Alaska Fish & Wildlife News
May 2006

If You Can’t Get There, You Can’t Hunt or Fish

By Tina Cunning
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Tina Cunning, Special Assistant to the Commissioner on State-Federal Issues.

The Department of Fish and Game manages fish and wildlife on all lands in Alaska, which includes authorizing harvests where there is a sustainable yield. The Alaska Boards of Fish and Game allocate harvests among user groups for subsistence, recreational, and commercial uses. The department closely monitors and cooperates with federal, state, and private land management agencies to assure our fish and wildlife management authorities are recognized, to protect our boards’ regulatory authorities, and to retain the public’s abilities to access, use, and enjoy fish and wildlife. Within the department, several programs focus on access in order to protect our agency and public access rights. After all, if we can’t “get there,” we can’t monitor populations. And, if the public can’t “get there,” they can’t hunt, fish, trap, and view wildlife.

The department’s interests in protecting access rights go hand-in-hand with the federal agencies’ mandates to protect habitat and to manage public uses for legislated purposes, including subsistence and recreation. All of the department’s access-related personnel coordinate as a loosely formed team for efficient use of staff across all divisions.

For example, the department has a program that reviews conveyance of 44 million acres of land to regional and village native corporations authorized by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). One responsibility of this program is to identify easements necessary to provide access across the ANCSA private lands from one body of public land/water to other public land/water. Reservation of ANCSA easements provides access to public land that otherwise would be isolated by private land and provides federally-managed public easements to reduce trespass on private lands. The easement requests are transmitted to the Bureau of Land Management. Robin Willis oversees the Access Defense Program located in Sport Fish Division. When difficulties arise with the bureau, Robin coordinates with Department of Natural Resources and the state’s access team to achieve resolution.

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The Knik River, with Pioneer Peak. Photo Courtesy Jerry Richardson.

Another department program focuses on navigability and RS 2477 trails issues. Staff review state and federal conveyances and private owner activities that affect the public’s abilities to access waterways for hunting, fishing, trapping, and boating. The program also cooperates with DNR to assert state management or ownership of rivers and lakes, particularly where access to our fish and wildlife resources are involved. Under Alaska’s Constitution and Statutes, the public has a right to use waterways regardless of the ownership of the bed or the banks of the waterway. The state also asserts rights-of-way over historic trails that are important access routes for hunting, fishing, trapping, and viewing wildlife. When conflicts arise, staff research historical trail use and work with DNR to protect any access rights. John Westlund oversees this program.

In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) established nearly 140 million acres in national refuges, parks, wild and scenic rivers, and wilderness units. ANILCA specifically protects the department’s management authority and the public’s access rights on those units. ANILCA also requires management plans for each federal unit to be developed and revised in close cooperation with the state. The department established the ANILCA program in 1981 to coordinate all divisions input to those management plans and to monitor subsequent federal actions to protect our management authority and the public’s abilities to access and use fish and wildlife. George Weekley and Brad Palach manage this program.

Tina Cunning is the Special Assistant to the Commissioner on State-Federal Issues and the Co-Chair of the State Navigability and Access Teams

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