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State Guide

Alaska is a state in the United States of America, in the northwest of the North American continent. It is the largest U.S. state by area (by a substantial margin), and one of the wealthiest (per capita) and most racially diverse.

The area that became Alaska was purchased from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867, for 7.2 million dollars (at 2 cents per acre) after Congress concluded its resources could be vitally important to the nation's future growth. 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" was already introduced in the Russian colonial time, when it was only used 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 is one of two U.S. states not bordered by another state, Hawaii being the other. Alaska has more 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 Canadian territory separate Alaska from Washington State. Alaska is thus an exclave of the United States, part of the continental U.S. but is not part of the contiguous U.S. Juneau, Alaska's capital city, though located on the mainland of the North American continent, is inaccessible by land—no roads connect Juneau to the rest of the North American highway system.

The state is bordered by Yukon Territory and British Columbia, 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 Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean to the north.

Alaska is the largest state in the United States in land area at 570,380 square miles (1.477277×106 km²), more than twice as large as Texas, the next largest state. It is larger than all but 18 sovereign nations.

Alaska is larger than the combined area of either:

  • The next 3 largest states: Texas, California, and Montana.


  • 23 smallest U.S. States and Districts: District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, Maine, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina
  • Also, comparing with territory outside the United States, Alaska is larger than:

Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom combined.

One scheme for describing the state's geography is by labeling the regions:

  • South Central Alaska is the southern coastal region and contains most of the state's population. Anchorage and many growing towns, such as Palmer, and Wasilla, lie within this area. Petroleum industrial plants, transportation, tourism, and two military bases form the core of the economy here.
  • The Alaska Panhandle, also known as Southeast Alaska, is home to many of Alaska's larger towns including the state capital Juneau, tidewater glaciers, the many islands and channels of the Alexander Archipelago and extensive forests. Tourism, fishing, forestry and state government anchor the economy.
  • Southwest Alaska is largely coastal, bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. It is sparsely populated, and unconnected to the road system, but very important to the fishing industry. Half of all fish caught in the western U.S. come from the Bering Sea, and Bristol Bay has the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery. Southwest Alaska includes Katmai and Lake Clark national parks as well as numerous wildlife refuges. The region comprises western Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay and its watersheds, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. It is known for wet and stormy weather, tundra landscapes, and large populations of salmon, brown bears, caribou, birds, and marine mammals.
  • The Alaska Interior is home to Fairbanks. The geography is marked by large braided rivers, such as the Yukon River and the Kuskokwim River, as well as Arctic tundra lands and shorelines.
  • The Alaskan Bush is the remote, less crowded part of the state, encompassing 380 native villages and small towns such as Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue and, most famously, Barrow, the northernmost town in the United States, as well as the northern most town on the contiguous North American continent (cities in Greenland, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut that are farther north are on islands).

The northeast corner of Alaska is covered by the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 19,049,236 acres (77,090 km²). Much of the northwest is covered by the larger National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, which covers around 23,000,000 acres (93,100 km²). The Arctic is Alaska's most remote wilderness. A location in the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska is 120 miles (190 km) miles from any town or village, the geographic point most remote from permanent habitation in the USA.

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 a moderately active volcano that rises to 9,980 feet (3,042 m) above sea level. The chain of volcanoes extends to Mount Spurr, west of Anchorage on the mainland.

One of North America'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 3 million lakes Marshlands and wetland permafrost cover 188,320 square miles (4.87747×105 km²) (mostly in northern, western and southwest flatlands). Frozen water, in the form of 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, Canada, covers 2,250 square miles (5,827 km²) alone.

The Aleutian Islands cross longitude 180°, so Alaska can be considered the easternmost state as well as the westernmost. Alaska, and especially the Aleutians, are one of the extreme points of the United States. The International Date Line jogs west of 180° to keep the whole state, and thus the entire continental United States, within the same legal day.

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.

Of the remaining land area, the State of Alaska owns 24.5%; another 10% is managed by 13 regional and dozens of local Native corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Various private interests own the remaining land, totaling less than 1%.

Alaska is administratively divided into "boroughs", as opposed to "counties." The function is the same, but whereas some 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 1971 to form the Municipality of Anchorage, containing the city proper and the bedroom 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 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, this 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 does not get nearly as much rain as southeast Alaska, it does get more snow, although 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 short, 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 best described as extreme and is a good example of a true subarctic climate. Some of the hottest and coldest temperatures in Alaska occur around the area near Fairbanks. The summers can 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 on June 27, 1915, tied with Pahala, Hawaii as the lowest high temperature in the United States. The lowest Alaska temperature is −80 °F (-64 °C) in Prospect Creek on January 23, 1971, one degree above the lowest temperature recorded in North America (in Snag, Yukon, Canada).

The climate in the extreme north of Alaska is as expected for an area north of the Arctic Circle. It is an Arctic climate (Köppen ET) with long, very cold winters and short, cool summers. Even in July, the average low temperature is barely above freezing in Barrow, at 34 °F (2 °C). Precipitation is light in this part of Alaska, with many places averaging less than 10 inches (250 mm) per year, mostly in the form of snow which stays on the ground almost the entire year.


At the end of the Upper Paleolithic Period (around 12,000 BC), Asiatic groups crossed the Bering Land Bridge into what is now western Alaska. At the time of European contact by the Russian explorers, the area was populated by Alaska Native groups.

The first European contact with Alaska occurred in the year 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. Despite these efforts, the Russians never fully colonized Alaska, and the colony was never very profitable. William H. Seward, the U.S. Secretary of State, engineered the Alaskan purchase in 1867 for $7.2 million.

In the 1890s, gold rushes in Alaska and the nearby Yukon Territory brought thousands of miners and settlers to Alaska. Alaska was granted territorial status in 1912.

During World War II, three of the outer Aleutian Islands — Attu, Agattu and Kiska, 460 miles (740 km) away from continental USSR, 920 miles (1,480 km) from continental Alaska (U.S.), 950 miles (1,530 km) from Japan — were invaded by Japanese troops and occupied between June 1942 and August 1943. Their recovery became a matter of national pride. The construction of military bases contributed to the population growth of some Alaskan cities.

Alaska was granted statehood on January 3, 1959.

In 1964, the massive "Good Friday Earthquake" killed 131 people and leveled several villages.

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 between 11 and 35 million US gallons (42,000-130,000 m³) 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.


In 2006 Alaska had an estimated population of 670,053, an increase of 6,392 (0.96%) from 2005 and 43,121 (6.9%) from 2000. In 2000 Alaska ranked 48th out of 50 states by population. Alaska is the least densely populated state, at 0.42 people per square kilometer (1.1 per square mile), with the next state, Wyoming, at 1.97 (5.1 per square mile), and the most densely populated, New Jersey, at 437.6 people per square kilometer (1,134.4 per square mile).

Race and ancestry

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 69.3% of single-race Alaska residents were White and 15.6% were Native American or Alaska Native, the largest proportion of any state. Multiracial/Mixed-Race people are the third largest group of people in the state, totaling 6.9% of the population. The largest self-reported ancestry groups in the state are German (16.6%), Alaska Native or American Indian (15.6%), Irish (10.8%), British (9.6%), American (5.7%), and Norwegian (4.2%).

The vast sparsely populated regions of northern and western Alaska are primarily inhabited by Alaska Natives, who are also numerous in the southeast. Anchorage, Fairbanks, and other parts of south-central and southeast Alaska have many whites of northern and western European ancestry. The Wrangell-Petersburg area has many residents of Scandinavian ancestry and the Aleutians contain a large Filipino population. Most of the state's black population lives in Anchorage, though Fairbanks also has a sizable black population.


According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 85.7% of Alaska residents aged 5 and older speak English at home. The next most common languages are Spanish (2.88%), Yupik (2.87%), Tagalog (1.54%), and Iñupiaq (1.06%).[20] A total of 5.2% of Alaskans speak one of the state's 22 indigenous languages, known locally as Native American languages.


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, only 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 Catholics, the largest single denominations are Mormons with 28,956, Southern Baptists with 22,959, and Orthodox with 20,000. The large Eastern Orthodox 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, more and more 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.


The 2005 gross state product was $39.9 billion. Its per-capita GSP for 2005 was $60,079, 3rd 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. 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 typically producing about 400,000 barrels per day (64,000 m³/d). The Trans-Alaska Pipeline can pump up to 2.1 million barrels (3.3×105 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. 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 underutilized, 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.

Permanent Fund

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 $38 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 $1963.86 in 2000.

Cost of living

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.


Alaska has the lowest individual tax burden in the United States, and is one of only five states with no state sales tax and one of seven states that do not levy an individual income tax. To finance state government operations, Alaska depends primarily on petroleum revenues. The Department of Revenue Tax Division reports regularly on the state's revenue sources. The Department also issues an annual overview 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% to 7.5%, typically 3% to 5%. Other local taxes levied include raw fish taxes, hotel, motel, and B&B “bed” taxes, severance taxes, liquor and tobacco taxes, gaming (pull tabs) taxes, tire taxes and fuel transfer taxes. A percentage of revenue collected from certain state taxes and license fees (such as petroleum, aviation motor fuel, telephone cooperative) is shared with municipalities in Alaska.

Property taxes are relatively low, with only 25 of 161 incorporated municipalities or boroughs in the state assessing property taxes.[citation needed] 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. The average per capita property tax paid in all municipalities, excluding oil and gas properties, was US$999 (2003 data).

In 2008 the Tax Foundation ranked Alaska as having the 4th most "business friendly" tax policy. Superior states were Wyoming, Nevada, and South Dakota.



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 road system is the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel which links the Seward Highway south of Anchorage with the relatively isolated community of Whittier. At nearly 2.5 miles (4.0 km) the tunnel was the longest road tunnel in North America until completion of the 3.5 mile (5.6 km) Interstate 93 tunnel as part of the "Big Dig" project in Boston, Massachusetts. The tunnel is the longest combination road and rail tunnel in North America.


The Alaska Railroad runs from Seward through Anchorage, Denali, and Fairbanks to North Pole, with spurs to Whittier and Palmer (locally known as "The Railbelt"). The railroad is famous for its summertime passenger services and also plays a vital part in moving Alaska's natural resources, such as coal and gravel, to ports in Anchorage, Whittier, and Seward. The Alaska Railroad was one of the last railroads in North America to use cabooses in regular service and still uses them on certain gravel trains, and it offers one of the last flag stop routes in the country. A stretch of about 60 miles (97 km) of track along an area inaccessible by road is the only transportation to cabins in the area.

Marine transport

Most cities and villages in the state are accessible only by sea or air. Alaska has a well-developed ferry system, known as the Alaska Marine Highway, which serves the cities of Southeast and the Alaska Peninsula. The system also operates a ferry service from Bellingham, Washington via 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. Tourist sea travel is also popular on Alaska cruises.

Air transport

Cities not served by road or sea can be reached only by air, accounting for Alaska's extremely well-developed Bush air services—an Alaskan novelty. Anchorage itself, and to a lesser extent Fairbanks, are serviced by many major airlines. Air travel is the cheapest and 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 via air travel; 1.4 million were visitors).

Regular flights to most villages and towns within the state are commercially challenging to provide. 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. 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 lots of 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.

Other transport

Another Alaskan transportation method is the dogsled. In modern times, 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 milage varies from year to year, the official distance is set at 1049 miles). The race commerates 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 Nennana (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.

Law and government

Political leanings

Alaska is often described as a Republican-leaning state with strong Libertarian tendencies. In presidential elections, the state's electoral college votes have been almost always won by a Republican nominee. Only once has Alaska supported a Democratic nominee, when it supported Lyndon B. Johnson in the landslide year of 1964, although the 1960 and 1968 elections were close. No state has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate fewer times. President George W. Bush won the state's electoral votes in 2004 by a margin of 25 percentage points with 61.1% of the vote. The city of Juneau and Midtown Anchorage are 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 choose "Non-Partisan" or "Undeclared" as their affiliation, despite recent attempts to close primaries. Alaska is one of the states with a more relaxed marijuana policy, where one can possess up to one ounce of the substance legally. Alaska possesses a pervasively strong independence movement favoring secession from the US, with the Alaskan Independence Party labeled one of the "the most significant state-level third parties operating in the 20th century".

State government

December 4, 2006, Sarah Palin was sworn in as the first woman and youngest Governor of Alaska. Her running mate was Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell. Palin is the former two-term mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

The Alaska State Legislature consists of a 20-member Senate, whose members serve four-year terms, and 40-member House of Representatives, who serve two-year terms. It has been dominated by conservatives, generally Republicans. Recent state governors have been mostly conservatives, although not always elected under the official Republican banner. Republican Wally Hickel was elected to the office for a second term in 1990 after jumping the Republican ship and briefly joining the Alaskan Independence Party ticket just long enough to be reelected. He subsequently officially rejoined the Republican fold in 1994.

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.

Local political communities often work on issues related to land use development, fishing, tourism, and individual rights. Alaska Natives, while organized in and around their communities, are often active within the Native corporations which have been given ownership over large tracts of land, and thus need to deliberate resource conservation and development issues.

Representation in the U.S. Congress

Alaska's members of the U.S. Congress are all Republican. U.S. Senator Ted Stevens was appointed to the position following the death of U.S. Senator Bob Bartlett in December 1968, and has not lost a re-election campaign since. As the longest-serving Republican in the Senate (sometimes nicknamed "Senator-For-Life" and often referred to as "Uncle Ted"), Stevens has been a crucial force in gaining federal money for his state.

Until his resignation from the U.S. Senate after being elected governor in 2002, Republican Frank Murkowski held the state's other senatorial position and, as governor, appointed his daughter, State Representative Lisa Murkowski as his successor (under public pressure, the State legislature attempted to amend state statute to limit the length of gubernatorial appointments in the future in response to a ballot initiative sponsored by Murkowski's political opponents.). She won a full six-year term on her own in 2004.

Alaska's sole U.S. Representative, Don Young, was re-elected to his 17th consecutive term, also in 2004. His seniority in House makes him one of the most influential Republican House members.

Important cities and towns

Alaska's most populous city is Anchorage, home to 260,283 people in 2000, 225,744 of whom live in the urbanized area. The richest location in Alaska by per capita income is Halibut Cove ($89,895). Sitka, Juneau, and Anchorage are the three largest cities in the U.S. by area.

Also notable is the rapid growth of towns in the Mat-Su Valley. Wasilla and Palmer are projected to experience a huge population growth between 2000 and 2010.


The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development administers many school districts in Alaska. In addition, the state operates several boarding schools, including Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Nenana Student Living Center in Nenana, and Galena High School 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, Sheldon Jackson College and Alaska Pacific University. 43% of the population attends or attended college.

Current issues

Alaska has 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. This is a controversial topic for many residents.

Alaska has also had a problem with "brain drain" as many of its young people, including most of the highest academic achievers, leave the state upon graduating high school. While for many this functions as a sort of walkabout, many do not return to the state. The University of Alaska has been successfully combating this by offering partial four-year scholarships to the top 10% of Alaska high school graduates, via the Alaska Scholars Program.

Domestic abuse and other violent crimes are also at notoriously 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.


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.


Due to the northern climate and steep terrain, relatively little farming occurs in Alaska. Most farms are in either the Mat-Su Valley near Anchorage, or on the Kenai Peninsula. The short summer limits the types of crops that can be grown - primary crops are potatoes, carrots, lettuce, and cabbage. Despite this, the long summer days can allow these vegetables to reach record size. Alaska has an abundance of seafood, with the primary fisheries in the Bering Sea, and seafood is one of the few food items that is often cheaper within the state than outside it. Hunting for subsistence, primarily caribou, moose, and sheep is still fairly 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 is relatively expensive due to high shipping costs.


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, and the group Pamyua.

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.

Movies filmed in Alaska

Two of the most prominent movies filmed in Alaska were Into the Wild and 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 extensively 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, including Northern Exposure.

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. Sean Penn filmed large portions of the film Into the Wild on location in Alaska. In 2008 the movie 30 Days of Night was filmed partially in Alaska. The 1983 Disney movie Never Cry Wolf was at least partially shot in Alaska as well.

State symbols

  • State bird: Willow Ptarmigan, adopted by the Territorial Legislature in 1955. It is a small (15-17 inches) Arctic grouse that lives among willows and on open tundra and muskeg. Plumage is brown in summer, changing to white in winter. The Willow Ptarmigan is common in much of Alaska.
  • State fish: King Salmon, adopted 1962.
  • State flower: wild/native Forget-Me-Not, adopted by the Territorial Legislature in 1917.[45] It is a perennial that is found throughout Alaska, from Hyder to the Arctic Coast, and west to the Aleutians.
  • State fossil: Woolly Mammoth, adopted 1986.
  • State gem: Jade, adopted 1968.
  • State insect: Four-spot skimmer dragonfly, adopted 1995.
  • State land mammal: Moose, adopted 1998.
  • State marine mammal: Bowhead Whale, adopted 1983.
  • State mineral: Gold, adopted 1968.
  • State song: "Alaska's Flag"
  • State sport: Dog Mushing, adopted 1972.
  • State tree: Sitka Spruce, adopted 1962.
  • State soil: Estelle, adopted unknown.

Famous Alaskans

  • Tom Bodett
  • Susan Butcher
  • Ernest Gruening
  • Jewel Kilcher
  • Governor Tony Knowles
  • Sydney Laurence
  • Libby Riddles
  • Jefferson "Soapy" Smith
  • Holly Madison of the The Girls Next Door

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