Central Yukon Resource Management Plan



















Floating and fishing in the Jim River Area of Critical Environmental Concern along the Dalton Highway. The Jim River is an important spawning tributary for struggling populations of Chinook and chum salmon, which are vital resources for Indigenous and rural residents and once allowed for popular sport fishing opportunities. Photo: K. Fraley


The Issue

BLM has released the final Central Yukon Resource Management Plan which lays out proposed land and water protections and recreation management along the Dalton Highway, the Koyukuk River drainage, and other areas of northern Alaska.

In 2020, to update a prior plan from 1986, BLM issued a draft Resource Management Plan for BLM lands that proposed to delete all but one established Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and Research Natural Area (RNA) in a gigantic swath of northern Alaska including the Dalton Highway and the Koyukuk , Nowitna, Tanana, and Sagavanirktok River drainages. This area includes the Brooks Range Mountains, contains multiple National Wild and Scenic Rivers, encompasses important Dall sheep, caribou, moose, salmon, and Dolly Varden habitats, and boasts world-class wilderness recreation opportunities for anglers, hunters, and other stakeholders. This was a concerning development, and mobilized conservation and recreation groups to engage in the public comment process, and in advocacy against the removal of protections of undegraded and beautiful lands from industrial development. 

For some background, ACECs are designed to “protect important historic, cultural, and scenic values, as well as fish and wildlife and other natural resources, and to address natural hazards.” Similarly, RNAs are established as “any tract of land or water which supports high quality examples of terrestrial or aquatic ecosystems, habitats, and populations of rare or endangered plant or animal species, or unique geological study of the features, and is managed in a way that allows natural processes to predominate, with minimal human intervention.” ACECs and RNAs are fully open to hunting, fishing, and trapping following the applicable local regulations, in most cases.

In the 2020 draft plan, the “agency-preferred” alternative (Alternative C2) would have left only the Toolik Lake Area of Critical Environmental Concern and would have deleted more than 20 ACECs and RNAs designated to protect vital Dall sheep overwintering habitat, salmon spawning streams, unique hot springs, popular mountains and rivers for hiking and rafting, and other important ecological zones. Additionally, Alternative C2 proposed to revoke Public Land Order (PLO) 5150, which would make federal lands in the outer corridor (see below map) that are currently protected from development available to be transferred to State of Alaska and potentially opened to oil and gas or mineral exploration and extraction, degrading and potentially removing public access to lands that are accessible and popular for hunting, fishing, trapping, and other pursuits.

PL 5150 Lands in dark (inner) and light (outer corridor) blue. BLM Final Central Yukon RMP map

Other non-preferred alternatives in the 2020 draft plan, such as the “No Action” and Alternative E, laid out options for approaches that maintained the status quo or were more ecologically friendly and pro-recreation rather than development-oriented. 

However, issuance of the final version of the new plan was stalled for several years after a new  Department of Interior administration came into place, and the fate of the plan and the eventual preferred alternative was uncertain.

What was established prior to the 2020 draft plan

ACECs and RNAs that currently exist within the Central Yukon RMP (No Action, Alternative A in 2020 draft). Yellow=BLM land, purple = ACEC or RNA. Maps cropped from Final BLM Central Yukon RMP

The current management regime in this area of Alaska has been stable for many decades, is generally supported by the angling and hunting community, and promotes non-motorized access to world class hunting and fishing opportunities. The landscape is largely untouched by human development, except for the Dalton Highway and Alyeska Pipeline, which run from north to south through the area and provide some degree of access to lands and waters for hikers, rafters, anglers, and hunters. Along the Dalton Highway north of the Yukon River, in the Special Recreation Management Area that surrounds the road, rifle hunters must hike, raft, dogsled, or ski at least 5 miles from the road to harvest game, though bowhunters may hunt closer to the road. Motorized access is allowed on certain navigable rivers. Fishing regulations and harvest limits for anglers are conservative, with closures and catch-and-release designations to protect slow-growing northern fish like lake trout that receive moderate pressure from fishermen. Throughout the rest of the area covered by the Central Yukon RMP, access is typically via remote village and bush flights, floating, powerboating, or snowmobiling (where allowed).

Caribou hunting via dogsled is a unique and celebrated non-motorized method that is available via the Dalton Highway. Photo: C. Strathe, AK BHA Board Member

What will change with the 2024 proposed final plan

In the Final Central Yukon RMP issued in April 2024, the BLM identified Alternative E as the proposed plan. This was a change from the agency preference for Alternative C2 in the 2020 draft, and a pleasant surprise for conservation and sporting groups.  This alternative was considered the most favorable for maintenance of ecological integrity of the area and promotion and management of outdoor recreation besides Alternative A (No Action).

ACECs and RNAs included in the proposed alternative from 2024 final plan (Alternative E). Yellow=BLM land, purple = ACEC or RNA. Maps cropped from Final BLM Central Yukon RMP

Maintaining or expanding most ACECs (good!)

Tozitna, Indian River, Hogatza River, Sulukna River, Jim River, Poss Mountain, Nugget Creek, Snowden Mountain, West Fork Atigun, Galbraith Lake, Nigu-Iteriak, and Toolik Lake ACECs/RNAs will remain. These ACECs protect vital Dall sheep, salmon, lake trout, sheefish, and caribou habitats from development. Keeping them in place will benefit fish and wildlife that spend time within them and maintain healthy game and fish populations for hunters and fishers. This is especially important for Dall sheep and salmon populations, which are currently in decline and harvest opportunities have been curtailed.

Deleting most RNAs (bad)

Lake Todatonten Pingos, South Todatonten Summit, Arms Lake, Redlands Lake, McQuesten Creek, Spooky Valley, and Ishtalitna Creek Hot Springs RNAs will be deleted. These RNAs were established in previous plans because of their unique ecological and recreational value, so removing protections could lead to development and harm to the environment and fish and wildlife populations.

Adding new ACECs (awesome!)

Klikhtentotzna Creek, Huslia River, Wheeler Creek, Sethkokna River, Mentanonti River, Alatna River, Midnight Dome/Kalhabuk, Upper Chandalar, South Fork Koyukuk, and Accomplishment Creek are new protected areas that contain particularly important fish spawning habitat. The Alatna River ACEC covers the spawning grounds for sheefish, which are a vital subsistence resource for people of the village of Allakaket and a popular sport angling species. Wheeler Creek, Upper Chandalar, and South Fork Koyukuk sections are important spawning zones for declining Koyukuk River drainage Chinook and chum salmon populations. Salmon abundance in this drainage has been so low over the past three years that Indigenous and rural subsistence fishers are not able to conduct any harvest, and sport fishing for these species has been closed as well, so any respite that can be given to these fish (e.g., protection from siltation of spawning areas due to placer mining) could help their rehabilitation. The new Midnight Dome ACEC will hold special significance for Brooks Range and wilderness enthusiasts, as it has been a popular summit to climb for Wiseman residents and visitors since the village was founded in the 1910s, even wilderness champion Bob Marshall climbed it during his visits to the community in the 1920s and 30s.

Bob Marshall (center) with friends Jessie Allen (L) and Nutirwik (Harry Snowden, R) near Wiseman in 1932. Bob named Snowden Mountain (which has an associated ACEC) and Nutirwik Creek along the Dalton Highway in honor of his friend. UC Berkeley archive photo.

Deleting some ACECs (bad)

Sukakpak Mountain, Kanuti Hot Springs, Dulbi River, and Galena Mountain ACECs are omitted from the proposed Alternative E. In the case of Sukakpak Mountain and Kanuti Hot Springs, this strips protection from very popular hiking, packrafting, and fishing locations along the road that are highly valued among Alaska’s outdoor community. It is possible that these areas could now be opened to commercial exploitation, leasing, or sale and may become less-accessible to the public.

Hiking Sukakpak Mountain is popular amongst humans and Dall sheep (L), and Kanuti Hot Springs is a destination for outdoor adventurists (R)ACECs covering these places have been deleted in the new RMP. K. Fraley and B. Whitehill photos. 


PL 5150 will not be revoked (great!!)

These lands held in federal ownership that are accessible from the Dalton Highway and popular for many types of outdoor recreation, and are currently undegraded except for where the Dalton Highway utility corridor cuts through, will not be transferred to the State of Alaska to potentially be opened up to private ownership or industrial development.

Packing a caribou out from an area covered by PL 5150. K. Fraley photo


What is next

Fishing during a backpack trip through PL 5150 Land in the Brooks Range. Photo: K. Fraley

Public comment periods are closed at this time. A Record of Decision will be issued selecting an alternative and triggering the implementation of the changes outlined. This will occur sometime in 2024. This will lock in the proposed changes until the next review of the plan, which likely would not be for several decades. The implementation will be closely followed by hunters, anglers, BHA, and other conservation groups.

About Kevin Fraley

Fisheries ecologist and avid fly fisher and hunter based in Fairbanks, AK

See other posts related to Alaska issues Alaska BHA AFI Featured Stories