The signers of the Alaska Constitution put their faith in the future of the 49th state. So it’s no wonder they laid a sustainable foundation for the state’s wealth of diverse natural resources: fish, wildlife, minerals, and, of course, water.
All across Alaska, it’s the water that brings life to a vast land. It’s certainly true in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home to half the planet’s wild sockeye salmon.
But what happens if the rivers aren’t so clean? Or if water is diverted away to someplace else?
Questions like these led a diverse group – biologists, sportfishing lodge owners, and The Nature Conservancy – to come together in the 1990s to protect Lower Talarik Creek, a fabled stream known for world-class rainbow trout.
The effort to protect this stream that meanders eight miles through rolling tundra before reaching Iliamna Lake took a comprehensive approach.
First, The Nature Conservancy made a conservation purchase of a key private land parcel from a willing seller. (The land was later transferred to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.) Then in 1999, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, with broad support, created the Lower Talarik Creek Special Use Area with the express purpose of protecting fish habitat.
“This was an instance of devoted people and officials stepping up to care for an important place. Time and again, we’ve seen broad-based efforts like this one in Bristol Bay save resources important to people who care deeply about Alaska’s future,” says Alaska State Director Rand Hagenstein, who led the Lower Talarik project when he first joined the Conservancy in 1995
After the land was secured, The Nature Conservancy and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began an official application to safeguard the water flowing in Lower Talarik Creek. That effort finally won approval earlier this year from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. With that, The Nature Conservancy became the first non-profit in Alaska to successfully exercise its right to protect flowing water for fish.
Today, Lower Talarik Creek is a glowing example of what long-term vision can accomplish. And it reminds us that by working together around a common interest – in this case, Alaska’s salmon streams – we can share Alaska’s natural wealth with future generations. Just as the signers of the Alaska Constitution envisioned.
- “Understanding Water Rights in Alaska,” by Marie Lowe and Linda Leask, University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research.