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REPORT UPON THE AGRICULTURAL RESOURCES
SIR: Alaska may be divided agriculturally into three districts, each differing from the others in its climate, vegetation, and physical characteristics.
The first and most northern district, which I have termed the Youkon Territory, is bounded on the south by the Alaskan Mountains, on the east by the British boundary line, and on the north and west by the Arctic Ocean and Behring Sea.
The second or middle district, which might be called the Aleutian district, includes that part of the peninsula of Aliaska, and all the islands, west of the one hundred and fifty-fifth degree of longitude.
The third or southernmost, which may be named the Sitkan district, includes all of our possessions on the mainland and islauds south and east of the peniusula of Aliaska.
THE YOUKON TERRITORY.
Surface.-The character of the country in the vicinity of the Youkon River varies from rolling and somewhat rocky hills, generally low, that is, from five hundred to fifteen hundred feet, and easy of ascent, to broad and marshy plains, extending for miles on either side of the river near the mouth. There are, of course, no roads except an occasional trail, hardly noticeable except to a voyageur. The Youkon and its tributaries form the great highway of the country. This stream—the Missouri, as the Mackenzie is the Mississippi, of the northwest-is navigable in our territory throughout for vessels drawing not over four feet of water, and for many hundred miles for boats needing inuch more than that. The smaller rivers are not so deep), but many of them may be navigable for considerable distances. There are no liglı mountains, properly so called.
Soil. The uderlying rocks in great part are azoic, being conglomcrate, syenite and quartzite. The south shore of Norton Sound, and portions of the Kaviak Peninsula, are basalt and lara. Trachytic rocks are found at several points on the Youkon. There are, on the northest shores of Norton Sound, abundance of sandstones, and clay beds containing lignite. Sandstone is abundaut also on the Youkon, alternating with azoic rocks. The superiucumbent soil (lifrers in different places. In soine localities it is clayey, and in such situations quite frequently covered with sphagnum, which always impoverishes the soil iinmediately below it. In others it is light and sandy, and over a large extent of country it is the richest alluvial, composed of very tine sand, mud, and vegetable matter, brought down by the river, and forming deposits of indetinite depth.
In some localities fresh-water marl is found in abundance, and is used for mortar or plaster, to whiten the walls of log-houses.
The soil is usually frozen at a depth of three or four feet in ordinary situations. In colder ones, it remains icy to within eighteen inches of the surface. This layer of frozen soil is six or eight feet thick;
below that depth the soil is destitute of ice, except in very unusual situations.
This singular phenomenon appears to be directly traceable to want of drainage, combined with a non-conductive covering of moss, which prevents the soil from being warmed by the scorching sun of a boreal midsummer. In places where the soil is well drained, and is not covered with moss, as in the large alluvial deposits near the Youkon mouth, I have noticed that the frozen layer is much further below the surface, and in many places appeared to be absent. I have no doubt that in favorable situations, by draining and deep plowing, the ice could, in the course of time, be wholly removed from the soil.
A singular phenomenon on the shores of Kotzebue Sound was first observed by Kotzebue and Chamisso, and is described in the narrative of the voyage of the Rurik, and afterward by Buckland in the appendix to the royage of the Herald. This consisted of blutts or high banks, (thirty to sixty feet,) apparently of solid ice, covered with a few feet of vegetable matter and earth, in which a luxuriant vegetation was flourishing.
Kotzebue's description of this singular formation is highly colored; but the main facts were confirmed by Dr. Buckland and his companions, who made a careful examination of the locality, although Capt. Beechy had previously reported that Kotzebue had been deceived by snow dritted against the face of the banks and remaining, while that in other localities had melted away.
It is reported by Buckland and later observers that the formation is rapidly disappearing, and the water in the sound is becoming shoaler every day, from the fall of the débris which covers the ice.
No explanation having been offered of this singular phenomenon, I venture to suggest that it may be due to essentially the same causes as the subterranean ice layer, found over a great part of the Youkon Territory.
It is quite possible to conceive of a locality depressed, and so deprived of drainage, that the annual moisture derived from rain-fall and melting snow would collect between the impervious clayey soil and its sphag. nous covering; congeal during the winter, and be prevented from melting during the ensuing summer by that mossy covering, which would thus be gradually raised; the process annually repeated for an indefiuite period would form an ice layer which might well deserve tho appel lation of an “ice cliff," when the encroachiuents of the sea should have worn away its barriers, and laid it open to the action of the eleinents.
The lesson that tlie agriculturist may learn from this ciurious formation is, that a healthy and luxuriant vegetation may exist in immediato vicinity of permanent ice, bearing its blossows and maturing its seed as readily as in apparently more favored situations; and hence that a large extent of northern territory long considered valueless may yet furnish to the settler, trader, or fisherman, if not au abundant harvest, at least a very acceptable and not inconsiderable addition to his annual stock of food, besides tish, venison, and gaine.
Climate.-The climate of the Youkon Territory in the interior differs from that of the sea coast, even in localities comparatively adjacent. That of the coast is tempered by the influence of the vast body of water contained in Delring's Sea, and many southern currents bringing warmer water from the Pacific; making the winter climate of the coast mucli milder than that of the country, even thirty iniles into the interior, The summers, on the other hand, are colder than further inland, and the quantity of rain is greater. The folloiving table shows the annual tem.
perature at St. Michael's Redoubt, on the coast of Norton Sound, in latitude 630 28' north; at the mission of the Russo-Greek church, on the Youkon River, one hundred and fifty miles from its mouth, in latitude 610 47' north; at Nulato, about six hundred miles from the mouth of the river, in latitude 640 40' north, or thereabouts; and at Fort Youkon, twelve hundred miles from the mouth of the river, and about latitude 670 10 north:
The mean temperature at Unalaklik, on the east shore of Norton Sound, for the winter of 1866–67 was 0. 330 ; but for that of 1867-68 it was only about +90. The mean annual temperature of the Youkon Territory as a whole may be roughly estimated as about +25°. The greatest degree of cold ever known in the territory was seventy degrees below zero, (-700;) but such cold as this is very rare, and has little effect on the vegetation covered with eight or ten feet of snow. Running water may be found open on all the rivers, and in many springs throughout the year.
The real opportunity for agriculture in a cold country cannot be deduced from annual mean temperatures alone, but is dependent on the heat of the summer months and the duration of the summer.
At Fort Youkon I have seen the thermometer at noon, not in the direct rays of the sun, standing at 1120; and I was informed by the comman. der of the post that several spirit thermometers, graduated up to 1200, had burst under the scorching sun of the arctic midsummer, which can only be thoroughly appreciated by one who has endured it. In midsummer, on the Upper Youkon, the only relief from the intense heat, under which the vegetation attains an almost tropical luxuriance, is the two or three hours while the sun hovers near the northern. horizon, and the weary voyager in his canoe blesses the transient coolness of the midnight air,
The aimount of rain-fall cannot be correctly estimated, from want of data. At Nulato the fall of snow from November to April will average eight feet, but often reaches twelve. It is much less on the seaboard. Partly on this account, and also because it is driven seaward by the winds, there is usually, even in spring, very little snow on the coasts near Norton Sound.
In the interior there is less wind, and the snow lies as it falls among the trees. Towards spring the small ravines, gullies, and bushes are well filled or covered up, and transportation is easy and pleasant with a good sled and team of dogs. The warm sun at noon melts the snow a little, forming a hard crust. Over this the dog-sleds can go anywhere, making from thirty to fifty miles a day, carrying full one lundred pounds to a dog, and requiring for each dog only one dry fish per diem, which weighs about a pound and a half, and which you can buy for two leaves of tobacco. Seven dogs are the usual number for one team.
The rain-fall, as has previously been remarked, is much greater on the coast than in the interior. Four days in a week will be rainy in summer at St. Michael's, although the months of May, Je, and part of July