ANCHORAGE - The University of Alaska has received a $1.5 million check from conservation interests for 835 acres of wilderness land in Southeast Alaska.
The Conservation Fund, with major backing from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund of San Francisco, bought 12 miles of pristine, rocky coastline on the northern tip of Yakobi Island, about 80 miles west of Juneau and across Cross Sound from Glacier Bay National Park.
The tract, an area that includes Cape Bingham and Soapstone Cove, was a university-owned in-holding within the Tongass National Forest. The federal government will manage the area as part of the West Chichagof/Yakobi Wilderness Area, where development is prohibited.
The property includes 30 islands, lakes, estuaries, bays, muskeg and old-growth forest. Steller sea lions and seals haul out on the rocky outcroppings. Brown bears, bald eagles, and Sitka black-tailed deer inhabit the temperate rain forest in healthy numbers, said Beth Pendleton, Forest Service public services director in Juneau.
"We looked at it as a pretty prime piece of real estate," said Brad Meiklejohn, Alaska director of The Conservation Fund, based in Arlington, Va.
Fearing the university would sell the property to tour companies, real estate developers or loggers, The Conservation Fund sought investors to purchase the land and donate it to the U.S. Forest Service as long as the agency agreed to protect it as wilderness. A deal came together in March and became public Tuesday.
"This deal worked out well for everyone," said Kristy Sherman of the university's Office of Land Management. "Everyone involved in the project agreed that this area deserves the fullest possible protection."
"It's a tremendous achievement. Just think of how the university could have messed up that land," said Buck Lindekugel of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, a critic of university timber operations in Southeast.
The Forest Service had a 10-year option to purchase the property under a settlement from a lawsuit Lindekugel and others brought against the university in the early 1990s over logging at Icy Bay. Although the federal agency wanted to buy the property, it could never come up with the money, Meiklejohn said.
The Goldman Fund gave $1 million toward the purchase. The Paul G. Allen Forest Protection Foundation, the Ocean Fund of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Juneau-based Skaggs Foundation contributed the rest, Meiklejohn said.