Bristol Bay Land Trust, Koliganek Natives ink easement deal at Harris Creek

Apr 5, 2016

Easement adds permanent protection on 570 acres of Koliganek Natives LTD land at confluence of Harris Creek and Nushagak River.

Confluence of Harris Creek and the Nushagak River, north of Koliganek.
Credit BBHLT

The Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust has finalized a deal with Koliganek Natives Corporation to put a large conservation easement in place at the mouth of Harris Creek. A total of 570 acres at the confluence of Harris and the Nushagak will stay under Native ownership, but are now protected against any permanent development.

Audio transcript: “Confluence areas are areas that we consider to be very important to protect,” says BBHLT executive director Tim Troll. The Land Trust mission is to conserve habitat, sometimes through direct purchase of Native allotments up for sale, or through conservation easements. Its biggest deal to date was the 21,000 Aleknagik Limited Natives acres around Lake Aleknagik and the Agulowak River put under easement with Aleknagik Natives Limited around Lake Aleknagik and the Agulowok River.   

A few years ago a 40 acre Native allotment near Harris Creek came up for sale, and the Land Trust was able to purchase it. Troll said the discussion point was Koliganek Natives' much larger 530 acre tract in the same area, which is not for sale.

“We the Land Trust don’t really need to own property to protect it, we just simply want to conserve it. We can do that through easement as easily as we can through ownership," he said. "We talked about doing a deal where we would exchange that allotment that we purchased for a conservation easement on the larger parcel of theirs.”

To complete the deal, the Land Trust transferred ownership of its 40 acre tract, plus a payment of $100,000, in exchange for the large conservation easement on both properties.

Koliganek Natives LTD president Herman Nelson and BBHLT president Bud Hodson finalize the Harris Creek conservation easement deal.
Credit BBHLT

“Here’s an area that was always probably intended to be used for and probably selected under the terms of ANCSA for its subsistence value. That’s not lost. What they have basically, and in essence sold, is the right to put large development on the property.”

Another piece to this puzzle was an incentive recently approved by Congress allowing native corporations to take a much bigger deduction off their corporate income taxes for donations of conservation easements.

“It’s something that has been allowed, Congress had allowed for farmers and ranchers in the lower 48," said Troll. "When you look at the reasons they did it for farmers and ranchers, those same reasons apply to Alaska Native Corporations. So we proposed that idea, and our legislators picked up on it, but it took a decade, almost a decade to get that done. Congress finally approved doing that in December."

The Harris Creek deal went forward after that. Troll hopes the model used here can be repeated in Bristol Bay, and also by other land trusts working to conserve habitat elsewhere in the state.

The Bristol Bay Heritage Land is also finalizing another deal to put a conservation easement on roughly 14,000 acres islands and shoreline in northeast Iliamna Lake, which has been identified as critical habitat for the area’s freshwater seals.

dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281