New Future for Alaska’s Copper River Delta

A Deal that Protects the Environment, the Economy and the Future


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See photos that illustrate this innovative deal. 

Alaska’s remote Copper River Delta is a land of salmon streams, glaciers and ancient rainforests. Indigenous people have relied on the wild salmon runs that return to these waters for thousands of years. And for more than a century, salmon have sustained a thriving and sustainable commercial fishing fleet of small, family-run boats.

Many people have been concerned about how proposed coal mining and clear-cut logging could affect a way of life so closely tied to nature. Yet securing a future free from the risks of development has proven elusive.

Until now.

Science tells us that to create a world where nature and people thrive together we must act swiftly and with urgency to generate the biggest impacts as quickly as possible – and that's what we're working to do here, in Alaska's Copper River Delta.

An innovative conservation deal brokered by private industry and The Nature Conservancy safeguards nearly 100 square miles of underlying coal deposits and vast tracts of old-growth forests.

“The Nature Conservancy is pleased to be making history in Alaska with this innovative approach to conservation,” said Rand Hagenstein, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Alaska. “It protects livelihoods dependent on a healthy environment, generates revenue for local people, and provides a way to reduce carbon emissions – a crucial step in resolving climate change.”

The agreement between landowner Chugach Alaska Corp., an Alaska Native corporation; New Forests, a sustainable forestry and conservation investment manager; the Cordova, Alaska-based Native Conservancy Land Trust; and The Nature Conservancy in Alaska builds on the opportunities created by a California-based forest carbon offset program.

Under the accords of the deal, Chugach Alaska Corp. sold 62,000 acres of coal rights to New Forests. Then, New Forests retired those rights by transferring them to The Nature Conservancy and the local Native Conservancy Land Trust. As part of the agreement with New Forests, Chugach Alaska Corp. will manage and maintain the land to retain high carbon stocks in the forests in exchange for the opportunity to sell carbon credits to businesses regulated under California’s greenhouse gas pollution reduction program.

“As a community-owned organization, Chugach’s mission is to provide meaningful opportunities and benefits to our Alaska Native shareholders and descendants today and for generations to come,” says Josie Hickel, Chugach shareholder and senior vice president of energy and resources. “A coal sale and carbon offset project is a unique opportunity to deliver long-term, sustainable economic and financial value for our shareholders and region.” 

“Preserving local lands and waters not only addresses climate change in a real way but also protects the ancestral homelands of the Chugach shareholders and maintains our vibrant subsistence and commercial fishing way of life,” says Dune Lankard of the local Native Conservancy.

The commercial fishing village of Cordova, pop. 2,316, lies 50 miles northwest of the project site and its vitality relies on healthy fisheries. The vast wetlands of the Copper River Delta, the largest on the West coast of North America, support famous wild salmon runs and diverse wildlife such as bears and moose. The delta also is a globally recognized stopover for millions of migratory birds. The world-class Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival draws visitors from around the world and sparks the local economy every spring. This is a place where the local economy and people from all walks of life rely on the sustaining power of nature.

This innovative conservation finance example illustrates how land can be managed in a way that yields both financial and environmental benefits. It also makes a tangible contribution toward the goals of the 2016 Paris climate agreement goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 80 percent by 2050 and then to net zero by 2080.

Scientists from The Nature Conservancy have determined that protecting, restoring and changing how forests and other ecosystems are managed could contribute more than one-third of the greenhouse gas reductions needed by 2030 to stay on the pathway of the Paris climate agreement.

“The transaction demonstrates again, the important role that California’s cap-and-trade program plays across North America by creating financial incentives to reduce – and avoid – greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable forestry while generating critical co-benefits like supporting Chugach culture, clean water and habitat for salmon and many other species,” says Louis Blumberg, who directs The Nature Conservancy’s California climate program. “We here in California are proud of our Nature Conservancy colleagues in Alaska and their partners and look forward to more collaboration.”

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