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Thursday, June 20, 2019
HomePoliticsWalker rolls over on access to Klutina Lake fishing grounds

Walker rolls over on access to Klutina Lake fishing grounds

WHITHER THE KLUTINA ROAD

The Walker Administration is negotiating behind closed doors to cut off public access to one of the most popular and unique fishing, hunting and recreation resources in Alaska, the Klutina Lake area.

It is a move that is sure to dismay tens of thousands of Alaskans for whom the area is a deeply important part of their outdoor traditions.

The Klutina Road on the north side of the Richardson Highway runs from near Copper Center to the Klutina Lake area, and uses an historic easement across land owned by Ahtna, Inc.

It’s a road used since Statehood  to access salmon country. Thousands upon thousands of Alaskans have traveled to the shores of Klutina Lake, and brought home millions upon millions of omega-3-rich protein from its waters.

Part of a mining road that went from Copper Center to Valdez, it crosses through a lush boreal forest along a legendary river.

Alaskans fish for king and red salmon, arctic grayling and dolly varden in a place where they can launch their boats and do what Alaskans love to do: Catch dinner. It’s a place so important that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has online pages dedicated to it.

It’s a special sportsman’s paradise to which Gov. Bill Walker is cutting off access.

Through Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, it appears that the Walker Administration is going behind closed doors to negotiate a right-of-way settlement with Ahtna Corporation, which has challenged a 150-year-old historic trail designation.

RS-2477 is a law passed in 1866 that designates all wagon trails, foot trails, pack trails, and mining roads as official state rights of way. It’s how Alaskans get across federal and state lands and also Native land, and includes iconic places such as the Iditarod trial and much of the Yukon Quest route.

Ahtna wants to downgrade the right-of-way designation from RS-2477 to a lesser 17-B, which would greatly diminish access for Alaskans. A 100-foot right of way would become a 50-foot right of way.

Drivers could not park, camp, or launch boats in the river. In other words, the State government, which has fought for RS-2477 standards for years and has called the area the textbook case of RS-2477 law, is downgrading the public’s access from a gold standard to tin.

The Alaska Outdoor Council is strongly objecting, but most hunters and fishermen have no idea that Walker is selling them down the proverbial river behind closed doors.

The terms of the negotiated settlement have not been made public. But if Walker goes down this road on the Klutina, as the legal documents indicate he is doing, all other landowners affected by RS 2477s could face the same fate — negotiate, settle for cash, or fold and cut off access to all but Native corporation shareholders.

On Feb. 27, 2017, Alaska Superior Court issued a stipulated motion for stay, which states, “Ahtna, Inc. and the State of Alaska are pleased to report a tentative settlement of this long-running dispute.” The order then cancels the April 24, 2017 trial date and says, “The parties will work to finalize the settlement and obtain necessary client approvals within the next 90 days.”

That sidesteps all public process for giving up State sovereignty over legal rights-of-way.

THE ALASKA OUTDOOR COUNCIL AND ALASKA’S HISTORIC TRAILS

Congress granted states and territories rights-of-way over federal lands in the Mining Law of 1866, with the exception of military land and reservations. Covered under the law are foot trails, pack trails, sled dog trails, wagon roads, mail routes, and other seasonal or permanent public access.

The Organic Act extended general land laws to the territory in 1884.  Up until 1968, when the Secretary of the Interior issued Public Land Order 4582, “the land freeze,” to allow for settlement of Alaska Native land claims, these historic rights-of-way were established to help citizens access public resources, including lands and waters.

When Congress then repealed the 1866 law in 1976, it preserved all pre-existing rights-of-way for public access.

In 1998, Alaska Statute 19.30.400 defined the States’s rights and responsibility to assert and manage these public rights-of-way for all Alaskans, and ordered “every effort” be made to minimize effect on private property owners while protecting public rights to use the historic access.

The mining trail from Valdez to Copper Center is part of the 1898 Gold Rush transportation system of camps and staging areas along the Klutina River. By 1960, a road was constructed and maintained by the state.

State law asserts that the RS 2477 road is 100-foot wide, historically used for activities related to transportation such as parking, stopping, camping, and accessing other public lands and waters, and includes numerous side trails and camping sites established prior to land conveyance to Ahtna, Inc.

The Bureau of Land Management issued an interim conveyance to Ahtna, Inc. in 1980, reserving a 60-foot easement along the road and a 24-foot trail easement for the trail toward Valdez, where it crosses Ahtna land.

Ahtna sued the State in 2008, saying the road is not an historic trail. Ahtna has this list of demands that the State is now bargaining away behind closed doors:

  • Limit the State’s authority to maintain, repair, and improve the road and rights-of-ways only
    with Ahtna, Inc. approval
  • Cash payment for public trespass on Ahtna land
  • Limit width of the 100-foot easement to 60 feet or less based on usage
  • No parking, rest areas, or accessing the Klutina River or other public land
  • Terminate the RS 2477 designation wherever it overlaps the 17(b) easement so public uses of the road are
    subject to federal regulations rather than State law

In 2013 Athna wrote,  “Ahtna has made a good faith effort to settle the dispute with the State in order to preserve the Klutina drainage, but each attempt has failed because the State refuses to place any limitation on the expansive scope of its claimed RS 2477 ROW and associated recreational amenities.”

Previous governors have upheld the State’s public trust to preserve access to longstanding recreational areas, but it appears that Gov. Walker’s Administration is now on a clear path to yield State sovereignty to the federal government, tribes or other entities whenever he faces a legal challenge.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • So called gov. Walker had better start looking at protecting the rights to use the rs2477 trails in the state. These were established long before any special interest groups , to give everybody the right to use the right of ways to areas for there use. These trails were not to be locked up and are to be used for everybody to use. There are trails all across the state that were used by the oltimers for supplying the old gold mining towns and getting from one area to another and traditional hunting and fishing. The gov. Needs to look at this for all the people of the state and not a special interest group who wants to lock it all up.

    • Call your state representative you must be active to stop this. Make some phone calls. Maybe we should protest. Walker must be getting paid by the Native Corporation.

    • Governor Walker as a 36 year Alaskan and a Veteran I’m asking you to reconsider your stand on the klutina Lake issues, it needs to stay open to all Alaskans.

  • I drove this road in Oct. 2015, and the signs already said 17B easement, 60′ right of way and camping not allowed. Vehicles could not be left overnight.

    • Those were probably Ahtna’s signs and had no enforcement authority.

  • Walker is a POS! How is he even still in office? He just keeps selling Alaskans out. I guess he’s got a pretty sweet payday coming from the corporations as soon as he gets voted out of office.

    • Is this Aaron Buchholz that went to SD Mines in the late 2000’s?

  • Our family has used the trail/road for the best camping trips to Klutina Lake since 2000. We have NEVER met any AHTNA shareholders because, for the most part, the only ones who venture out these days are the enforcement officers putting up “no trespassing” signs. I know this is anecdotal, but I ran a 4 wheeler guide business primarily for Princess Cruises and saw the road EVERY day for 5 years. I gave AHTNA 1000 cash each year to go on the easement. This was so Princess knew I was doing “the right thing.”
    I think Walker might need locking up. Stealing is a crime.

  • “The terms of the negotiated settlement have not been made public.”

    And yet you seem to have all the answers!

  • Since the author states that these discussions are confidential and behind closed doors I don’t know why they seem to know which way the discussions are going. Try calling DNR Public Access Assertion and Defense. They are leading the charge to defend public access on sites such as this.

  • Why the hell is anything regarding PUBLIC land going on behind closed doors? Walker firmly believe in the protection of state ROW’s over federal lands, but not when it comes to the native corporation eh? As long as we can strip public lands for mining and oil exploration we are fine. Not so if we want to use it to access a lake for outdoor enjoyment from a law that has been in place for 150 years. Watch. Start taking away right of ways and cutting people off from accessing public lands and people will eventually start getting shot over the matter.

  • What’s the phone number to the Governor that we can call and let him know how we feel about this?

  • Mr. Walker; Stop your theft of our Alaskan rights and entitlements. You have forsaken the promises you made when you ran for office. It is time that Alaskans can depend on their government when it comes to managing our Common Resources.

    Stop your roughshod treatment of Alaskans.

    • Walker is doing exactly what he and the democrats do best, lie to the people and gather behind closed doors. I have used the Klutina road and lake since the 1970s, as has thousands of other Alaskans. Ahtna and other native corporations want and accept any and every benefit that the USA, the State, America has to offer each and every citizen of this country and why not ? I am all for that. But, I’m sick and tired of the hatred, the racism by the natives who do not want to give the same rights to the American, Alaskans, of this state, the same rights that they, the natives, have and enjoy each and every day. I would like to know if any Alaska Natives were to travel to any other places in America and were told that because they are of a different tribe or nationality then you are not allowed to go here, cross here, stop here,,,,, would that be good for them,? Would that make them feel like maybe they didn’t count , or maybe they were not Americans and were not allowed the same freedoms as everyone else ? I do not understand why they do not want to share the same freedoms they have with everyone else, native or not. I and everyone I know respect the native culture, I respect this land, this state. I love this state and ALL the people. I have never done anything to hurt or disrespect the land or the people and this is how the overwhelming majority of the people of this state feel. We are all proud of and love this land and it makes no difference if you are a native or not. I pray that Walker will not give in to those who are selfish and full of hatred. This land belongs to us all.

  • Walker needs to find himself a NEW JOB this next election. Smells of payoffs… at least deceit!!! I say let Alaskans VOTE on it, it’s our rights being taken away…

  • Time to walk Walker out of office…

  • Oh what Gov. Bill Walker and his Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott have done to divide Alaskans is worse than depressing, its sinister. None of us will probably live to see the end of the divisiveness they are creating.
    It didn’t have to go this way, Alaska’s State Constitution went further than any other state, or nation for that matter, to make equal access to publicly owned fish, game, and waters the law, Title 8, Section 3. Common use.
    By opening the door for the creation of Indian Country and tribal
    co-management/allocation of publicly owned game resources the Walker administration has violated not only the state constitution but federal laws governing Alaska native people and game management.
    For those with any doubts about what Ahtna leadership believe their tribel members are entitled to under the a Walker administration tune in next weekend to the Alaska Boars of Game meeting in Glennallen. (The audio of the meeting can be heard on the ADF&G website) Ahtna wants to reap the rewards of active state moose management in much of Sourhcentral Alaska without having to share the any bull moose harvest with others. Ahtna representatives have been harping for years that all of the any bull componented of the population in GMU 13 should be theirs.
    What next?

  • So what happens when another group wants the Deshka or the Kenai back. What will happen then. There is a lot of Alaskans who don’t have boats who fish the Klutina. It’s just not fair. How has this quietly slipped under the Radar of Alaskans? It’s been done in secretly.