Refuge Notebook: Easement through Native land provides legal access to west side of Refuge

Posted: Friday, August 13, 2010

Road easement through Native land Folks are always saying that things are different in Alaska, and sometimes they are. Take 17(b) easements for example.

What are 17(b) easements? They are rights reserved to the U.S. Government for public access on Native claimed land, such as easements for 60-foot wide roads, 25- and 50-foot trails, and sometimes one-acre sites for short term uses.

There are hundreds of 17(b) easements throughout Alaska. They are called 17(b) easements because Section 17(b) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) authorizes the reservation of these public easements on lands when federally-owned land is conveyed to a Native corporation. The main purpose of the easement is to allow the public to cross private property to reach public lands. The easement does not authorize the public use of the private lands that the easements cross. It is similar to the street in front of many of our homes. The public has the right to travel on the street, but they do not have the right to trespass onto our private property or dump litter in our yards.

One such 17(b) easement exists on a section of Marathon Road located northeast of the Kenai Airport. In the early 1980's, the U.S. Government issued an Interim Conveyance to Kenai Natives Association (KNA) reserving a 17(b) easement on a section of this road. In September 1992, a patent was issued to KNA for this land (making it private property) and the reservation of approximately two-miles of road which crosses their property. This 17(b) easement starts near the fork of Marathon Road and the Nikiski Emergency Escape Route and continues to the yellow gate on the road leading to the Beaver Creek Oil and Gas Field. This yellow gate marks the boundary of Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. (See map.)

Uses allowed on this road reservation are typical of similar 17(b) easements in Alaska. They include travel by foot, dogsleds, animals, snowmobiles, two- and three-wheel vehicles, small and large all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), track vehicles, four-wheel drive vehicles, automobiles, and trucks up to the Refuge boundary. Heavy equipment used in the Beaver Creek Oil Field operations is also allowed. The land adjacent to this section of road is owned by KNA and is not open for any public access or uses without a permit from KNA.

Over the years, the public's use of this road easement has caused a number of problems for KNA. While KNA does not generally oppose the public's use of the road, they repeatedly find evidence of year-round trespass and resource damage to their property adjacent to the road. If anyone leaves the road surface in this area without permission or a permit from KNA, they are trespassing onto private property and could be charged with civil trespass.

One problem that occurs during this time of year is hunters illegally hunting on KNA property. Hunters can only hunt on KNA property after obtaining a permit from KNA. Hunters can travel to the Refuge via the road easement and park at the yellow gate and walk beyond the gate to hunt on the Refuge.

The biggest illegal use and abuse of KNA property occurs at the two gravel pits located along Marathon Road. Appliances, household items, televisions, wooden pallets, targets, and junk vehicles are among some of the items hauled in for target practice and then left in the pits as garbage. Such use of these gravel pits is not only illegal and unsightly, it limits KNA's ability to sell the gravel because all the garbage in the pits must be cleaned up prior to the gravel being mined and sold.

In an effort to inform the public about the land status in this area, signs have recently been posted to delineate the easement and inform the public that the gravel pits in this area are privately owned and should not be used for target shooting or trash disposal. None of us appreciate people trespassing onto our property or disposing garbage in our yards. So please have the same consideration and respect for the property owners adjacent to this public access easement that you would want from people passing through your property. Please stay on the established road easement until you reach the Refuge boundary and then enjoy your opportunity to recreate on your public lands of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Claire Caldes is a career employee of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and has served as the oil and gas liaison for the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge since 2001.

Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on our website http://kenai.fws.gov/. You can check on local birds or report your bird sighting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Birding Hotline (907) 262-2300.



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