The Agulowak River is one of the salmon rich jewels of Southwest Alaska centered in the Wood-Tikchik State Park, the largest state park in the nation. The river supports a robust fishery for sport anglers, subsistence, and commercial users. The Agulowak contains spawning habitat for 200,000 sockeye salmon and passes an additional 1.2 million sockeye and other salmon species to spawning grounds higher in the drainage. The river also supports abundant populations of rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and Arctic grayling. It is one of the most heavily used sport fisheries in Southwest Alaska and is an important area for subsistence harvest of fish and wildlife by local residents.
The Conservation Fund and the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust worked together to secure a conservation easement on Native land within the Wood-Tikchik State Park, including both banks of the Agulowak River and approximately 42 miles of shoreline along Lake Aleknagik and Lake Nerka—a total of about 21,000 acres of land of high fish and wildlife value, now protected in perpetuity. In a separate agreement orchestrated by the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the subsurface of this region has also been protected. See the map of the Agulowak Project Area. The land trust and the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation jointly steward the conservation easement.
Aleknagik Natives LTD retains ownership of the property and all the other rights that come with private ownership. The easement assures the perpetual availability of the property for subsistence use by ANL. The Aleknagik Native’s LTD used income from the sale of the easement to pay dividends and establish an ANCSA settlement trust fund for the benefit of all current and future shareholders.
The agreement is one of the largest land deals ever completed in the Bristol Bay region, arguably home of the world’s best cold water fisheries and certainly its most abundant wild salmon populations. Bristol Bay is widely recognized as one of the world’s great wildlands recreation destinations with superb opportunities for angling, hunting, river running, hiking and other recreation. The conservation easement, which keeps the land and waters forever wild by prohibiting development, provides for limited public recreational access to this highly desirable area. Aleknagik Natives LTD set a historic precedent, sending a message to conservation minded individuals and foundations around the world that the people of Bristol Bay are willing to do what it takes to prevent habitat loss and degradation in their backyard.
The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit organization dedicated to conserving the United States most important natural landscapes, coordinated a large partnership to raise money to complete this agreement. Additionally, lodge owners, businesses, sporting non-profits, outdoor retailers, foundations, private donors have supported the easement. A handful of competitive federal conservation grant programs like the USFWS’s National Coastal Wetlands Program, USFS’s Forest Legacy and NOAA’s Coastal and Estuarine Lands Conservation Program played an important role in the deal.
A major grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation was the catalyst for this complex conservation accomplishment. The Moore Foundation grant was the magnet that attracted donations from numerous sources across the country, which collectively provided the necessary money to meet the major match requirements of the federal grants.