Reading the Fine Print – Did the NPS Ever Manage This National Monument?
The political and legal process required to create a new unit for the national park system can be long and complicated. In some cases, it's almost as difficult figuring out later exactly what happened in that process!
That's the situation for a large national monument that's sometimes described as "another Yosemite." The area was initially established on December 1, 1978, and the question of the day is …was it ever part of the national park system?
An official list of national park "birthdays" includes the following entry: "December 1, 1978 — Misty Fjords National Monument Alaska. (Later transferred to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)." The jury is still out on whether this is an obscure fact or a typo, because a separate list of NPS anniversary dates doesn't mention Misty Fjords. My research confirms that the question is complex enough to forgive a minor oops by the NPS birthday "listmaster," if that proves to be the case.
Jimmy Carter's Presidential Proclamation that created Misty Fjords provides an eloquent description of the area's resources, but is silent on the question of which agency would administer the site. A NPS history of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act notes:
On December 1, 1978, President Jimmy Carter, in the most sweeping application of the Antiquities Act in history, designated seventeen national monuments in Alaska that totaled approximately 56,000,000 acres. Two areas—Becharof (1,200,000 acres) and Yukon Flats (10,600,000 acres)—would be managed by the FWS, while the Forest Service would manage Misty Fjords (2,200,000 acres) and Admiralty Island (1,100,000 acres). The 41,000,000 acres to be managed by the NPS would nearly triple the size of the National Park System. [Emphasis is mine.]
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 provided legislative follow-up of President Carter's presidential proclamation. That same NPS history notes that under this act,
The Forest Service would manage two national monuments—Admiralty Island and Misty Fjords, as well as additions to Chugach and Tongass national forests.
Early history of the area notwithstanding, there's no question that the monument is now administered by the U.S. Forest Service.
My brief visit to the area in 2007 confirms that the area is definitely worthy of status as a national monument or a national park. Some have called Misty Fjords "the Yosemite of the North" for its similar geology and superlative scenery. Walls of glacier-carved valleys soar 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level. Some of those valleys also drop 1,000 feet beneath the surface of the sea, creating the fjords that give the area part of its name.
The "misty" part of the area's name provides a good clue to the climate, and the monument contains extensive areas of coastal temperate rain forest and old-growth timber stands. Summer weather can be delightful at times— my trip in late May featured clear blue skies and pleasant temperatures.
Misty Fjords National Monument has a vast array of wildlife. There are populations of mountain goat, brown bear, black bear, moose, marten, wolf, wolverine, and river otter. Sea lions, harbor seal, killer whales, and Dall's porpoises use the saltwater bays and passages in the area. The area is a major producer of coho, sockeye, pink, chum and king salmon.
The National Monument covers 2,285,000 acres, and most (2,142,243 acres) are designated as wilderness. The area is accessible by floatplane and boat, and most visits originate from the nearby town of Ketchikan or from Juneau, Alaska. Misty Fjords is about 680 air miles north of Seattle.