Alaska has very little agriculture, ranking last in the nation in number of farms and value of farm products. The state's best arable land is in its S central region, in the Matanuska Valley N of Anchorage and the Tanana Valley (around Fairbanks). The state's most valuable farm commodities are greenhouse and dairy products and potatoes.
Alaska leads the nation in the value of its commercial fishing catch—chiefly salmon, crab, shrimp, halibut, herring, and cod. Anchorage and Dutch Harbor are major fishing ports, and the freezing and canning of fish dominates the food-processing industry, the state's largest manufacturing enterprise. Lumbering and related industries are of great importance, although disputes over logging in the state's great national forests are ongoing. Mining, principally of petroleum and natural gas, is the state's most valuable industry. Gold, which led to settlement at the end of the 19th cent., is no longer mined in quantity. Fur-trapping, Alaska's oldest industry, endures; pelts are obtained from a great variety of animals. The Pribilof Islands are especially noted as a source of sealskins (the seals there are owned by the U.S. government, and their use is carefully regulated).
In 1968 vast reserves of oil and natural gas were discovered on the Alaska North Slope near Prudhoe Bay. The petroleum reservoir was determined to be twice the size of any other field in North America. The 800-mi (1,287-km) Trans-Alaska pipeline from the North Slope to the ice-free port of Valdez opened in 1977, after bitter opposition from environmentalists, and oil began to dominate the state economy. The Alaska Permanent Fund, created in 1977, receives 25% of Alaska's oil royalty income. The fund is designed to provide the state with income after the oil reserves are depleted and has paid dividends to all residents.
Government—federal, state, and local—is Alaska's major source of employment. The state's strategic location has generated considerable defense activity since World War II, including the establishment of highways, airfields, and permanent military bases. Alaska's tourism increased dramatically with the help of improvements in transportation; it now follows only oil among the state's industries. The Inside Passage, Denali National Park, and the 1000-mi (1,600 km) Iditarod sled-dog race are major attractions.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.