On Monday the Alaska House Resource committee moved forward with a version of House Bill 120 that maintains recreational rivers designations in the Susitna Basin, thanks in part to a significant amount of feedback from constituents. Alaska BHA members sent letters to members of the House Resource Committee requesting that the language repealing the recreational rivers designations be pulled from the bill. Thank you for your actions!
These designations and the associated management plan include several important things that help ensure hunting and fishing in a backcountry setting in the Susitna Basin.
- Access: All six recreational rivers designations include a one-mile-wide corridor along the rivers that maintains the land in public ownership. Repealing those corridors would have allowed that land to potentially be sold off during state land auctions and over the counter land sales. While the rivers themselves will always be in public ownership if the uplands to the highwater mark are private, or leased for development, access to and from the rivers would become increasingly difficult. There are already hundreds of private land parcels within the river corridors (more outside the boundaries) that were present before the designations. Ensuring the remaining land stays in public ownership is essential to maintaining connectivity between public land and water. The West Susitna Basin should not turn into a checkerboard of public and private land.
- Habitat: The recreational rivers management plan references fish, wildlife, and habitat values consistently throughout the plan. The corridors serve as an important management tool in maintaining healthy riverside and riparian areas by setting management guidelines that emphasize habitat. Some specific goals for managing riparian areas include: maximizing shoreline vegetation, minimizing the disturbance of land below high water, minimizing degradation of land adjacent to rivers and lakes, maintaining water quality and quantity, and maintaining the functional integrity of fish and wildlife habitat at no less than existing levels. These guidelines still offer ample opportunity for other uses of the land like timber harvest for personal use, and habitat and access improvement projects, while prohibiting activities like commercial timber harvest within the corridors.
- Recreation Opportunities: The Susitna Basin is a mecca for outdoor recreation opportunity, from hunting, fishing, and trapping to dog mushing, power boating and snowmachining. The management plan considers the many uses of the area and provides balanced opportunity for all without degrading the wild characteristics of the land and rivers. This style of balanced management allows for enjoyment by a broad spectrum of users and helps support local businesses and economies who rely on people going out to hunt, fish, and recreate.
Alaska has some of the most unique hunting and fishing opportunities in the country. The hunting and fishing on public land, in a backcountry setting is unparalleled by any other state. The Susitna Basin is no exception, but it does see higher use and has relatively easy access. If we allow legislation like the repeal of recreational rivers designations to continue, it would be one more step towards a net loss of opportunity and the further degradation of our hunting and fishing. If we maintain forward thinking management plans that emphasize quality habitat, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation, over privatization of land, commercial and industrial development, we can maintain the special and unique qualities that we value about our state. Thanks to your voices, we spoke up for hunting and fishing in a backcountry setting and we were listened to.