University sells land to conservation organization

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The University of Alaska has received a $1.5 million check from conservation interests for 835 acres of wilderness land in Southeast Alaska.

The Conservation Fund, with major backing from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund of San Francisco, bought 12 miles of pristine, rocky coastline on the northern tip of Yakobi Island about 80 miles west of Juneau.

UA Vice President Wendy Redman said the money will be deposited in the University's Land Grant Trust Fund. The fund is managed by the University of Alaska Foundation on behalf of the university.

UA spends the interest, minus money for inflation proofing, on UA programs. Currently, nearly all interest is used for the Alaska Scholars Program, which pays four-year tuition scholarships to the top 10 percent of graduates in Alaska high schools if they attend the university.

The tract, an area that includes Cape Bingham and Soapstone Cove, was a university-owned inholding within the Tongass National Forest.

The federal government will manage the area as part of the West Chichagof/Yakobi Wilderness Area, where development is prohibited.

The property includes 30 islands, lakes, estuaries, bays, muskeg and old-growth forest. Steller sea lions and seals haul out on the rocky outcroppings. Brown bears, bald eagles, and Sitka black-tailed deer inhabit the temperate rain forest in healthy numbers, said Beth Pendleton, Forest Service public services director in Juneau.

''We looked at it as a pretty prime piece of real estate,'' said Brad Meiklejohn, Alaska director of The Conservation Fund, based in Arlington, Va.

Fearing that the university would sell the property to tourism or real estate developers or loggers, The Conservation Fund sought investors to purchase the land and donate it to the U.S. Forest Service as long as the agency agreed to protect it as wilderness. A deal came together in March and became public Tuesday.

''It's a tremendous achievement. Just think of how the university could have messed up that land,'' said Buck Lindekugel, staff attorney for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. Lindekugel is a frequent critic of how the University of Alaska harvests trees at Icy Bay and other places in the Panhandle.

The Forest Service had a 10-year option to purchase the property under a settlement from a lawsuit Lindekugel and others brought against the university in the early 1990s over Icy Bay logging. Although the federal agency wanted to buy the property, it could never come up with the money, Meiklejohn said.

The Goldman Fund gave $1 million toward the purchase. The Paul G. Allen Forest Protection Foundation, the Ocean Fund of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Juneau-based Skaggs Foundation contributed the rest, Meiklejohn said.

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