OPINION: University of Alaska land ownership is set to increase significantly, and now is the time for citizens to weigh in

I have been writing these little clips for the Anchorage Daily News for longer than I can remember accurately. Maybe 13 years? The paper went through a name change, and back, while I wrote. There have been three different owners and I have had five editors — some of them twice. Now, in a changing environment, ADN will be modifying its outdoors section. Thus; this is my last outdoors column for you folks.

Through the years, I wrote with a little different view than most. Living off-grid with a modern subsistence-type life style will do that. I wrote some decent columns and others that were mediocre. I want to thank the staff and editors of ADN for publishing all. Enough rambling; there is one more item of importance that needs brought to the attention of the folks who love and utilize the Denali Highway.

Most of the lands along our most scenic roadway are owned and managed by the federal government. The state of Alaska has a few conveyances here and there. The state has some selections along the Denali that have yet to be conveyed. Some of them are Priority No. 1 and Priority No. 2 lands, which are usually the first to be conveyed to the state. Alaska has over-selected, meaning that they will not get all lands they have selected.

However, there is another wrinkle in this process. The University of Alaska is a land-grant university. I don’t have room to give a detailed explanation of this, but basically it means they receive ownership of lands from the feds to aid in funding the university. Suffice to say the laws concerning this process has been a little muddy over the years. Never the less, UA holds a fair chunk of land in Alaska.

The land they own is, of course, in private ownership, similar in most ways to Native Corporation lands. UA Land Management can sell parcels, lease them, sell mineral rights, collect royalties, etc. The objective is to fund the university. The folks who manage UA lands are diligent in their job.

[University of Alaska set to receive thousands of acres of land in federal spending package]

Our senator, Lisa Murkowski, is also doing her job. A few years back legislation was introduced to clean-up the land transfers. It doesn’t matter who wrote the legislation, but the gist of it was that UAA might have the opportunity to get possession of commercial valuable lands that is still due to them. UA Lands had identified some parcels scattered around the state that they were interested in. Some of these lands are along the Denali Highway. Soon after the pending legislation was introduced, and long before it was finally passed, high level talks began between UA Lands, Department of Natural Resources and Bureau of Land Management. The first of these meetings was back in 2020. The legislation just passed recently. Murkowski was instrumental in pushing this legislation through.


Here is how the process works. The lands available for conveyance are under federal BLM management. Once UA Lands makes requests, DNR coordinates with affected state agencies to determine if it is in the state’s best interest to relinquish the selection. But there is public input before decisions are finalized. They are posted on the state’s public notice site and the first requests are expected to be received from the university this summer and fall.

Once UA has the land, any disposal of interest requires a 30-day public notice of a plan including the planned sale or lease and the location. The UA Board of Regents is also informed regarding planned disposals and they review and approve any proposed developments valued at over $1 million.

UA Lands sent a letter to the DNR indicating a strong interest in the land along the Denali Highway. These lands are potentially recreational plots that could be sold to the public as small plots. Or potentially to a tour company for a large hotel. Some of the land is near Tangle Lakes; a subdivision?

Let me stress that no decisions have been made at this time. But right now is the time to have your voice heard, either pro or con. Comments can be sent to Lacy Hamner at lacy.hamner@alaska.gov. She is the DNR contact.

Our recreational landscape is constantly in a state of change. People ice fish in a heated house with a cook stove and a television. They “hunt” deer from a stand that has an electronically timed cornslinger drawing the deer in so they are then available during hunting season. Folks no longer know where they are in the woods; their GPS does. Possibly the only way we are going to get folks out of the city for a weekend or two each year is to give them a spot to build a house on a hill someplace out of town.

People tell me that a big influx of recreational cabins and the infrastructure that they bring with them will ruin the Denali Highway. Then, in the next sentence they want more medical services, better phone reception and the internet. Make up your mind people, one doesn’t come without the other.

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.