By Jenny Blanchard, Archaeologist and Cultural Resource Program Manager, Bureau of Land Management, Anchorage Field Office
At the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Anchorage Field Office, we are responsible for managing 23 million acres of land in western Alaska. This land is almost all roadless, making any archaeological fieldwork challenging. Because the BLM is a multiple-use agency, we focus a lot of our efforts on compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Frankly, this workload can be pretty overwhelming. Without our close relationship with the UAA Department of Anthropology, we would get very little proactive research done under Section 110 of the NHPA.
Most of our Section 110 work is completed by UAA graduate students working as paid interns through an agreement with the Student Conservation Association. The SCA is a nationwide organization that provides internships in trail construction and natural and cultural resources for a variety of local, state, and federal organizations. Depending on the length of the internship, participants may also be eligible for an education award from Americorps.
These interns get approximately six months of learning about all aspects of cultural resource management. They work on doing archival research, creating GIS maps of our fieldwork areas, conducting field surveys, and writing up our findings, including determinations of eligibility (DOEs) for the National Register of Historic Places. Former interns have conducted surveys and evaluations of sites associated with the Iditarod National Historic Trail (NHT), the Rohn Civilian Conservation Corps cabin, and the Carter Spit Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
In 2017, BLM intern and UAA graduate student Carrie Cecil documented the remains of the Ten Mile Cabin site, a historic stop along the Iditarod National Historic Trail. Located on the Seward Peninsula in northwest Alaska, along the Iditarod NHT as well as the Unalakleet National Wild River, the site is located within two overlapping BLM areas managed as National Conservation Lands, and is accessible only by boat or helicopter. Ms. Cecil conducted a search using archival documents, GIS, and aerial photography, to determine which of several historic cabin ruins was most likely to be the Iditarod NHT roadhouse. Fieldwork documented the current state of the cabin remains, and her report led to the site being determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Her work was critical to the future management of cultural resources associated with the Iditarod NHT, which was designated by the Congress in 1978, is the only National Historic Trail in Alaska, and is the only winter-use NHT.
In 2018, BLM intern and UAA graduate student Ranna Wells documented a historic mine on the Seward Peninsula. The site is in trespass, and will also need to have hazardous materials cleaned up in order to prevent environmental pollution. She climbed a lot of steep tailings piles in order to GPS them! These actions by BLM require compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA. Ms. Wells also documented the historic Rohn Civilian Conservation Corp cabin and Air Navigation Site, located along the Iditarod NHT in interior Alaska, and began the documentation to nominate the site to the National Register of Historic Places. The site has been the source of multiple Iditarod roadhouses, and the current cabin and associated airstrip were built during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, to support the expansion of air travel in Alaska. Historic cabins often need significant restoration, and listing it on the National Register will allow BLM to apply for grant funding to restore it in the future.
In 2019, BLM intern and UAA graduate student Liz Ortiz surveyed and reported on three projects located along the Unalakleet National Wild River for compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA. Liz also worked on a survey of the Carter Spit Area of Critical Environmental Concern, an extremely remote area on the Bering Sea coast in southwestern Alaska. The area is rich with prehistoric beach ridges, which often contain housepits and other cultural resources. This project was a survey and reconnaissance of cultural resources under Section 110 of the NHPA, and has laid the groundwork for future survey and excavation in the area.
The BLM deeply values its partnership with the UAA Anthropology Department and has been thrilled with the quality of students we have been able to bring on as seasonal interns. We look forward to continuing to work with future UAA students in the future.