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DNR issues Bristol Bay Plan Amendment

(Anchorage, AK) – Acting Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash today signed and adopted a Determination of Reclassification and Plan Amendment to the Bristol Bay Area Plan. The revisions to the plan significantly increase the amount of lands classified Wildlife Habitat and Public Recreation in the region.

The department amended the Bristol Bay Area Plan in response to litigation regarding the 2005 revision of the plan, which covers 12.6 million acres of state uplands and 6 million acres of submerged lands and tidelands in Southwest Alaska. DNR undertook the 2005 revision to update the original area plan issued in 1984, prior to the conveyance of many state lands and the formation of boroughs.

In late 2012, DNR reached an agreement with the plaintiffs to treat their legal case as a petition to reclassify land. This is an administrative process that can be used to seek changes to an area plan. The department agreed to address some errors it found in the plan and consider other specific issues in the case. Under this agreement, the court case was dismissed and DNR began working on the plan amendment.

Before finalizing the plan amendment, DNR published a public review draft in January and held a cumulative 120-day public comment period and nine public meetings in the Bristol Bay region. A total of 497 public comments were received by the May deadline, after which DNR made additional revisions to the plan. 

During the preparation of the plan amendment, DNR received updated information regarding moose, caribou, bear, waterfowl habitat, and subsistence activity from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, as well as substantial input from the public about the value and importance of wildlife habitat and fisheries in the region.

As a result of the new data and public input, DNR increased the acreage classified or co-classified Wildlife Habitat in the plan from 2.6 million to 5.5 million acres and increased the lands classified or co-classified Public Recreation from 2.3 million to 3.5 million acres. The amount of lands classified Resource Management – a more generic category – decreased by 1.9 million acres, and the amount of acreage classified Settlement and Minerals also declined. It is important to note that all classifications provide for multiple uses of state land, not just one or two uses. For charts showing the extent of the classification changes, go to http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/planning/areaplans/bristol/amend/pdf/bbap_2013amend_charts.pdf.

DNR denied some of the petitioners’ requests – for example, the near entirety of the Bristol Bay region has not been classified or co-classified Wildlife Habitat. However, the cumulative impact of the changes to classifications and management intent in the area plan is that more lands in the region will be managed for wildlife habitat and public recreation than under the 2005 plan.

Much public interest and concern about the Bristol Bay Area Plan revolved around potential future mineral development in the region. It is important to understand that an area plan and its classifications inform but do not control the permitting of a resource development project or any other activity on state land. For example, a resource development project on lands classified Wildlife Habitat could prompt state officials to require additional mitigation measures but it would not be banned outright – the Pogo Mine, located on lands classified Wildlife Habitat, is a case in point.

The determination of reclassification and plan amendment, maps, response to public comments, and other materials can be viewed on DNR’s Bristol Bay Area Plan Amendment website at http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/planning/areaplans/bristol/amend/. The determination and the amendment are subject to a 20-day reconsideration period.

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