Groups to buy more Afognak land for conservation purposes

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2007

KODIAK - The federal government will join with private foundations for a fourth time to buy Alaska Native corporation land on Afognak Island near Perenosa Bay, the Department of Interior said Friday.

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The purchase, when complete, will protect public access to more than 100 miles of continuous coastline, said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett in a news conference in Washington, D.C.

The $917,000 in government money will be matched by $417,000 from the American Land Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Together, they hope to buy about 2,000 acres around Portage Lake and the Portage River. The land is owned by Natives of Kodiak Inc., the village corporation created by Native residents in the City of Kodiak area.

Tim Richardson, government affairs director for the conservancy, said the government and foundation money won't be enough to buy the entire 2,000 acres. More fundraising will be needed, he said. Richardson, who joined the news conference, estimated that the money in hand now is roughly enough to buy half the area. The actual price per acre is subject to appraisal, he said.

The government has judged that protecting land around Perenosa Bay offers greater benefits than protecting any other area in the 1,500 miles of coastline hit by oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, Richardson said. The federal government is interested in part because the bay has the greatest concentration of sea otters in the Gulf of Alaska, Richardson said.

The sea otter population was declared threatened in 2005. Protecting the land will help adjacent ocean life, Richardson said.

If the full purchase succeeds, all three rivers with salmon runs in Perenosa Bay will be protected, he said.

Three prior federal grants helped withdraw most of the drainages feeding into the Waterfall Bay, on the west side of Perenosa Bay, and Paul's Bay, on the east. Those purchases were assisted by the Paul G. Allen Family, Thoresen and Vital Ground foundations. Withdrawing the land from potential development also will benefit land species that were hurt by the Exxon Valdez, such as bald eagles, river otters, harlequin ducks and marbled murrelets, Richardson said. "Those are priority species that are protected by this action," he said.

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