Walter J. Hickel calls himself a "practical environmentalist." Visitors to his sixth-floor office here get treated to a spectacular view of this sprawling city, with Hickel occasionally donning his personal white hardhat to spin out his dreams of seeing similar development spread across Alaska in the future.

Gov. Jay Hammond says he is a "practical developer" who would just as soon see no more outsiders coming in to build up his state. Hammond wants a tight rein on what he sees as potentially disastrous state growth. And he sometimes startles his audiences with a home-style slide show featuring himself in old clothes, his part-Eskimo wife, Bella, and a rustic cabin they built themselves in the Alaska wilderness.

It would be difficult to find two more dissimilar Republicans or two men who more closely fit what one former state senator here has called "archetypes of the Alaskan experience."

With the last dirty chunks of winter ice still clogging Cook Inlet here, Hickel and Hammond are already locked in a bitter gubernatorial primary contest that won't be settled until the state's Aug. 22 primary.

Whatever the political outcome - and many political experts believe the Republican primary winner will be the next governor - the Hickel-Hammond battle is also indicative of another larger struggle here. In a state that still has a grizzly on its license plates but where nearly 60 percent of the population lives in urban areas that often resemble Baltimore more than the backwoods, a critical cultural shift may be taking shape.

After nearly a decade of frenetic growth marked by the discovery of massive deposits of oil and natural gas on the North Slope and construction of the $8 billion trans-Alaska pipeline, there are signs here that the traditional, pro-development attitude of the state's citizenry may be changing.

One such sign was the unexpectedly large turnout of supporters of the federal d-2 land proposal during hearings on it throughout Alaska last year. The d-2 bill would place about 95 million acres - more than one-fourth of the state - into federal conservation areas in a land shift that some pro-development forces here call a federal "lookout."

Alaskans are also apparently having second thoughts this year about spending $3.5 billion or more for a new state capital at Willow, a wilderness area north of Anchorage. Four years ago, the capital proposal won strong approval over environmentalists' objections in a statewide referendum.

In a statewide poll conducted recently for Alaska's Department of Commerce and Economic Development, the majority of Alaskans said they felt the state was moving too fast in its growth. About 66 percent said they would like to see some kind of coherent statewide zoning or land use policy cover future growth.

"A lot of people who are moving here have seen what can and has happened in the Lower 48 and they don't want to see that here," said David Levine, an official of the Alaskan chapter of the Sierra Club.

The chapter here is one of the largest and best organized of any of the club's state organizations. "There's a lot less hostility here now than there was a few years ago," said Levine. "It used to be that everyone went around saying, 'Sierra Club go home.' Now they realize that this is our home, too."

Not everyone holds this view, of course. Former Gov. William Egan, who helped get the pipeline construction started and, as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, narrowly lost to Hammond in 1974, said he still believes most people come to Alaska to make their fortunes.

"People hate to admit they're here to make money," said Egan, who is not running this year. "They say they came for the wilderness. But look around. They don't go into the wilderness when they get here. They settle in the cities, with their television sets and their automobiles."

There does seem to be a certain amount of illusion in the search for an unspoiled habitat that most Alaskans, according to the recent state survey, say they came here seeking.

At rush hour, traffic in Anchorage and Fairbanks sometimes snarls up with the worst of the Lower 48 traffic jams. Urban sprawl here in Anchorage has left the city with suburbs - some of them already crumbling - that stretch to the foothills of the Chugach Mountain range east of the city. Fairbanks is regularly coated with some of the worst smog in the nation.

Moreover, despite the fact that Alaska's 375 million acres make it twice the size of Texas, nearly all of that land is locked up either in the hands of native corporations, which received rights to 44 million acres under the 1971 Native Claims Settlement Act, or by the state and federal governments.

Non-native Alaskans seeking land are thrust into a superheated real estate market revolving around the remaining 1 million or so acres. Newcomers often find themselves living on overpriced quarter-acre lots surrounded by an endless expanse of some of the world's most spectacular scenery.

Frustration with land situation erupted this year when Mike Beirne, a legislator from Anchorage, sought to force the state to make up to 30 million acres of its land available for homesteading. Beirne's proposal quickly gained 22,000 supporting signatures and will go on the ballot there this fall as a citizen's initiative.

The land initiative is seen by a number of people here as poorly conceived and a potential boondoggle for developers. It's constitutionality is under attack in the courts by environmentalists. Still, almost no one here will deny there is a growing impatience with Alaska's urban oriented growth pattern.

For Hammond the land issue is just another in a growing list that has left this state probably more polarized than any other in the nation - if only because of the scope of the problems.

In an interview here the other day, Hammond said he drew up a list not long ago of all the major issues facing the state. "It came to 21 separate items," he said. "Any one of them would take the full time and energy of another state administration." At a White House dinner last month, Hammond said he began reciting some of the issues to President Carter and ended with the president expressing both his awe and sympathy.

While some of Alaska's heaviest urban growth has occurred during his administration, Hammond sometimes goes to lengths to project another image - that of a backwoods stump politician who would like to go back to his bush pilot days or to the time when he was mayor of the remote Alaskan borough of Bristol Bay.

The burly, bearded first-term governor gained environmentalist and liberal support in 1974, which enabled him to beat Hickel in the state GOP primary through a substantial Democratic crossover vote, and just squeak by Egan.

This time there will be others competing for that vote, but several environmental and liberal Democrat leaders, while complaining of Hammond's lack of open support on critical issues, said they would support him again in a showdown this year with Hickel.

There is no question that Hammond's go-slow policy for the state has added to the polarization. He has vetoed $40 million in state development projects so far - more than all his predecessors combined.

Hammond seeks to decrease the state's reliance on oil and natural gas royalties - they now comprise 61 percent of the state income - while increasing taxes on energy companies. The billions of dollars in energy revenues flowing into the state treasury need to be channeled into developing renewable resource industries for Alaskans instead of flowing into projects which will only draw more outsiders to the state, he said.

"When we inevitably run out of oil and gas, no one is going to reverse the flow back up here," he said. "We could superheat the economy, double the population and a few people would get rich. But it would just move up the time when the roof falls in."

Such talks leaves Hickel fuming. A former governor and Interior Department secretary, Hickel is an unabashed standard bearer for the "boomers," as growth advocates here are called. While interior secretary he once stunned environmentalists by saying he opposed "conservation for conservation's saks," a position he still holds.

Hickel energetically touts lowering taxes on oil and gas companies and says the state's investment climate needs improvement. He said he wants to see a step-up in public works and resource development.

"I'm proud that my shopping center and hotel add a little to the culture of Alaska," Hickel said, adding that environmentalists' complaints about the "boomer" philosophy are "selfish."

Looking out at the snow-covered Chugach Mountains against the sky just east of here, Hickel recently elaborated for a visitor on his "practical conservationist" theory.The term, he said, is for "one who understands nature and its needs but who doesn't want to separate man from it."

"Those mountains are always going to be like that no matter what any of us do here," he said. "This country's tough, it's just the people who are fragile."