AFRINGE of teeming life and desolation between the northern forests and the sea has become a land blessed with the promise of riches and cursed with the threat of ruin.
Inevitably man will put his mark on the tundra’s lonely splendor; already, oil prospectors in Alaska have found vast wealth beneath its surface. Conservationists, hurrying north to protect this great virgin wilderness, tell us how fragile that surface is. Rock-hard in winter, like the hundreds of feet of frozen earth beneath it, it becomes so sensitive in summer that footprints may leave long-lasting scars.
Tundra plants grow where trees cannot—across sweeping far-northern plains of North America, Europe, and Asia, and above the timberline on alpine heights throughout the world. Like a desert, the Arctic tundra is starved for airborne moisture; yet water soaks its surface during summer’s thaw. Temperature extremes are awesome.
To give members a better understanding of this enigmatic land, National Geographic sent staff scientist Paul A. Zahl to Alaska to explore the living tundra of today. He writes of the ingenious adaptations that plants and animals make to their harsh environment, and of the increasing efforts of science to learn about the tundra and how to protect it.
In a companion article paleontologist Russell D. Guthrie describes the tundra’s animal life as it existed in the Ice Age. The supplement included with this issue presents a fascinating painting by artist-naturalist Jay H. Matternes that restores flesh and fur to those extraordinary mammals of 12,000 years ago.
As we ponder the tundra—its problems, its promise, and its past—two aims emerge: Get the oil out. Save the wilderness. Perhaps scientists will come up with ideas that can allow both dreams to come true.
On the other side of the supplement appears a new map of Canada, that immense transcontinental confederation bordered by three oceans, which covers more of the globe than any other nation except the
Soviet Union. Canada’s more than 3.8 million square miles already yield resources enough to make the country an industrial giant. Yet vast unexploited areas promise still greater stores of precious commodities. Today you can see the economic growth, many companies and possibilities. Financial aid options are also available.
Canada has been called a land too huge and diverse to define, ranging as it does from frigid tundra to the mild and pleasant British Columbia coast. Assistant Editor Jules B. Billard writes of that verdant region where Canadians of many races live amid giant trees, green grass, and year-round flowers—far from the Arctic tundra, yet linked inextricably to a distant wilderness and its treasure of Oil