The Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that it is claiming another 4,500 acres inside the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest.
Public Land Order No. 7922 will take land that is being exposed with the receding of the Mendenhall Glacier, and ensure that it belongs to the federal government. Without the land order, the ownership of the land might be ambiguous.
The agency said it’s part of the Biden Administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, which seeks to lock up 30% of American land by the year 2030.
The Mendenhall Glacier, one of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The glacier is located in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, which is home to a seasonally bustling visitor center, scenic hiking trails, and breathtaking viewpoints.
The U.S. Forest Service requested the 20-year withdrawal to ensure the long-term viability of the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area and to facilitate future Forest Service facility development, but no other development.
Staking a federal claim may also prevent a local tribe from declaring ownership of the land, which would cause complications for the Forest Service, as it will want to build a new visitor center. The current one doesn’t have a good view of the glacier, as it has receded so much. The action also prevents the State of Alaska from laying claim to the emerging lands.
“The withdrawal of these lands reflects our commitment to protecting our natural treasures and ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy the splendor of the Mendenhall Glacier,” said the Bureau of Land Management. “This action is consistent with the America the Beautiful initiative, which aims to conserve 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030.”
The boundaries of the withdrawn area include parts that were previously covered by the Mendenhall Glacier, which has been steadily receding since the end of the last mini-ice age in the 1700s.
According to the State of Alaska, the state’s glaciers are among the fastest melting glaciers in the world, with Alaska experiencing twice the rate of warming compared to the rest of the country over the past several decades.
Officials predict that the Mendenhall Glacier will retreat from the existing visitor center’s view by 2050.
The newly established withdrawal aims to protect areas that are becoming accessible as the glacier recedes.
As the glacier retreats, it opens up new ecosystems, leading to increased sightings of salmon, bears, and other wildlife. The withdrawal of the newly exposed lands will help preserve these unique habitats, natural resources, and the area’s pristine setting.
The decision to withdraw the lands is in line with the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area 2019 Master Plan, which was specifically developed to address the ongoing changes caused by the glacier’s retreat. The plan not only capitalizes on new opportunities but also addresses the anticipated increase in visitation over the next 20 years while providing a long-term vision for the next 50 years.
The withdrawal, which went into effect with the publication of the Public Land Order, will remain in place until June 2, 2043.