Land trust conveys 80 acres to tribes

The Mulchatna River lies at the heart of the Nushagak watershed. Photo by U.S. EPA

The Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust has completed the transfer of an 80-acre former Alaska Native allotment at the confluence of the Mulchatna River and Keefer Creek in Southwest Alaska into tribal ownership, trust officials said July 10.

The property was purchased by the land trust in 2007 for conservation because of the importance of river and stream confluences for salmon migration, and because the property is also on a migration route of the Mulchatna caribou herd.

The property was conveyed into the joint ownership of the federally recognized tribes for Ekwok, New Stuyahok and Koliganek.  The Mulchatna and its tributaries are a traditional subsistence breadbasket for residents of these Nushagak River villages.

Land trust officials said this transfer is the first conveyance of land into tribal ownership in Bristol Bay. While tribes in Alaska are recognized as sovereign governments by the federal government, few have any land base. The land trust will be reviewing some of its other properties for potential transfer to tribal ownership.

“It is the policy of the land trust to return property to Native ownership, whether it be to a tribe or Native corporation, where doing so will not impair the conservation values of the property,” said Bud Hodson, land trust president. In 2016, the land trust transferred ownership of two former Native allotments to Koliganek Native’s LTD. The allotments were inholdings within the land base of the village corporation.

The land trust has retained a conservation easement over the 80-acre parcel at Keefer Creek as an extra measure of insurance that the property will remain in its natural state forever. The three tribes together now control access to the property, however, and may use the property to pursue limited commercial activities not involving construction of permanent improvements.