the planning opportunities made possible
by land claims settlement, it would be wise to look carefully at the
three ingredients of land planning just mentioned: land, capital
, and goals.
The amount of land now owned by Alaska Natives - an area only
slightly smaller than the state of Washington - means very little.
What matters is what assets the lands contain. This is where the land
settlement loses some of its rosy glow. Most villages will not be
able to meet their needs for sand and gravel, timber, wildlife, or
water (to name only a few basic resources) within their allotted
lands. Their land base will have to be made larger by joining lands
with neighboring villages or with the regional corporation, or by
obtaining permits to use resources on state or federal lands nearby.
The capital, like the land, will certainly be far less than is
needed to provide for everything people want to see done. Capital
controlled by Native corporations will have to be multiplied by means
of grants, loans, partnership arrangements, and other seed money
techniques. The difficulty is that all such investments of money
carry a big risk. Native corporations may lose some of their power as
they share in investments with other groups.
Regarding goals of Natives, a third important planning ingredient,
it is not hard to show that Natives are no more single-minded than
any other large group. One of the biggest differences in goals among
rural Natives is that some place great importance on the need to
protect subsistence resources (fish runs, timber for camps and
cabins, wildlife resources, berry patches) while others are
interested in selling resources for cash. Sometimes both goals can be
achieved through careful land use planning, but sometimes they
cannot. The basic problem, in cases of argument, is that the people
who lose the subsistence resources rarely get the money from selling
natural resources. They are not given anything to make up their loss.
The opposite is also true: if subsistence resources are protected by
allowing chances to sell resources at a profit to slip by, the
potential businessmen are not given anything for their losses.
Although the Act clearly provides an opportunity for good land
planning by Alaskan villages, it does not explain how the planning is
to be done. The job is left in the hands of the villages and regions.
They are faced with a frightening number of planning groups with some
authority over them. Organized boroughs have land planning authority
for all except state and federal land within their boundaries.
Incorporated cities also have planning powers. State planning is done
by the Planning and Research staff in the
Office of the Governor, and by various departments, especially the
Department of Natural Resources, Department of Community and Regional
Affairs, Department of Highways, and Department of Environmental
Conservation. An even greater variety of federal agencies has
planning functions affecting community growth and development.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act set up a joint state and
federal body to study land-related problems and make recommendations
to Congress and the state. This group, the Joint Federal-State Land
Use Planning Commission, is required by law to study the special
problems of land use in Native villages and regions. One member of
the ten-member commission must be a Native. The commission met first
in August 1972, and within weeks had begun careful study of land
problems of Native Alaskans after hearing about the problems from
Native organizations. Though the Commission can only advise, not act,
it may become a valuable way for Native communities and regions to
discuss their problems with state and federal representatives at the
Small Alaskan communities need to develop strong land use planning
programs because (a) communities are growing, and changing their
basic economy and society, (b) every piece of land has a different
range of possible uses and use limitations, and (c) different people
have different land-related needs.
Land planning is a continuous process. It attempts to fit people's
needs with what the land can do. As community goals change, as the
land itself changes naturally or because of human use, and as
unexpected things happen, land planning programs must change. Land
planning is successful if it helps people figure out their needs and
desires, develops ways in which the land can meet the many demands
placed upon it, prevents the destruction of land values, and protects
individuals and communities from costs they cannot pay.
Alaskan communities must work with special environmental
conditions of the North. One of these is the low production of plants
on northern lands. Another is the shortage of usable water in some
places. Still others are natural conditions which lead to pollution;
the nature of several Alaskan soil types, and permafrost. Economic
factors are important, too, in determining what it is possible to do
with Alaskan lands.
Governments' authority over community land planning is unusual in
Alaska too. Communities cannot plan for their own needs without
cooperating (and sometimes arguing) with borough, regional, state,
and national planning authorities. Communities rarely have land
enough to be selfsufficient. They must depend on other landowners,
public and private, to provide certain land resources and allow
certain community activities. Especially since passage of the Alaska
Native Claims Settlement Act in December 1971, confusion and unsolved
questions have come up relating to who will control specific areas of
land, how land use planning will be handled by different levels of
government and how workable land use patterns can be arranged with so
many competing interests. The challenge for community planners is to
figure out local needs well and to explain and defend these needs
effectively in regional and statewide planning efforts.
Professor of Wildlife Management
University of Alaska
the political activities of all of the groups interested
a period of time when unemployment is high and people are
not spending as much money as usual.
a condition of the economy where money does not buy as
much as it did just a short time ago.
planting of trees to be cut and used later
an amount of money paid for rights on something
property bought by a corporation to make a profit for
money, equipment, and building which a company has
money which is used to make more money
1. Has your community grown physically in the last five years?
List the physical changes you've seen.
2. Try to figure out all of the reasons for each change.
3. Imagine that you are about to build a home or a business. Dream
about the perfect place; picture the land, water, climate, soil,
animals, and natural resources you would have around you.
4. Now imagine that you can build on any piece of land in your
town. Where would you build, what would you build, and why?
5. What land around your community has resources which might be
used? Describe how you would develop a business exploiting a resource
if you had the money.
6. Consider how your business would affect the people in your town
who are subsistence hunters and fishermen.
7. What land or water around your town might be used for
recreation? Who would use it?
8. In what way would recreational use disturb the ecology of the
9. Think back to the business you were starting in No. 5. What
equipment would you need, and what skills? Who could you hire or go
into partnership with, to help you?
1. Why was your town built where it is?
2. What are the physical assets of the land? What are the
3. Is there a place in your community that has a lot of history
about it that you would like to see saved?
4. Is there a place near the town that is so beautiful that you
wish it could be left the way it is?
5 Is anyone trying to change the places you thought of in No. 3
and No. 4? If your places are in danger, who can you go to for help?
6. Who in your community knows about taxing land? Ask him to
expalin how it works.
7. Look at the list of goals in land use planning. Imagine that
you are members of the city council. What laws would you pass to
improve land use planning in your town?
8. What kinds of pollution does your town suffer from? What can be
done about them?
9. Find out who owns what land around your town.
10. Set up a debate between those who are in favor of economic
development of some land around your town, and those who are in favor
of leaving it alone (subsistence or ecological reasons).