Stand Against Removal of Protections for Alaska's Sport Fishing Heartland
The Susitna River and its tributaries are among the most popular and accessible waters for sport anglers in Alaska, offering options for outdoorspeople of all means and abilities. The exceptional value of the Susitna River Basin to anglers and other outdoorspeople was recognized when six tributaries received special designations reflecting their importance for recreational opportunities. The process to designate these “recreation rivers” and create a management plan was undertaken in the 1980’s to address problems of user conflict, litter, long-term campsites, abandoned property and a dramatic increase in sport-fishing along river corridors in the Susitna River Basin. The concern was that without a management plan in place, additional population growth, increasing tourism and associated development would degrade the rivers recreational nature and the valuable resources they support. In 1988 the legislature passed the Recreational Rivers Act, earmarking six rivers for special management: Little Susitna River, Deshka River, Talkeetna River, Lake Creek, Talachulitna River, and Alexander Creek. The plan was a collaborative effort between communities, management agencies and other stakeholders and in 1991 the Susitna Basin Recreation Rivers Management Plan was adopted by the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.
A bill submitted by the Dunleavy administration during the 2021 legislative session would have repealed the Susitna Basin Recreation Rivers Management Plan. Fortunately, the management plan remains intact but the threat to the recreation rivers is not gone. Revisions to the plan cannot be made without a committee and a recently formed Recreation Rivers Advisory Board could make revisions to the plan that would open the door to development projects like the West Susitna Access Road. Removing the recreation rivers status paves the way for irresponsible development and robs future generations of their opportunities to hunt and fish on healthy, intact landscapes and waterways.
Removing this plan could have significant effects on the quality of fishing and hunting in the area. Fish and wildlife are among the primary resources that this plan identifies the recreational rivers being recognized for. Some of the best winter habitat for moose in the entire Susitna River drainage is found in the riparian areas of the recreation rivers. Brown and black bears are both common in the area as well as several small game species and fish. All five species of Pacific salmon, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and Arctic grayling are present in the recreational rivers. Particularly important Chinook salmon, for which populations across the entire state of Alaska have declined, use all six of the recreational rivers for spawning and rearing habitat.
The fish and wildlife supported by the area provide ample opportunities for Alaskans and visitors to hunt and fish in an area that offers an accessible backcountry experience. But balancing the uses of the land and maintaining a quality experience in an area that is home to more than half of Alaska’s population and supports a booming tourism industry, requires a sound and robust management plan. This plan emphasizes the rich fish and wildlife resources that these rivers provide and supports sustainable use of those resources. Removing the plan in favor of potential development projects places our hunting and fishing traditions second.
Alaska BHA believes in advocating for wild lands, defending backcountry opportunities to hunt and fish and promoting ethical and informed land use. Removing the recreational rivers designation is an action that runs contrary to our goals and will negatively impact hunting and fishing opportunities in the Susitna River Basin.
For more information on Susitna Basin Recreation Rivers, read Trout Unlimited's recent blog.