Alaska tells Tyonek to drop Chuitna River claims

DNR Commissioner says corporation can't interfere with people trying to use the river

Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has told Tyonek Native Corp. to stop claiming exclusive fishing rights to the Chuitna River, about 45 miles west of Anchorage.

Tyonek owns land around the popular fishing river and hires guards to ward off trespassers. It has been warning anglers that the bed of the Chuitna River is privately owned and that anyone walking, wading or standing in the riverbed is trespassing.

DNR Commissioner Tom Irwin sent Tyonek a letter April 20 saying it can't interfere with people trying to use the river.

Tyonek chief executive Tom Harris told The Anchorage Daily News it would respond to Irwin before commenting publicly on the letter.

The Department of Natural Resources says it's a navigable river open to public boating and fishing.

Fish and Game describes the river as a popular sport fishing spot for king salmon, silver salmon and rainbow trout. Roughly 900 anglers fished there in 2008, according to the department.

"When the river's good, I would say there's probably 20 or 30 to 100 people fishing the lower three or four miles of the river," said Aaron Bloomquist, a guide who has worked in the area and serves as chair of the Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

Tyonek Native Corp., formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, owns a lodge catering to bear hunters and anglers. Its website advertises exclusive fishing on the lower 10 miles of the river.

The village of Tyonek just south of the river is the Dena'ina Indian community of about 170 people. This time of year, the ducks have just arrived and residents are getting ready to subsistence fish for kings, said Frank Standifer, 56, a member of the village council who owns a guide service.

"We pretty much own the land on both sides of the river," Standifer said, yet the community has had trespassing problems "since day one."

The DNR letter to the Tyonek corporation says that regardless of who owns the riverbed, people have a right to use the Chuitna and other rivers below the ordinary high water mark.

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