Two thousand acres of coastal property on Afognak Island flush with salmon and wildlife has been purchased from Uyak Natives Inc. for $6.3 million, and transferred to the state as a conservation easement.
The Thorsheim Drainage on the northern part of the island includes wetlands, a dense coastal forest and a river corridor. It's home to brown bears, sea otters, seabirds — with kelp beds and eel grass offering a rich habitat for young fish.
Great Land Trust facilitated the transaction using Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council Habitat Program funds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also was involved.
"There are tremendous wildlife and resource values in the area," said David Wigglesworth of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Afognak Island has some of the most productive fish and wildlife habitat in the Gulf of Alaska. Completion of the Thorsheim project helps us conserve this habitat, while also providing public access."
Access isn't easy, though. A boat or floatplane is needed, and there are no established trails on the land.
This is the third time in the past 12 months that Great Land Trust has greased the transfer of private property to the state via a conservation easement.
In addition to grant funding for conservation work, Great Land Trust receives donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. It also collects fees from developers filling in wetlands, required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it issues a permit, using the money to purchase other wetlands to compensate for the loss.
"The sale of this property will go a long way to helping Uyak Natives Inc. provide good dividends to its current shareholders … while at the same time protecting a pristine habitat," said Gabe McKilly, the CEO of Uyak Natives. "It's kind of a whole ecosystem from lake to ocean with 4 miles of beachfront. It's a really nice piece of land."
He said Uyak corporation members discussed whether to sell quite a bit before opting to take the money and conserve the land.