Groups Conserve Habitat on Afognak Island

Thorsheim drainage on Afognak Island. Courtesy of Great Land Trust

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

An initiative to conserve one coastal habitat in the Kodiak Archipelago is now complete. The Thorsheim drainage on Afognak Island includes almost two thousand acres of natural habitat.

It’s now safe from development and tree harvest.

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The executive director of the organization that mediated the agreement, Ellen Kazary with the Great Land Trust, says the parcel includes nearly the entire watershed.

“So, it has just that whole variety then of fisheries habitat. So, in that area you find three species of salmon. Right off the coastline, we have continuous kelp beds and eel grass, which is a great kind of spawning habitat for juvenile fish and, while the salmon and the fisheries are one of our priorities, we also have Dolly Varden and Steelhead and Arctic char, and so it’s just rich with fish.”

This conservation effort traces its roots back to the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

After that catastrophe, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council put funds from a civil settlement into helping the damaged habitats recover.

That’s where the Great Land Trust comes in.

Kazary says part of the council’s efforts includes commissioning the nonprofit to find valuable coastline habitats and mediate agreements to protect them.

“This particular piece of property was scheduled to be logged in 2017 and 2018. By putting it into conservation, it means that it will no longer be logged now or in the future, so it’s retiring those rights to subdivide or develop or log or clear-cut or whatever other development actions could happen on the property.”

Uyak Natives Inc. had owned the Thorsheim drainage parcel. They had also sold logging rights on that land to a company called Trans-Pac Alaska Limited Partnership.

With funding from the trustee council, the Great Land Trust arranged for the transfer of ownership to the State of Alaska and the handover of the conservation easement, or development rights, to the Bureau of Land Management.

In return, Uyak and Trans-Pac split a total about $6.3 million dollars between them.

Uyak President and CEO Gabe McKilly says the corporation had tried and failed before to conserve the land, and he’s satisfied with this most recent development.

“I think it was a fair price to us and a fair price to the state in what they got in return. This is very unique land. This is not normal. This is not harvested, not touched. So, it’s got a value – you really can’t place a number on it.”

The Afognak Island parcel is just one of the Kodiak properties the Great Land Trust has identified for conservation. This year the organization finalized a similar conservation easement transfer for Termination Point, a popular hiking spot.

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