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10/18/2019
PoV: This land is your land

By CORRI A. FEIGE

Woodie Guthrie didn’t mention Alaska by name in “This Land is Your Land,” his classic folk song celebrating the beauty and bounty of America — but he might as well have.

We at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources share Guthrie’s belief that “this land was made for you and me.” That’s why I’m proud to share some of the ways we’re using our land and resources to benefit both Alaskans and visitors alike.

Alaska is blessed with the largest system of state parks in the nation. Our Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation manages 3.4 million acres and 156 state park units across the state. We welcome guests at 90 campgrounds and more than 80 public-use cabins, where folks can spend days and nights enjoying beautiful scenery and unmatched recreational opportunities for a nominal fee.

It takes significant work to maintain and improve our parks, campgrounds, trails, parking areas and historic sites. Recent projects include repairing earthquake damage at Eagle River Campground and Eagle Rock Boat Launch, fixing winter storm damage at Anchor River and Deep Creek, improving trailheads in the Chena River State Recreational Area, mitigating the impacts from spruce beetle damage at multiple sites, and installing a new foot bridge over Penguin Creek in Chugach State Park.

Alaska’s selection of statehood lands on the oil-rich North Slope demonstrated we could keep our promise to use our resources to be self-sufficient. That effort to select lands important to Alaska’s future continues. Our Division of Mining, Land, and Water is working cooperatively with federal agencies, Native corporations and other landowners to refine our remaining land selections so Alaska can receive the remaining 5.3 million acres of our 105.8-million-acre statehood land entitlement.

DMLW also defends Alaska’s claim to navigable waterways, and to public access to federal land across historic RS 2477 trails. And we’re pushing hard to correct federal errors in setting the western border of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would open more Alaska land for the oil development that generates oil royalties for state services and Alaska Permanent Fund dividends for citizens.

Our respectful, but persistent requests that federal authorities remove 1970s-era Public Land Orders blocking multiple uses and state control of state land found success this summer when the Bureau of Land Management lifted two PLOs on 1.3 million acres in Interior and Southcentral Alaska. But there’s more work to be done. For example, PLO 5150 was established in 1972 to guarantee federal access along most of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Pipeline construction ended in 1977, but PLO 5150 remains, blocking development along this critical infrastructure corridor.

Most importantly, Alaskans deserve the chance to own a piece of the land they love. DNR manages several successful programs that advance Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s goal of putting Alaska lands into Alaskan hands. (See: https://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/landsales) Our annual auction giving Alaskans first crack at bidding on state land with low-interest financing and 25% veterans discount has been such a success the governor added a fall sale. Properties unsold after Oct. 30 will join over 118 parcels currently available to Alaskans over the counter.

DNR’s popular Remote Recreational Cabin Site staking program lets qualified Alaskans submit bids for unimproved, remote land. DNR also will open bids Oct. 30 for three agricultural land tracts to help Alaskans grow the farming sector, diversify the economy and help enhance food security.

DNR’s mission also doesn’t stop at the water’s edge. Ocean-ranching is a growing Alaska industry. DNR has 63 active leases of state-owned waters to grow oysters, mussels and geoducks, plus kelp, seaweed and other aquatic resources. Another 22 leases are pending. Growing interest in mariculture has the Legislature considering a bill to help DNR speed lease renewals, build industry confidence and nurture growth in this new brand of resource development.

Alaskans are rightly proud to live in a state where developing resources on the people’s land directly benefits the people. I am proud to lead Department of Natural Resources in working to deliver those benefits to Alaskans today, and those to come. I think Woody would be proud, too.

Corri A. Feige is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.