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Alaska (i /əˈlæskə/) is the largest state of the United States by area; it is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait. Approximately half of Alaska's 698,473 residents live within the Anchorage metropolitan area. As of 2009, Alaska remains the least densely populated state of the U.S.
The U.S. Senate approved the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867, for $7.2 million at about two cents per acre ($4.74/km2). The land went through several administrative changes before becoming an organized territory on May 11, 1912, and the 49th state of the U.S. on January 3, 1959. The name "Alaska" (Аляска) was already introduced in the Russian colonial time, when it was used only for the peninsula and is derived from the Aleut alaxsxaq, meaning "the mainland" or more literally, "the object towards which the action of the sea is directed". It is also known as Alyeska, the "great land", an Aleut word derived from the same root.
Alaska has a longer coastline than all the other U.S. states combined. It is the only non-contiguous U.S. state on continental North America; about 500 miles (800 km) of British Columbia (Canada) separate Alaska from Washington state. Alaska is thus an exclave of the United States. It is technically part of the continental U.S., but is often not included in colloquial use; Alaska is not part of the contiguous U.S., often called "the Lower 48." The capital city, Juneau, is situated on the mainland of the North American continent, but is not connected by road to the rest of the North American highway system.
The state is bordered by the Yukon Territory and British Columbia in Canada, to the east, the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean to the south, the Bering Sea, Bering Strait, and Chukchi Sea to the west and the Arctic Ocean to the north. Alaska's territorial waters touch Russia's territorial waters in the Bering Strait, as the Russian and Alaskan islands are only 3 miles (4.8 km) apart. As it extends into the eastern hemisphere, it is technically both the westernmost and easternmost state in the United States, as well as also being the northernmost.
Alaska is the largest state in the United States in land area at 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 km2), over twice the size of Texas, the next largest state. Alaska is larger than all but 18 sovereign countries. Without Alaska, Brazil and Australia are larger than the United States.
Counting territorial waters, Alaska is larger than the combined area of the next three largest states: Texas, California, and Montana. It is also larger than the combined area of the 22 smallest U.S. states.
The International Date Line was drawn west of 180° to keep the whole state, and thus the entire North American continent, within the same legal day.
With its myriad islands, Alaska has nearly 34,000 miles (54,720 km) of tidal shoreline. The Aleutian Islands chain extends west from the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula. Many active volcanoes are found in the Aleutians. Unimak Island, for example, is home to Mount Shishaldin, which is an occasionally smoldering volcano that rises to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above the North Pacific. It is the most perfect volcanic cone on Earth, even more symmetrical than Japan's Mount Fuji. The chain of volcanoes extends to Mount Spurr, west of Anchorage on the mainland. Alaska has more volcanoes than any other state. Geologists have identified Alaska as part of Wrangellia, a large region consisting of multiple states and Canadian provinces in the Pacific Northwest which is actively undergoing continent building.
One of the world's largest tides occurs in Turnagain Arm, just south of Anchorage – tidal differences can be more than 35 feet (10.7 m). (Many sources say Turnagain has the second-greatest tides in North America, but several areas in Canada have larger tides.)
Alaska has more than three million lakes. Marshlands and wetland permafrost cover 188,320 square miles (487,747 km2) (mostly in northern, western and southwest flatlands). Glacier ice covers some 16,000 square miles (41,440 km2) of land and 1,200 square miles (3,110 km2) of tidal zone. The Bering Glacier complex near the southeastern border with Yukon covers 2,250 square miles (5,827 km2) alone. With over 100,000 of them, Alaska has half of the world's glaciers.
According to an October 1998 report by the United States Bureau of Land Management, approximately 65% of Alaska is owned and managed by the U.S. federal government as public lands, including a multitude of national forests, national parks, and national wildlife refuges. Of these, the Bureau of Land Management manages 87 million acres (350,000 km²), or 23.8% of the state. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. It is the world's largest wildlife refuge, comprising 16 million acres (65,000 km2).
Of the remaining land area, the state of Alaska owns 101 million acres (410,000 km2); another 44 million acres (180,000 km2) are owned by 12 regional and dozens of local Native corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Thus, indirectly, the 84,000 Eskimo, Aleut and American Indian inhabitants of Alaska own one-ninth of the state. Various private interests own the remaining land, totaling about one percent of the state.
The climate in Juneau and the southeast panhandle is a mid-latitude oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb) in the southern sections and a subarctic oceanic climate (Köppen Cfc) in the northern parts. On an annual basis, the panhandle is both the wettest and warmest part of Alaska with milder temperatures in the winter and high precipitation throughout the year. Juneau averages over 50 inches (1,270 mm) of precipitation a year, while other areas receive over 275 inches (6,990 mm). This is also the only region in Alaska in which the average daytime high temperature is above freezing during the winter months.
The climate of Anchorage and south central Alaska is mild by Alaskan standards due to the region's proximity to the seacoast. While the area gets less rain than southeast Alaska, it gets more snow, and days tend to be clearer. On average, Anchorage receives 16 inches (406 mm) of precipitation a year, with around 75 inches (1,905 mm) of snow, although there are areas in the south central which receive far more snow. It is a subarctic climate (Köppen Dfc) due to its brief, cool summers.
The climate of Western Alaska is determined in large part by the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. It is a subarctic oceanic climate in the southwest and a continental subarctic climate farther north. The temperature is somewhat moderate considering how far north the area is. This area has a tremendous amount of variety in precipitation. The northern side of the Seward Peninsula is technically a desert with less than 10 inches (250 mm) of precipitation annually, while some locations between Dillingham and Bethel average around 100 inches (2,540 mm) of precipitation.
The climate of the interior of Alaska is subarctic. Some of the highest and lowest temperatures in Alaska occur around the area near Fairbanks. The summers may have temperatures reaching into the 90s°F (the low to mid 30s °C), while in the winter, the temperature can fall below −60 °F (-52 °C). Precipitation is sparse in the Interior, often less than 10 inches (250 mm) a year, but what precipitation falls in the winter tends to stay the entire winter.
The highest and lowest recorded temperatures in Alaska are both in the Interior. The highest is 100 °F (38 °C) in Fort Yukon (which is just 8 miles (13 km) inside the arctic circle) on June 27, 1915, tied with Pahala, Hawaii as the lowest high temperature in the United States. The lowest official Alaska temperature is −80 °F (-62 °C) in Prospect Creek on January 23, 1971, one degree above the lowest temperature recorded in continental North America (in Snag, Yukon, Canada).
The climate in the extreme north of Alaska is Arctic (Köppen ET) with long, very cold winters and short, cool summers. Even in July, the average low temperature in Barrow is 34 °F (1 °C). Precipitation is light in this part of Alaska, with many places averaging less than 10 inches (250 mm) per year, mostly as snow which stays on the ground almost the entire year.
The first European contact with Alaska occurred in 1741, when Vitus Bering led an expedition for the Russian Navy aboard the St. Peter. After his crew returned to Russia bearing sea otter pelts judged to be the finest fur in the world, small associations of fur traders began to sail from the shores of Siberia towards the Aleutian islands. The first permanent European settlement was founded in 1784, and the Russian-American Company carried out an expanded colonization program during the early to mid-1800s. New Archangel on Kodiak Island was Alaska's first capital, but for a century under both Russia and the U.S. Sitka was the capital. The Russians never fully colonized Alaska, and the colony was never very profitable. William H. Seward, the U.S. Secretary of State, negotiated the Alaskan purchase with the Russians in 1867 for $7.2 million. Alaska was loosely governed by the military initially, and was unofficially a territory of the United States from 1884 on.
In the 1890s, gold rushes in Alaska and the nearby Yukon Territory brought thousands of miners and settlers to Alaska. Alaska was granted official territorial status in 1912. At this time the capital was moved to Juneau.
During World War II, the Aleutian Islands Campaign focused on the three outer Aleutian Islands – Attu, Agattu and Kiska – that were invaded by Japanese troops and occupied between June 1942 and August 1943. Unalaska/Dutch Harbor became a significant base for the U.S. Army Air Corps and Navy submariners.
The U.S. Lend-Lease program involved the flying of American warplanes through Canada to Fairbanks and thence Nome; Soviet pilots took possession of these aircraft, ferrying them to fight the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The construction of military bases contributed to the population growth of some Alaskan cities.
Statehood was approved on July 7, 1958. Alaska was officially proclaimed a state on January 3, 1959.
In 1964, the massive "Good Friday Earthquake" killed 131 people and destroyed several villages, mainly by the resultant tsunamis. It was the third most powerful earthquake in the recorded history of the world, with a moment magnitude of 9.2. It was over one thousand times more powerful than the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Luckily, the epicenter was in an unpopulated area or thousands more would have been killed.
The 1968 discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay and the 1977 completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline led to an oil boom. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in the Prince William Sound, spilling over 11 million gallons of crude oil over 1,100 miles (1,600 km) of coastline. Today, the battle between philosophies of development and conservation is seen in the contentious debate over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The United States Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2008, estimated Alaska's population at 686,293, which represents an increase of 59,361, or 9.5%, since the last census in 2000. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 60,994 people (that is 86,062 births minus 25,068 deaths) and a decrease due to net migration of 5,469 people out of the state. Immigration from outside the U.S. resulted in a net increase of 4,418 people, and migration within the country produced a net loss of 9,887 people. In 2000 Alaska ranked the 48th state by population, ahead of Vermont and Wyoming (and Washington D.C.). Alaska is the least densely populated state, and one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world, at 1.0 person per square mile (0.42/km²), with the next state, Wyoming, at 5.1 per square mile (1.97/km²). Alaska is the largest U.S. state by area, and the sixth wealthiest (per capita income). As of January 2010, the state's unemployment rate is 8.5%.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, White Americans made up 69.3% of Alaska's population. African Americans made up 3.5% of Alaska's population. In addition, American Indians and Alaska Natives were the largest minority group; they made up 15.6% of Alaska's population. Asian Americans made up 4.0% of Alaska's population. Pacific Islander Americans made up 0.5% of Alaska's population. Individuals from some other race made up 1.6% of Alaska's population while individuals from two or more races made up 5.4% of the state's population. In addition, Hispanics and Latinos made up 4.1% of Alaska's population.
In terms of ancestry, German Americans were the largest single ethnic group in Alaska; they made up 16.6% of Alaska's population and they were the only ethnic group in the state to number over 100,000 members. Irish Americans made up 10.8% of Alaska's population while English Americans made up 9.6% of the state's population. Norwegian Americans made up 4.2% of Alaska's population and French Americans made up 3.2% of the state's population.
As of the 2005–2007 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, White Americans made up 68.5% of Alaska's population. Blacks or African Americans made up 3.8% of Alaska's population. American Indians and Alaska Natives made up 13.4% of Alaska's population; still remaining the largest minority group. Asian Americans made up 4.6% of Alaska's population. Pacific Islander Americans remained at 0.5% of the state's population. Individuals from some other race made up 1.9% of Alaska's population while individuals from two or more races made up 7.2% of the state's population. Hispanics or Latinos made up 5.5% of Alaska's population.
In terms of ancestry, German Americans remained the largest single ethnic group in Alaska; they made up 19.3% of Alaska's population and were still the only ethnic group in the state with over 100,000 members. Irish Americans made up 12.5% of Alaska's population while English Americans made up 10.8% of the state's population. Norwegian Americans remained at 4.2% of Alaska's population and French Americans made up 3.6% of the state's population.
According to the 2005–2007 American Community Survey, 84.7% of people over the age of five speak only English at home. About 3.5% speak Spanish at home. About 2.2% speak another Indo-European language at home and about 4.3% speak an Asian language at home. And about 5.3% speak other languages at home.
A total of 5.2% of Alaskans speak one of the state's 22 indigenous languages, known locally as "native languages". These languages belong to two major language families: Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene. As the homeland of these two major language families of North America, Alaska has been described as the crossroads of the continent, providing evidence for the recent settlement of North America by way of the Bering land bridge.
Alaska has been identified, along with Pacific Northwest states Washington and Oregon, as being the least religious in the U.S. According to statistics collected by the Association of Religion Data Archives, about 39% of Alaska residents were members of religious congregations. Evangelical Protestants had 78,070 members, Roman Catholics had 54,359, and mainline Protestants had 37,156. After Catholicism, the largest single denominations are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons/LDS) with 30,169, Southern Baptists with 22,959, and Orthodox with 20,000. The large Eastern Orthodox (with 49 parishes and up to 50,000 followers) population is a result of early Russian colonization and missionary work among Alaska Natives. In 1795, the First Russian Orthodox Church was established in Kodiak. Intermarriage with Alaskan Natives helped the Russian immigrants integrate into society. As a result, an increasing number of Russian Orthodox churches gradually became established within Alaska. Alaska also has the largest Quaker population (by percentage) of any state. In 2003 there were 3,000 Jews in Alaska (for whom observance of the mitzvah may pose special problems). Estimates for the number of Alaskan Muslims range from 2,000 to 5,000. Alaskan Hindus often share venues and celebrations with members of other religious communities including Sikhs and Jains.
The 2007 gross state product was $44.9 billion, 45th in the nation. Its per capita personal income for 2007 was $40,042, ranking 15th in the nation. The oil and gas industry dominates the Alaskan economy, with more than 80% of the state's revenues derived from petroleum extraction. Alaska's main export product (excluding oil and natural gas) is seafood, primarily salmon, cod, Pollock and crab. Agriculture represents only a fraction of the Alaskan economy. Agricultural production is primarily for consumption within the state and includes nursery stock, dairy products, vegetables, and livestock. Manufacturing is limited, with most foodstuffs and general goods imported from elsewhere. Employment is primarily in government and industries such as natural resource extraction, shipping, and transportation. Military bases are a significant component of the economy in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. Federal subsidies are also an important part of the economy, allowing the state to keep taxes low. Its industrial outputs are crude petroleum, natural gas, coal, gold, precious metals, zinc and other mining, seafood processing, timber and wood products. There is also a growing service and tourism sector. Tourists have contributed to the economy by supporting local lodging.
Alaska has vast energy resources. Major oil and gas reserves are found in the Alaska North Slope (ANS) and Cook Inlet basins. According to the Energy Information Administration, Alaska ranks second in the nation in crude oil production. Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's North Slope is the highest yielding oil field in the United States and on North America, typically producing about 400,000 barrels per day (64,000 m3/d). The Trans-Alaska Pipeline can pump up to 2.1 million barrels (330,000 m3) of crude oil per day, more than any other crude oil pipeline in the United States. Additionally, substantial coal deposits are found in Alaska's bituminous, sub-bituminous, and lignite coal basins. The United States Geological Survey estimates that there are 85.4 trillion cubic feet (2,420 km3) of undiscovered, technically recoverable gas from natural gas hydrates on the Alaskan North Slope. Alaska also offers some of the highest hydroelectric power potential in the country from its numerous rivers. Large swaths of the Alaskan coastline offer wind and geothermal energy potential as well.
Alaska's economy depends heavily on increasingly expensive diesel fuel for heating, transportation, electric power and light. Though wind and hydroelectric power are abundant and underdeveloped, proposals for state-wide energy systems (e.g. with special low-cost electric interties) were judged uneconomical (at the time of the report, 2001) due to low (<$0.50/Gal) fuel prices, long distances and low population. The cost of a gallon of gas in urban Alaska today is usually $0.30-$0.60 higher than the national average; prices in rural areas are generally significantly higher but vary widely depending on transportation costs, seasonal usage peaks, nearby petroleum development infrastructure and many other factors.
Alaska accounts for one-fifth (20 percent) of domestically produced United States oil production. Prudhoe Bay (North America's largest oil field) alone accounts for 8% of the U.S. domestic oil production.
The Alaska Permanent Fund is a legislatively controlled appropriation established in 1976 to manage a surplus in state petroleum revenues from the recently constructed Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. From its initial principal of $734,000, the fund has grown to $40 billion as a result of oil royalties and capital investment programs. Starting in 1982, dividends from the fund's annual growth have been paid out each year to eligible Alaskans, ranging from $331.29 in 1984 to $3,269.00 in 2008 (which included a one-time $1200 "Resource Rebate"). Every year, the state legislature takes out 8 percent from the earnings, puts 3 percent back into the principal for inflation proofing, and the remaining 5 percent is distributed to all qualifying Alaskans. To qualify for the Alaska State Permanent Fund one must have lived in the state for a minimum of 12 months, and maintain constant residency.
The cost of goods in Alaska has long been higher than in the contiguous 48 states. This has changed for the most part in Anchorage and to a lesser extent in Fairbanks, where the cost of living has dropped somewhat in the past five years. Federal government employees, particularly United States Postal Service (USPS) workers and active-duty military members, receive a Cost of Living Allowance usually set at 25% of base pay because, while the cost of living has gone down, it is still one of the highest in the country.
The introduction of big-box stores in Anchorage, Fairbanks (Wal-Mart in March 2004), and Juneau also did much to lower prices. However, rural Alaska suffers from extremely high prices for food and consumer goods, compared to the rest of the country due to the relatively limited transportation infrastructure. Many rural residents come into these cities and purchase food and goods in bulk from warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam's Club. Some have embraced the free shipping offers of some online retailers to purchase items much more cheaply than they could in their own communities, if they are available at all.
Due to the northern climate and steep terrain, relatively little farming occurs in Alaska. Most farms are in either the Matanuska Valley, about 40 miles (64 km) northeast of Anchorage, or on the Kenai Peninsula, about 60 miles (97 km) southwest of Anchorage. The short 100-day growing season limits the crops that can be grown, but the long sunny summer days make for productive growing seasons. The primary crops are potatoes, carrots, lettuce, and cabbage. Farmers exhibit produce at the Alaska State Fair. "Alaska Grown" is used as an agricultural slogan.
Alaska has an abundance of seafood, with the primary fisheries in the Bering Sea and the North Pacific, and seafood is one of the few food items that is often cheaper within the state than outside it. Many Alaskans fish the rivers during salmon season to gather significant quantities of their household diet while fishing for subsistence, sport, or both.
Hunting for subsistence, primarily caribou, moose, and Dall sheep is still common in the state, particularly in remote Bush communities. An example of a traditional native food is Akutaq, the Eskimo ice cream, which can consist of reindeer fat, seal oil, dried fish meat and local berries.
Most food in Alaska is transported into the state from "outside", and shipping costs make food in the cities relatively expensive. In rural areas, subsistence hunting and gathering is an essential activity because imported food is prohibitively expensive. The cost of importing food to villages begins at 7¢ per pound (15¢/kg) and rises rapidly to 50¢ per pound ($1.10/kg) or more. The cost of delivering a seven-pound gallon of milk is about $3.50 in many villages where per capita income can be $20,000 or less. Fuel for snow machines and boats that consume a couple of gallons per hour can exceed $8.00 per gallon.
Alaska has few road connections compared to the rest of the U.S. The state's road system covers a relatively small area of the state, linking the central population centers and the Alaska Highway, the principal route out of the state through Canada. The state capital, Juneau, is not accessible by road, only a car ferry, which has spurred several debates over the decades about moving the capital to a city on the road system, or building a road connection from Haines. The western part of Alaska has no road system connecting the communities with the rest of Alaska.
One unique feature of the Alaska Highway system is the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, an active Alaska Railroad tunnel recently upgraded to provide a paved roadway link with the isolated community of Whittier on Prince William Sound to the Seward Highway about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Anchorage. At 2.5 miles (4.0 km) the tunnel was the longest road tunnel in North America until 2007. The tunnel is the longest combination road and rail tunnel in North America.
Built around 1915, the Alaska Railroad (ARR) played a key role in the development of Alaska through the 20th century. It links north Pacific shipping through providing critical infrastructure with tracks that run from Seward to Interior Alaska by way of South Central Alaska, passing through Anchorage, Eklutna, Wasilla, Talkeetna, Denali, and Fairbanks, with spurs to Whittier, Palmer and North Pole. The cities, towns, villages, and region served by ARR tracks are known statewide as "The Railbelt". In recent years, the ever-improving paved highway system began to eclipse the railroad's importance in Alaska's economy.
The railroad, though famed for its summertime tour passenger service, played a vital role in Alaska's development, moving freight into Alaska while transporting natural resources southward (i.e., coal from the Usibelli coal mine near Healy to Seward and gravel from the Matanuska Valley to Anchorage).
The Alaska Railroad was one of the last railroads in North America to use cabooses in regular service and still uses them on some gravel trains. It continues to offer one of the last flag stop routes in the country. A stretch of about 60 miles (100 km) of track along an area north of Talkeetna remains inaccessible by road; the railroad provides the only transportation to rural homes and cabins in the area; until construction of the Parks Highway in the 1970s, the railroad provided the only land access to most of the region along its entire route.
In northern Southeast Alaska, the White Pass and Yukon Route also partly runs through the State from Skagway northwards into Canada (British Columbia and Yukon Territory), crossing the border at White Pass Summit. This line is now mainly used by tourists, often arriving by cruise liner at Skagway. It featured in the 1983 BBC television series Great Little Railways.
Most cities, towns and villages in the state do not have road or highway access; the only modes of access involve travel by air, river, or the sea.
Alaska's well-developed state-owned ferry system (known as the Alaska Marine Highway) serves the cities of Alaska Panhandle, the Gulf Coast and the Alaska Peninsula. The system also operates a ferry service from Bellingham, Washington and Prince Rupert, British Columbia in Canada through the Inside Passage to Skagway. The Inter-Island Ferry Authority also serves as an important marine link for many communities in the Prince of Wales Island region of Southeast and works in concert with the Alaska Marine Highway.
In recent years, large cruise ships began creating a summertime tourism market, mainly connecting the Pacific Northwest to Southeast Alaska and, to a lesser degree, towns along the north gulf coast. Several times each summer, the population of Ketchikan sharply rises for a few hours when two ships dock to debark more than a thousand passengers each while four other ships lie at anchor nearby, waiting their turn at the dock.
Cities not served by road, sea, or river can be reached only by air, foot, dogsled, or snowmachine accounting for Alaska's extremely well-developed bush air services—an Alaskan novelty. Anchorage itself, and to a lesser extent Fairbanks, are served by many major airlines. Because of limited highway access, air travel remains the most efficient form of transportation in and out of the state. Anchorage recently completed extensive remodeling and construction at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to help accommodate the upsurge in tourism (in 2000–2001, the latest year for which data is available, 2.4 million total arrivals to Alaska were counted, 1.7 million by air travel; 1.4 million were visitors).
Regular flights to most villages and towns within the state that are commercially viable are challenging to provide, so they are heavily subsidized by the federal government through the Essential Air Service program. Alaska Airlines is the only major airline offering in-state travel with jet service (sometimes in combination cargo and passenger Boeing 737-400s) from Anchorage and Fairbanks to regional hubs like Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Dillingham, Kodiak, and other larger communities as well as to major Southeast and Alaska Peninsula communities. The bulk of remaining commercial flight offerings come from small regional commuter airlines such as Era Aviation, PenAir, and Frontier Flying Service. The smallest towns and villages must rely on scheduled or chartered bush flying services using general aviation aircraft such as the Cessna Caravan, the most popular aircraft in use in the state. Much of this service can be attributed to the Alaska bypass mail program which subsidizes bulk mail delivery to Alaskan rural communities. The program requires 70% of that subsidy to go to carriers who offer passenger service to the communities. Many communities have small air taxi services, such as Hudson's Air Service, Kantishna Air Taxi, and Talkeetna Air Taxi. These operations, though now catering primarily to tourists, originated from the demand for customized transport to remote areas. Perhaps the most quintessentially Alaskan plane is the bush seaplane. The world's busiest seaplane base is Lake Hood, located next to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, where flights bound for remote villages without an airstrip carry passengers, cargo, and many items from stores and warehouse clubs. Alaska has the highest number of pilots per capita of any U.S. state: out of the estimated 663,661 residents, 8,550 are pilots, or about one in 78.
Another Alaskan transportation method is the dogsled. In modern times (that is, any time after the mid-late 1920s), dog mushing is more of a sport than a true means of transportation. Various races are held around the state, but the best known is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a 1150-mile (1850 km) trail from Anchorage to Nome (although the mileage varies from year to year, the official distance is set at 1049 miles). The race commemorates the famous 1925 serum run to Nome in which mushers and dogs like Togo and Balto took much-needed medicine to the diphtheria-stricken community of Nome when all other means of transportation had failed. Mushers from all over the world come to Anchorage each March to compete for cash, prizes, and prestige. The "Serum Run" is another sled dog race that more accurately follows the route of the famous 1925 relay, leaving from the community of Nenana (southwest of Fairbanks) to Nome.
In areas not served by road or rail, primary transportation in summer is by all-terrain vehicle and in winter by snowmobile or "snow machine," as it is commonly referred to in Alaska.
Like all other U.S. states, Alaska is governed as a republic, with three branches of government: an executive branch consisting of the Governor of Alaska and the other independently elected constitutional officers; a legislative branch consisting of the Alaska House of Representatives and Alaska Senate; and a judicial branch consisting of the Alaska Supreme Court and lower courts.
The state of Alaska employs approximately 15,000 employees statewide.
The Alaska Legislature consists of a 40-member House of Representatives and a 20-member Senate. Senators serve four year terms and House members two. The Governor of Alaska serves four-year terms. The lieutenant governor runs separately from the governor in the primaries, but during the general election, the nominee for governor and nominee for lieutenant governor run together on the same ticket.
Alaska's court system has four levels: the Alaska Supreme Court, the court of appeals, the superior courts and the district courts. The superior and district courts are trial courts. Superior courts are courts of general jurisdiction, while district courts only hear certain types of cases, including misdemeanor criminal cases and civil cases valued up to $100,000. The Supreme Court and the Court Of Appeals are appellate courts. The Court Of Appeals is required to hear appeals from certain lower-court decisions, including those regarding criminal prosecutions, juvenile delinquency, and habeas corpus. The Supreme Court hears civil appeals and may in its discretion hear criminal appeals.
Although Alaska entered the union as a Democratic state, since the early 1970s Alaska has been characterized as a Republican-leaning state. Local political communities have often worked on issues related to land use development, fishing, tourism, and individual rights. Alaska Natives, while organized in and around their communities, have been active within the Native corporations. These have been given ownership over large tracts of land, which require stewardship.
Alaska is the only state in which possession of one ounce or less of marijuana in one's home is completely legal under state law, though the federal law remains in force.
The state has an independence movement favoring a vote on secession from the United States, with the Alaska Independence Party labeled as one of "the most significant state-level third parties operating in the 20th century".
Six Republicans and four Democrats have served as governor of Alaska. In addition, Republican Governor Wally Hickel was elected to the office for a second term in 1990 after leaving the Republican party and briefly joining the Alaskan Independence Party ticket just long enough to be reelected. He subsequently officially rejoined the Republican party in 1994.
To finance state government operations, Alaska depends primarily on petroleum revenues and federal subsidies. This allows it to have the lowest individual tax burden in the United States, and be one of only five states with no state sales tax, one of seven states that do not levy an individual income tax, and one of two states that has neither. The Department of Revenue Tax Division reports regularly on the state's revenue sources. The Department also issues an annual summary of its operations, including new state laws that directly affect the tax division.
While Alaska has no state sales tax, 89 municipalities collect a local sales tax, from 1–7.5%, typically 3–5%. Other local taxes levied include raw fish taxes, hotel, motel, and bed-and-breakfast 'bed' taxes, severance taxes, liquor and tobacco taxes, gaming (pull tabs) taxes, tire taxes and fuel transfer taxes. A part of the revenue collected from certain state taxes and license fees (such as petroleum, aviation motor fuel, telephone cooperative) is shared with municipalities in Alaska.
Fairbanks has one of the highest property taxes in the state as no sales or income taxes are assessed in the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB). A sales tax for the FNSB has been voted on many times, but has yet to be approved, leading law makers to increase taxes dramatically on other goods such as liquor and tobacco.
In 2008 the Tax Foundation ranked Alaska as having the 4th most "business friendly" tax policy. More "friendly" states were Wyoming, Nevada, and South Dakota.
In presidential elections, the state's electoral college votes have been won by the Republican nominee in every election since statehood, except for 1964. No state has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate fewer times. Alaska supported Democratic nominee Lyndon B. Johnson in the landslide year of 1964, although the 1960 and 1968 elections were close. Republican John McCain defeated Democrat Barack Obama in Alaska, 59.49% to 37.83%. McCain's running mate was Sarah Palin, the state's governor and the first Alaskan on a major party ticket. The Alaska Bush, the city of Juneau and midtown and downtown Anchorage have been strongholds of the Democratic party. Matanuska-Susitna Borough and South Anchorage typically have the strongest Republican showing. As of 2004, well over half of all registered voters have chosen "Non-Partisan" or "Undeclared" as their affiliation, despite recent attempts to close primaries.
Because of its population relative to other U.S. states, Alaska has only one member in the U.S. House of Representatives. This seat is currently being held by Republican Don Young, who was re-elected to his 19th consecutive term in 2008.
On November 19, 2008, Democrat Mark Begich, mayor of Anchorage, defeated long-time Republican senator Ted Stevens. Stevens had been convicted on seven felony counts of failing to report gifts on Senate financial discloser forms one week before the election. The conviction was set aside in April 2009 after evidence of prosecutorial misconduct emerged.
Republican Frank Murkowski held the state's other senatorial position. After being elected governor in 2002, he resigned from the Senate and appointed his daughter, State Representative Lisa Murkowski as his successor. In response to a subsequent ballot initiative, the state legislature attempted to amend the law to limit the length of gubernatorial appointments. She won a full six-year term in 2004. In 2006 Frank Murkowski was defeated in the Republican primary by Sarah Palin, who in 2008 became the Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States.
Alaska is not divided into counties, as most of the other U.S. states, but it is divided into boroughs. Many of the more densely populated parts of the state are part of Alaska's sixteen boroughs, which function somewhat similarly to counties in other states. However, unlike county-equivalents in the other 49 states, the boroughs do not cover the entire land area of the state. The area not part of any borough is referred to as the Unorganized Borough. The Unorganized Borough has no government of its own, but the U.S. Census Bureau in cooperation with the state divided the Unorganized Borough into 11 census areas solely for the purposes of statistical analysis and presentation. A recording district is a mechanism for administration of the public record in Alaska. The state is divided into 34 recording districts which are centrally administered under a State Recorder. All recording districts use the same acceptance criteria, fee schedule, etc., for accepting documents into the public record.
Whereas many U.S. states use a three-tiered system of decentralization—state/county/township—most of Alaska uses only two tiers—state/borough. Owing to the low population density, most of the land is located in the Unorganized Borough which, as the name implies, has no intermediate borough government of its own, but is administered directly by the state government. Currently (2000 census) 57.71% of Alaska's area has this status, with 13.05% of the population. For statistical purposes the United States Census Bureau divides this territory into census areas. Anchorage merged the city government with the Greater Anchorage Area Borough in 1975 to form the Municipality of Anchorage, containing the city proper and the communities of Eagle River, Chugiak, Peters Creek, Girdwood, Bird, and Indian. Fairbanks has a separate borough (the Fairbanks North Star Borough) and municipality (the City of Fairbanks).
The state's most populous city is Anchorage, home to 278,700 people in 2006, 225,744 of whom live in the urbanized area. The richest location in Alaska by per capita income is Halibut Cove ($89,895). Yakutat City, Sitka, Juneau, and Anchorage are the four largest cities in the U.S. by area.
The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development administers many school districts in Alaska. In addition, the state operates a boarding school, Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka; and provides partial funding for other boarding schools including, Nenana Student Living Center in Nenana, and The Galena Interior Learning Academy in Galena.
There are more than a dozen colleges and universities in Alaska. Accredited universities in Alaska include the University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Alaska Southeast, and Alaska Pacific University. 43% of the population attends or attended college.
Alaska has had a problem with a "brain drain". Many of its young people, including most of the highest academic achievers, leave the state after high school graduation and do not return. The University of Alaska has attempted to combat this by offering partial four-year scholarships to the top 10% of Alaska high school graduates, via the Alaska Scholars Program.
Alaska residents have long had a problem with alcohol use and abuse. Many rural communities in Alaska have outlawed its import. This problem directly relates to Alaska's high rate of Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) as well as contributing to the high rate of suicides and teenage pregnancies. Suicide rates for rural residents are higher than urban.
Domestic abuse and other violent crimes are also at high levels in the state; this is in part linked to alcohol abuse.
Some of Alaska's popular annual events are the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that starts in Anchorage and ends in Nome, World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, the Alaska Hummingbird Festival in Ketchikan, the Sitka Whale Fest, and the Stikine River Garnet Fest in Wrangell. The Stikine River features the largest springtime concentration of American Bald Eagles in the world.
The Alaska Native Heritage Center celebrates the rich heritage of Alaska's 11 cultural groups. Their purpose is to enhance self-esteem among Native people and to encourage cross-cultural exchanges among all people. The Alaska Native Arts Foundation promotes and markets Native art from all regions and cultures in the State, both on the internet; at its gallery in Anchorage, 500 West Sixth Avenue, and at the Alaska House New York, 109 Mercer Street in SoHo.
Alaska Natives – Inuit, Inupiaq or Yupik drummers and dancers – give informal performances in the lobby of the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage on weekday evenings.
The four main libraries in the state are the Alaska State Library in Juneau, the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library in Fairbanks, the Z. J. Loussac Library in Anchorage, and the UAA/APU Consortium Library, also in Anchorage. Alaska is one of three states (the others are Delaware and Rhode Island) that does not have a Carnegie library.
Influences on music in Alaska include the traditional music of Alaska Natives as well as folk music brought by later immigrants from Russia and Europe. Prominent musicians from Alaska include singer Jewel, traditional Aleut flautist Mary Youngblood, folk singer-songwriter Libby Roderick, Christian music singer/songwriter Lincoln Brewster, metal/post hardcore band 36 Crazyfists and the groups Pamyua and Portugal. The Man.
There are many established music festivals in Alaska, including the Alaska Folk Festival, the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival the Anchorage Folk Festival, the Athabascan Old-Time Fiddling Festival, the Sitka Jazz Festival, and the Sitka Summer Music Festival. The most prominent symphony in Alaska is the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, though the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra and Juneau Symphony are also notable. The Anchorage Opera is currently the state's only professional opera company, though there are several volunteer and semi-professional organizations in the state as well.
The official state song of Alaska is "Alaska's Flag", which was adopted in 1955; it celebrates the flag of Alaska.
Alaska's first independent picture all made on place was in the silent years. The Chechahcos, was released in 1924 by the Alaska Moving Picture Corp. It was the only film the company made.
One of the most prominent movies filmed in Alaska is MGM's Academy Award winning classic Eskimo/Mala The Magnificent starring Alaska's own Ray Mala. In 1932 an expedition set out from MGM's studios in Hollywood to Alaska to film what was then billed as "The Biggest Picture Ever Made." Upon arriving in Alaska, they set up "Camp Hollywood" in Northwest Alaska, where they lived during the duration of the filming. Louis B. Mayer spared no expense in making sure they had everything they needed during their stay—he even sent the famous chef from the Hotel Roosevelt on Hollywood Blvd (the site of the first Oscars) with them to Alaska to cook for them. When Eskimo premiered at the famed Astor Theatre in Times Square, New York, the studio received the largest amount of feedback in the history of the studio up to that time. Eskimo was critically acclaimed and released worldwide; as a result Inupiat Eskimo actor Ray Mala became an international movie star. Eskimo is significant for the following: winning the very first Oscar for Best Film Editing at the Academy Awards, for forever preserving Inupiat culture on film, and for being the first motion picture to be filmed in an all native language (Inupiat).
The psychological thriller Insomnia, starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams was shot in Canada, but was set in Alaska. The 2007 horror feature 30 Days of Night is set in Barrow, Alaska but was filmed in New Zealand. Most films and television shows set in Alaska are not filmed there; for example, Northern Exposure, set in the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska, was actually filmed in Roslyn, Washington.
The 1983 Disney movie Never Cry Wolf was at least partially shot in Alaska. The 1991 film White Fang, starring Ethan Hawke, was filmed in and around Haines, Alaska. The 1999 John Sayles film Limbo, starring David Strathairn, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Kris Kristofferson, was filmed in Juneau.
The 2007 film directed by Sean Penn, Into The Wild was partially filmed and set in Alaska. The film, which is based on the novel of the same name, follows the adventures of Christopher McCandless, who died in a remote abandoned bus in Alaska in 1992.