A Different View of Alaska as a Retreat Locale, by G.T.

SurvivalBlog’s Editor James Wesley Rawles (JWR), lays out his arguments against choosing Alaska as a Retreat Locale in this static web page.

While I fully agree with him that Alaska is probably not a viable retreat destination for most people, for a variety of reasons it is precisely the area that my family has selected. We have a particular advantage here in that I’m a second generation backwoodsman and prospector, and I and my three sons have been prospecting in Alaska for 16 years, so we understand the various regions of Alaska and their strengths and weaknesses from a survival perspective. In the “Recommended Retreat Areas” page of your blog you’ve listed your specific reasons for rejecting Alaska, with a few of which I’d like to take issue.

The last thing that I want to do is produce a “land rush” to southeastern Alaska, so readers should understand that this approach is viable only for a highly experienced and close-knit small group that’s carefully considered all the implications.

“A year ago, I heard one ‘expert’ on the radio recommend Alaska as a retreat destination because it has the lowest population density of any State, and has low taxes. IMHO, he couldn’t be more wrong!”

Not only has it low population density and low taxes, but also some of the least restrictive gun laws, home schooling laws, and zoning requirements of any State, with some of the least exposure to natural disasters. Alaska is earthquake-prone, but hasn’t had a major one since the 1960s. Also, at least in the region to which we’re relocating, vulnerable to forest fires and mega-tsunamis caused by landslides into the ocean (although not to ordinary tsunamis– we’re protected from that by barrier islands). Furthermore, the region of Alaska that we’ve selected is remote from “Golden Horde”-type activities. This is an aspect of survivalism that, IMHO, has received far too little attention. If it shows anything at all, then the Hurricane Katrina experience indicates that all communities within about 300 to 400+ miles of a major metropolitan area that gets hit with a significant disaster will be literally inundated with city-types, many of whom will be hardened gang-bangers of a kind that smaller communities are ill-equipped to deal with. Crime in the satellite cities of Houston, DFW, Memphis, and Birmingham in the aftermath of Katrina all registered significant upticks that were attributed predominantly to displaced New Orleanians.

“The biggest problem is that from an economic standpoint, Alaska is essentially a big offshore island. Many essential items are shipped or flown in.”

Absolutely correct, with resulting higher prices. But as you’ll see a little farther along, we’ll be self-sufficient in food and power generation. Our major shortfall will be in clothing, but that will apply to everyone everywhere once the manufacturing and transportation networks shut down.

“Ironically, although it is the most lightly populated state, Alaska has the second highest crime rate in the country!”

In the area to which we intend to relocate– the southeastern Panhandle– people don’t lock their houses or even their cars, and I’ve seen people go shopping while leaving expensive rifles in the rear window rack of an unlocked vehicle.

“There is insufficient refinery capacity to meet Alaska’s ‘domestic’ needs, and insufficient transport to get refined fuels where they are needed.”

Absolutely correct. We therefore considered alcohol fuels, methane, wind power, water power, steam, solar– and then we heard about wood gasifiers. We downloaded the free FEMA plans for a system, bought another from The Mother Earth News, and picked up a couple of others until we had a total of four. We’re presently in the process of learning how to build a system from the plans, but it looks like we’ll be able to generate enough power from wood chips to operate a house. This will require a wood chipper, a gasifier, and a gasoline generator to burn the wood gas and provide the electricity. Once we’ve got that system up and running we’ll build a smaller unit to power our boat.

“In a long term collapse, the residents of Alaska’s densely populated coastal cities will likely starve and/or freeze to death.”

Unfortunately true. That’s why we’ve chosen an island southeast of Ketchikan. Even near Anchorage, where land is much cheaper due to the government’s sale of public lands, they’ve got a 6-month winter with nearly a foot of average snow cover lasting for 4 months, and average minimum temps Dec. thru Feb. of about 10º F. In the Ketchikan area they’ve got a three-month winter with the month of highest snowfall being January, with 2 to 3 inches of accumulated snow cover, and average minimum temperatures from Dec. thru Feb. of about 30º. Average accumulated snow in Dec. and Feb. is only about an inch. We won’t freeze.

“Meanwhile, those in inland towns, albeit better fed, will be geographically isolated so that commerce with the coast will be difficult if not impossible.”

In southeastern Alaska there are virtually no roads, so seasonal buckling of the roadbeds and consequent road maintenance aren’t issues. Transport is by bush plane, or by boat. You’re right that the planes will be grounded by lack of fuel, which will also depress boat traffic; but our power boat by the onset of TEOTWAWKI will be powered by a wood gasifier, which we also intend to make money by designing and building for paying customers. By then we also hope to have a sailboat. The question is whether or not by then we’ll want to visit any of the cities, where things may be getting pretty desperate.

A SurvivalBlog Reader in Alaska Adds: “Even if land were available, most of it is inaccessible if you can’t afford a helicopter or float plane.”

True, but that doesn’t apply in the southeastern portion of the state, where access is by boat.

“The economy of Alaska is driven by oil income and government spending, both of which would cease if the U.S. economy collapsed. There is very little local manufacturing… even most natives have lost the ability to live off the land…”

All true. In our region one of the main challenges is that most of the land consists of exposed bedrock, so that we’ll have to do most of our gardening in raised beds. Eventually, if we have time before TSHTF, we’ll cover these beds into greenhouses. A compensating advantage of this approach will be higher yields. Between this, keeping chickens and turkeys, and hunting and fishing, we’ll be self-sufficient in food. Although your reader says that game isn’t as plentiful as most people think, I’ve never gone more than a week without seeing deer, moose, bear, and other game, and usually a lot more frequently than that. Fish are even more plentiful. Feeding the gasifier with wood chips will be labor-intensive, which is why we’ll invest in a powered wood chipper as soon as possible. Meanwhile, we have plenty of kids to make wood chips and keep the thing fed.

“Home heating is a huge expense in Alaska; $6,000 or more per winter for some households.”

In southeastern Alaska, because of the Japan Current, the climate averages as mild or milder than where I presently live in Wichita, Kansas. You get only 4 to 8 weeks of what we in Kansas would call “summer”, but you get much longer spring and fall seasons. 

The point is this: I know of an extended family of survivalists similar to ours that farms a secluded hollow in the mountains of W. Virginia, producing plenty of food to feed themselves with enough left over that they sell the surplus. They’re ‘way outside the States that you’ve recommended for preppers, but they’re also far enough off the beaten track to be difficult to find, and they’re better-prepared than 95% of the other preppers I’ve seen. In a TEOTWAWKI situation they’ll do fine.
In almost any State, there are micro-climates and small-scale situations that make for suitable environments for survivalism. I’m sure that you’d be one of the first to agree, it’s probably better to find and develop a situation in an area with which you’re thoroughly familiar than to travel far afield looking for the mythical “ideal”.