SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Honey, we shrunk the state!
By Dave Kiffer


January 06, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - My fellow Alaskans, our great state in shrinking!

No, I don't mean the total size. It's still around 656,000 square miles including water. But my - and by extension your - portion of the Great Land is shrinking.

It's primarily because we - as a population base - continue to grow. With the exception of the minor volcanic eruption, our land base does not.  

jpg State of Alaska

Graphic courtesy US Forest Service

For some time now it has been one of those tenets of life in Alaska that because we are so few and the state is so big that our population density means that there is just about one square mile of land for each of us Alaskanarinos.

For comparison sake, the average square mile of New Jersey must be shared by more than 900 people and in California there are more than 160 people per square mile. Even relatively capacious or empty states like Texas and Wyoming have significantly more people per square mile (60 and 4) than Alaska.

In reality, I've always known that my "space" has been shrinking. When I was in elementary school, I learned that there was nearly two square miles of land per resident in our wonderfully un-peopled state.

Then later in life I learned to accept the fact that the oil boom meant that there would now only be one square mile for each of us. It was a bit of a come down, but it was still pretty good.

After all, if there was one square mile in California for every resident of that state, California would be 36 million square miles in size. That's a little over half the entire land mass (no water!) of the planet Earth, but I digress.

Of course, none of this really amounts to a square-mile hill of beans. I've always assumed that my square mile of Alaska was either on the Malaspina Glacier or at the bottom of Clarence Strait.

But be that as it may, having a symbolic square mile somewhere was always a comforting thought and if I wasn't accorded the ownership "benefits" of that square mile of land then at least I wasn't paying taxes on it or having to "prove it up" either.

What is interesting - and thank Hickel something is - about this rumination is that our state population continues to grow and that Alaska is gradually moving up the state population ranking list

 Up until the 1990 US census Alaska was still considered the least populous state. That was another tenet of Alaskandom. Most square miles, fewest people. Truly, The Last Frontier!

Then in 1990 we slipped past Wyoming.

I was actually living in Wyoming that year. The state motto is "A Lasting Legacy" but one of the local wags said it should be called "A Lasting Vacancy." I opined that calling it "The Big Empty" was appropriate and that also seemed to stick for a while. Anyway, it was - and remains - pretty danged empty in Wyoming. It has been estimated that more than five million people have migrated across Wyoming for points west. Very few stayed.

The 1990 census also showed that Alaska was only about 12,000 people behind Vermont in the battle for 48th on the census list. Apparently, even the home office of Ben and Jerry's couldn't keep enough folks in Green Mountainville to stop the march of Alaska up the charts. By the 2000 census, Alaska was number 48 with a bullet as they say on the Top 40.

Next in the sights was another state with a "vacancy" problem: North Dakota. As the US population continues to grow - nearly 300 million of your friends and neighbors out there - North Dakota continues to shrink because - well, because it's really cold there (Why not Minot? Freezin's the reason!) and - unlike most of Alaska - you can get in your car and drive away.

Recently, I was looking at the July 1, 2005 population estimates from the Census Bureau (yes, it was a really slooooooow news day) and low and behold, Alaska at 663,661 has edged ahead of North Dakota at 636,667. Woooo, weeeeee! We're Number 47!!!!!!

Next up is the other Dakota, South Dakota. But it's still got us by about 100,000 residents so we'll have to revisit this issue sometime well after the 2010 Census.

Of course, this edging out North Dakota is only preliminary, but the "Peace Garden State" is getting smaller in the rearview mirror each day.

Unfortunately, the July 2005 estimate also means that we now have more people here than we have square miles to go around. According to my fuzzy math, each Alaskan now has .98944193 of a square mile to work with. Therefore, my portion of the Last Frontier has shrunk once again.

Taking the glass is half-full approach, it means that I have less snow to shovel on my very own piece of the Malaspina Glacier!


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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