ABOUT PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND
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The Prince William Sound Stewardship Foundation supports projects and initiatives occurring across the Prince William Sound region, on lands and waters that are part of the traditional Alutiiq homeland. Stories, place names, and archaeological evidence show Alutiiq people have been present in the Sound for thousands of years. Traditional village sites and areas of seasonal use are documented throughout the region and often tied to the Sound’s many food resources. Prince William Sound remains important to Alutiiq, Chugach, and Eyak people today and the Stewardship Foundation is proud to partner with Alaska Native interests whenever possible.
Prince William Sound
Prince William Sound is a vast inland sea ringed by the glacier-clad peaks of the Chugach Mountains. Its 3,500 miles of intricate coastline boasts narrow glacial fiords, remote bays, and hundreds of islands large and small, all offering lifetimes of adventure and exploration.
The Sound’s ocean waters are among the richest in the world. They are fed by nutrients from hundreds of mountain streams and constantly mixed by ocean currents and seasonal weather patterns. This mixing supports abundant populations of fish and marine mammals, ranging from halibut and salmon to sea otters and whales.
The shores of Prince William Sound are lined with a temperate rainforest of ancient spruce and hemlock trees, with some areas of yellow cedar. It is the northern-most stretch of the same rainforest that begins in northern California and carpets the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. In the Sound, the forest is home to wide-ranging wildlife that includes bears, deer, moose, wolverine, and much more.
Prince William Sound is also home to more tidewater glaciers than any other region in Alaska. Approximately 20 glaciers flow into the ocean, all within the western side of the Sound. Hundreds of other glaciers cap mountains and fill valleys around the Sound. Most are retreating, making the Sound a fascinating place for research and education.
Prince William Sound is an inhabited wilderness. Five modern communities sit at the ocean’s edge around the Sound. The Alutiiq Alaska Native villages of Chenega and Tatitlek, which are located close to the WSA boundaries and whose traditional lands extend throughout the area. The Native Village of Eyak and the community of Cordova, located in southeastern Prince William Sound, are closely connected to WSA lands, notably through commercial fishing activity. The cities of Valdez and Whittier, the only Prince William Sound communities linked to Alaska’s road system, also share close connections to WSA lands.
Wilderness Study Area Designation
The Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area, established by Congress under the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), encompasses 1.9 million acres of the approximately 5.4 million-acre Chugach National Forest. Prince William Sound has long been recognized for its unique and profound wilderness value. Support for a federal wilderness designation in western Prince William Sound gained formal Forest Service attention by the early 1970s. In 1973, the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE), a nationwide analysis of the suitability of national forest lands for wilderness designation, recommended a 704,000-acre Nellie Juan Wilderness in western Prince William Sound. In 1978, the Forest Service expanded the recommendation to include a Nellie Juan Wilderness, a College Fiord Wilderness, and a Prince William Sound wilderness study area totaling 2,003,000 acres, which encompasses much of western Prince William Sound. During this drafting of ANILCA, there was debate centered on a desire to further evaluate Alaska Native Corporation and State of Alaska land selections in addition to aquaculture development interests in the western Sound. To allow more time for negotiation, the three areas eventually became the Nellie Juan- College fiord Wilderness Study Area as designated by Congress in ANILCA. The area is managed to maintain its “presently existing wilderness character” and potential for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System, pending further action by Congress.
Western Prince William Sound tells a story of resiliency and recovery. Between waves of industry, the earthquake of 1964 and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, the area is characterized by a collection of major events. In 1964, the Pacific and North American plates collided near College Fiord, generating the largest earthquake on record in North America. The effects of the 9.2 magnitude earthquake are reflected in the landscape today. Shorelines were uplifted up to 30 vertical feet, redefining the area’s topography. Swaths of century old spruce trees dropped into salt water, reaching the end of their lives. They remain standing as a tribute to where past forested stands once were abundant.
The 1964 earthquake intensely altered human use and occupation of communities in and around Prince William Sound. As the earth violently shook, a series of tsunamis were triggered by underwater landslide. Displaced water raced across Prince William Sound. The Native Village of Chenega suffered 23 deaths and severe structural destruction, resulting in abandonment of the village site.
Exxon Valdez oil spill
Prince William Sound continues to recover from an event that occurred shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989. While transiting Prince William Sound, the T/V Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground at Bligh Reef south of the community of Valdez. Throughout four days, 10.8 million gallons of oil spilled into Prince William Sound and eventually reached over 1,000 miles of Alaskan coastline. The effects of the spill are still felt today. Of 28 resources and 4 human services originally listed as injured by the spill, four resources remain unrecovered, according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. The wilderness study area is listed as a “recovering” resource, and will be listed as "recovered" once oil is no longer encountered and the public perceives the area has recovered from the spill.