Recreation River Designations in the Susitna Basin: An Important Tool for Stewardship
The Little Susitna, the Deshka, the Talkeetna River, Lake Creek, Talachulitna and Alexander Creek: the Susitna Basin's six Recreation Rivers have long been recognized for their unique natural features, drawing locals and visitors alike. As far back as 1985, there were high levels of recreation on each waterbody, which lead to conflicting uses and problems such as litter, sanitation, crowding, long-term camps at popular sites and abandoned property such as cars and boats on state land. In 1988, the Alaska State Legislature signed into law the Recreation Rivers Act, establishing mile-wide river corridors to be kept in public ownership and management.
In 1991, the Susitna Basin Recreation Rivers plan was developed to manage the high use on these waters while preserving their important characteristics and varied recreational opportunities. The plan was a collaboration between agencies, organizations, the legislature and the public, involving a robust engagement process with thousands of individuals providing commentary and contributions to the plan. The authority of this plan only applies to state lands and waters, and does not apply to private, university, borough or federal lands.
The Recreation Rivers management plan, developed in 1991, allows for better stewardship of riparian areas, including maximizing the amount of natural shoreline vegetation, preserving habitat, minimizing the degradation of upland habitat adjacent to river and lakes, and preserving water quality and quantity. These measures are all vital in preserving healthy habitats for salmon, other fish and wildlife. In addition, the plan manages public access, recreation and commercial use, and works to minimize conflicts between user groups (motorized and non-motorized boaters being one example).
The Recreation Rivers Management Plan in the Susitna basin is an important tool for the ongoing stewardship of the watershed, allowing for targeted management in high-use waterways. For more information, consult the Management Plan HERE.
Senate Bill 97 was introduced to the Alaska state legislature in spring of 2021. This bill, if passed, would repeal the “establishment of recreational rivers and recreation river corridors.” The bill was not passed in the 2021 legislative session, and will be revisited in the 2022 state legislative session. The six Recreation Rivers within the Susitna watershed would lose their designation if Senate Bill 97 is passed.
In November 2021 the Governor appointed 13 members representing commercial fishing; sport fishing; sport hunting; conservation; subsistence; forest products; mining; powerboat users; recreationally-oriented commercial users; other recreation users; private property owners within the Recreation River corridor; the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission from the membership of the planning commission; and the mayor of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or the designee of the mayor. The Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources consults with the Recreation Rivers Advisory Board in preparing, adopting, and revising the Recreation River Management Plan and regulations affecting use and management of the Recreation rivers. While no revision to the management plan has been publicly announced as of November 2021, it is anticipated this will occur very soon. The Advisory Board will have the power to make recommendations and therefore are in a powerful position to shape the future of the six rivers.